Picture this: a couple of years ago you might have been fit, healthy, happy, with a great job. Then, last winter you took your family on a skiing holiday and suffered an accident.
You fractured your right arm and broke both tibias. You had investigations done for a possible head injury and began to suffer migraines.
But after you had rested the recovery was not progressing. There were complications in the healing of your ligaments, so the pain increased and you became unable to move freely. Your fitness levels started to deteriorate. Then depression crept in.
Your insurance policy was voided due to an honest error, and work stopped paying your salary after three months full pay.
With some encouragement from your family, you decided you would attempt to access the benefits system, but soon found this a difficult, debilitating process that knocked you back even further.
Suddenly, navigating work, benefits, finances and daily life seems full of obstacles.
Welcome to the word of disability*.
According to the Department for Work and Pensions, in the 2021/2022 financial year, there were 16mn people in the UK with a disability.
The DWP’s Family Resources Survey indicates this represents 24 per cent of the total population – and it can be something people are born with, something that develops over time or something that, as in the example above, happens suddenly.
Unexpected and unprepared for
Tish Hanifan is founder of Solla, the Society of Later Life Advisers, and her organisation is well versed in working with vulnerable consumers.
She says while not every disabled person would necessarily be financially vulnerable, there are instances where vulnerability and disability go hand-in-hand, as disability can sometimes be caused by illness or accident, and both can come completely out of the blue with no time to prepare oneself financially.
Hanifan speaks about common misconceptions of vulnerability. She believes that often advisers think of vulnerability in the more common and visible terms, for example older people with dementia or people living with a (visible) physical disability.
“However”, Hanifan says, “as the FCA highlights in its work on vulnerability, anyone can become vulnerable, even temporarily, due to life events such as bereavement, debt or illness.”
She refers to the regulator’s finalised guidance on definitions of vulnerability, and says it is important to consider circumstances as vulnerable, rather than the clients themselves.
Therefore, Hanifan continues, “it is often better to think of clients living in vulnerable circumstances rather than vulnerable clients”.
In contrast to financial vulnerability, the UK Money and Pensions Services says that “financial wellbeing is about feeling secure and in control. It’s about making the most of your money from day to day, dealing with the unexpected, and being on track for a healthy financial future.”
Sharon Collard, Professor of Personal Finance at the University of Bristol believes that “financial wellbeing is essential in delivering the United Nations’ vision of ‘the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others and… full inclusion and participation in the community’.”
However, the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre, and the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers recently published a report that Collard was closely involved in.