Disabled consumers should be “bold and loud” about their spending power, says independent commission

The Extra Costs Commission (ECC) publishes its final recommendations today from its year-long inquiry into the extra costs faced by disabled people.

Launched in response to research by disability charity Scope, the report reveals that disabled people pay a financial penalty on everyday living costs – on average £550 per month. This compares with average extra costs payments (Disability Living Allowance and its successor Personal Independence Payment) for disabled people of around £360 per month.

Robin Hindle Fisher, fund management industry veteran and Chair of the ECC is calling on disabled people to be “bold and loud” as consumers, and recognise their collective spending power – valued at £212 billion.

The ECC has explored how increased competition and better consumer information in key markets could drive down the cost of the goods and services that disabled people and their families need and reduce the impact of the extra costs of disability.

The Commission’s inquiry is based on evidence that less competitive markets push up costs for disabled people, who incur the cost of:

  • Having to make multiple trips to find the product they need
  • Having reduced choice of products to buy
  • Having to buy something slightly different or more expensive
  • Having to pay over the odds

The ECC will unveil its final recommendations today at an event attended by business leaders and disability and consumer organisations. Introducing a 16-point plan, the recommendations focus on:

  • Supporting disabled people to be ‘bold and loud’ and build consumer power behind the Purple Pound. For example, sharing good and bad shopping experiences with other disabled people through online disability communities and being prepared to speak out when a company fails to meet their needs.
  • Calling on disability organisations to improve information and services to disabled people and businesses to allow them to drive down the extra costs of disability. Social Enterprise Nimbus; a disability related consultancy, plans to take forward a Commission recommendation by developing their Access Card that allows users to get discounts and incentives from service providers and retailers.
  • Encouraging businesses to improve the customer experience of disabled people and recognise the power of the Purple Pound. This includes data capture techniques and relationships with disability organisations to reach disabled people and learn more about their needs.
  • Highlighting that regulators and government should only intervene where features of markets result in unfair extra costs for disabled people. For example the Commission recommends that the Government should adopt Law Commission proposals on taxi and private hire vehicles to ensure disabled people receive an equal and fairly-priced service

Robin Hindle Fisher, Chair of the ECC says:

“It is very clear that life costs more if you are disabled.

“The Extra Costs Commission has focussed on finding market-based initiatives that can alleviate the impact that extra costs have on the lives of disabled people.

“Maintaining the value of benefits is absolutely critical, but the Commission believes better functioning markets and increased competition can also play a part in improving services and driving down costs.

“The Commission has seen positive examples of businesses taking steps to improve their service for disabled people.

“Yet, much more needs to be done – a shocking 75% of disabled people have left a shop or business because of poor disability awareness.”

Analysing the financial implications of ignoring this customer base, Business Disability Forum (BDF) was able to integrate updated walkaway pound research into the Commission’s consumer survey that more than 2,500 disabled people and 85 organisations engaged with.

Some of the key findings from the survey illustrate that:

  • Three quarters (75%) of disabled people and their families have left a shop or business because of poor customer service and a lack of disability awareness.
  • Those businesses are missing out on their share of £1.8 billion per month or £20 billion per year.
  • The “Purple Pound” is worth £212 billion – yet it is often overlooked by business.
  • Six in ten businesses surveyed said that they would benefit from better information about disabled people’s consumer habits and preferences.
  • Disabled people rate friendly and helpful staff (71%) and good accessibility (55%) as most important factors when shopping.

The financial severity of failing to meet the needs of disabled customers should no doubt act as a wake up call to business leaders. Speaking about this report, George Selvanera, Director of Policy, Services and Communications at BDF said:

“The scale of the opportunity for those businesses that get it right is growing. There are currently 3 million people aged 80 years or more, which will reach 6 million by 2030, and eight million by 2050. Ageing is a proxy for growing levels of disability. Close to half of all people aged 65 years or more have a disability for example. These point to how disability know-how is increasingly central to addressing the requirements of an ageing customer base.”

There are a range of ways in which companies can improve their products and services for disabled people and, in turn, secure the loyalty of this customer group. In short, however, it is about building into mainstream service design, empathy for the disabled and older customer and the capacity to personalise services for customers with all types of disabilities.

For those companies aiming to improve their performance for disabled consumers, George Selvanera said:

“As a first action for any service provider, capturing the views of disabled and older customers about how they currently experience services and their suggestions they have for improvement is paramount. The market opportunity is there for businesses to secure the loyalty of disabled and older customers and their families and friends and it starts by talking directly to these customers.”

The Commission will meet again in summer 2016 to analyse the success of its recommendations.

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