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The Extra Costs Commission 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. This compares with average extra costs payments (Disability Living Allowance and its successor Personal Independence Payment) for disabled people of around £360 per month.

Between July 2014 and June 2015 a group of 15 business people, consumer affairs experts and economists, including seven disabled people, 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 Extra Costs Commission made 16 recommendations in June 2015.

Today the Commission has launched a progress review report on how the work towards delivering those recommendations has advanced, and how businesses, government, regulators and charities are responding to and better serving disabled consumers.  It found the following:

  • Increased recognition of the ‘purple pound’ by businesses, regulators and government.
  • That disabled people needed to be ‘bold and loud’ to get better deals – household names M & S and Uber rise to the challenge.
  • Life costs more if you are disabled – on average extra costs add up to £550 per month.

The Extra Costs Commission found that markets and businesses were not often aware of disabled consumers or the extra costs they face. In response the inquiry called for disabled consumers to be ‘bold and loud’.

Today’s progress report shows how well-known brands have risen to the challenge:

  • After being contacted by a customer about offering products suitable for her disabled grandson, M & S extended the age range of some of its bodysuits and sleepsuits, and adapted them to make them suitable for disabled children with impairments that require them to wear sleepsuits and bodysuits in a larger size than the baby and child sizes it usually sells. This increased choice and reduced prices.
  • Uber invested in 100 wheelchair accessible vehicles. They also worked to ensure that disabled people have access to the same rates as every other passenger.

Disabled people and their families have a combined spending power – known as the purple pound – of over £200 billion a year.

The Commission also found that businesses that weren’t engaging with their disabled customers were missing out on up to £420m a week.

Other successes of the Commission include:

  • The Financial Conduct Authority launched a review of the insurance market.
  • Parliamentarians called for better regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles and an improved service to disabled consumers.
  • Scope worked with Which? to provide consumer rights advice on its website, including information for disabled people about how to complain and make their voices heard.
  • Ticket Factory is using Nimbus Disability’s Access Card to allow disabled people to communicate their accessibility requirements when they buy tickets.

Read the Progress Report.


Joy Warmington, CEO of brap, writes about 30 years of equalities practice in Birmingham and the need for clarity, a shared vision and getting on the front foot.

Here’s a quick question for you. For every £100 that a man working in Birmingham earns, how much do you think a woman earns? Ninety five pounds? Ninety pounds? Maybe as low as £85?


We’ll reveal the answer at the end, so while you’re mulling over that here’s another one. The unemployment rate for white people in Birmingham is about 9%. What’s the rate for black people? If you doubled 9%, try again. The answer is actually three times higher – 26%. The unemployment rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents is similarly out of kilter, currently standing at 18%. But here’s the really interesting thing. Back in 2004 the white unemployment rate was 6% while the black rate was 18% – again three times higher. Over the course of a decade, despite all its strategies and plans, the city was unable to reduce this stark inequality.


Why is this? Well, it’s not just Birmingham that’s been asking these questions. A number of cities – from Plymouth to Sheffield to York – have held fairness commissions in recent years to understand why entrenched inequalities persist. As useful and, in some cases, penetrating as these commissions have been they have tended to ignore the nuts and bolts of how public agencies ‘do’ equality – how they go about tackling discrimination, eradicating social patterns of disadvantage, and fulfilling their legislative equalities duties. This is a serious gap. Understanding why these approaches have failed may go some way to explain why serious inequalities continue.


New research From Benign Neglect to Citizen Khan, providing a bird’s eye view of equalities practice down the decades shows that many ideas have been resistant to change. Whereas society has changed greatly over the last 30 years, our equalities tools have remained remarkably similar. For example, in 1984 Birmingham City Council set up a Race Equality Unit with the aim of addressing institutional racism and improving access to council services. By 1989 the Unit had 31 staff, including race relations advisers in housing, education, and social services. The Unit’s annual report for that year shows its activities included training, monitoring uptake of services, helping different departments devise race equality schemes, improving access to services (mainly by translating information), and organising outreach events. If you were to include something about community development (helping local community groups to support disadvantaged people) these activities would all be part of the Standard Six – the half a dozen key actions that have dominated equality strategies and policies over the decades. They’re the things that crop up time and time again, regardless of the organisation’s sector or the demographics of its service users. Ideally, equality approaches would be dynamic – constantly evolving as we better understand what works. Unfortunately, this generally hasn’t been the case.


We don’t want to suggest that no progress at all has been made, of course. For one thing, the number of excluded groups considered by equalities practice has increased. For example, public authorities in Birmingham didn’t fund any lesbian or gay groups during the 1970s or 80s – a situation which would be subject to serious scrutiny today. In addition, equalities practice is beginning to explore the impact of leadership and organisational vision when it comes to embedding best practice, and organisations are beginning to focus more on partnership working. However, there are still some things we need to get better at.


Firstly, as agencies work together more closely we need to be crystal clear about what ‘equality’ means. This may sound simple, but if you speak to people in different organisations you’d be surprised at how many answers you get. This is no longer an option. Different agencies have to be on the same page when it comes to delivering fairer outcomes for the most vulnerable. Secondly, and connected with this, we need a shared vision of what good quality of life looks like for Birmingham’s residents. This needs to be informed by what people think is important and by the common needs of people from different communities in the city. In other words, it will involve much more clarity about the ‘domains’ of equality that are important to a wide range of people in the city. Thirdly, we need to devise a series of entitlements necessary to guarantee these needs and measure the provision of these through a multi-agency, multi-sector programme of activities.


Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we need to take equality, cohesion, and integration seriously. In addition to the Standard Six, the clearest feature arising from a historical survey of equalities practice is that we’re constantly reacting to things. Whether it’s an influx of new migrants, riots, or legislative changes, equalities practice has always been devised in response to a particular crisis or problem. We have never stood back, thought about the type of society we want to create and then pursued this vision with vigour. It’s clear that equalities practice has usually been seen as a side show to the main business of delivering services. This can’t continue. We need to get on the front foot. Rather than react to problems we need to proactively shape the future.


Which brings us back to where we started: how much does a Birmingham woman earn compared to a man? The answer is £81 for every £100 he earns – a gender pay gap of 19%. This is bad enough itself, but it’s also worth noting that at our current rate of progress it’ll be 2038 before pay equality is achieved (and this is assuming there will always be progress: between 2012 and 2013 the gender pay gap actually increased). It’s becoming increasingly obvious that our traditional approaches to equality are delivering progress at too slow a rate. If we do what we’ve always done we’ll get what we’ve always got. And what we’ve always got has let down too many people.


It’s time for a change.