THE BLOG

We Are All Consumers Now

15/03/2016 14:44 GMT | Updated 16/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Today is World Consumer Rights Day. But since this awareness day started back in 1983, there has been a group of consumers that are continually overlooked.

That group is disabled consumers, and while the Government puts their spending power at over £200billion a year, rarely are goods and services developed with them in mind.

Even worse, many companies are actually repelling customers. Research shows 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.

But with those businesses missing out on a share of £420million of revenue a week, there is plenty of incentive for them to up their game.

Disabled consumers need to be "bold and loud"

These findings come from the Extra Costs Commission, an independent year-long inquiry into the extra costs that disabled people face.

It was launched in response to research by disability charity Scope, which revealed that disabled people pay a financial penalty on everyday living costs - on average £550 per month.

The Commission's inquiry was based on evidence that less competitive markets push up costs for disabled people, who face reduced choice and more expensive goods and services.

One of the conclusions of the Commission, which published its findings last summer, was that disabled people should be "bold and loud" as consumers and recognise their collective spending power.

Commission Chair Robin Hindle Fisher argued that "only then will businesses start to recognise the value of the "purple pound", in the way that they do the "pink" and "grey" consumer markets."

Cottoning on to the purple pound

But we might just have had an indication that a shift in business attitudes is starting to take place.

Marks & Spencer, the iconic British high street retailer, has just created a new clothing range for disabled children.

This came about because the grandmother of a three-year-old boy with dystonic quadriparesis cerebral palsy contacted the retailer about difficulties with finding clothes to fit her grandson, as he still uses nappies and is fed through a tube in his stomach.

Working with Scope, M&S has launched an online range of bodysuits, sleep suits and vests with poppers in additional larger sizes. They cost between £3 and £7, cheaper than similar items of clothing for disabled children currently available in the market.

This is one of the few times a big high street retailer has listened to disabled consumers and jumped into the market. And it demonstrates the power of disabled consumers and their families making their voices heard. Let's hope more businesses follow suit.

Extra costs that disabled people face

Getting markets to work better for disabled people is one half of the equation of how to address the extra costs that disabled people face.

The other side is the welfare system. The Personal Independence Payment - and its predecessor Disability Living Allowance - were introduced by the Government in recognition of the extra costs that disabled people face.

However, in the past week, the Government has confirmed cuts to disability unemployment benefits and announced changes that will make it harder for some disabled people to qualify for the Personal Independence Payment.

The move to restrict access to PIP will mean that disabled people will be less able to meet the extra costs of disability. This will make it harder for disabled people to work, study and save for the future.

With the Chancellor stating he is looking to find further spending cuts, disabled people will be anxiously awaiting tomorrow's Budget.