Business

How one boy's story helped 'cut living costs for disabled people'

Rita Kutt
Image caption Rita Kutt urged M&S to extend their range of clothes

A committed grandmother persuaded a retail giant to stock a range of affordable, easy-access clothes for children with disabilities.

Rita Kutt wrote to Marks and Spencer urging them to sell bigger popper vests suitable for youngsters like her grandson Caleb, who has cerebral palsy.

Now Mrs Kutt is being celebrated as an example to disabled people and their carers to be "bold and loud".

Disabled people face a premium of £550 a month on the cost of everyday items.

The Extra Costs Commission, launched by disability charity Scope, found that disability benefits failed to cover this premium. It concluded that people with disabilities needed to speak up about their spending power to get better deals.

Image caption Little Caleb has cerebral palsy and has specific needs

Rita Kutt was one person who spoke up. Her grandson Caleb, now aged four, still uses nappies and is fed through a tube in his stomach, making it difficult to find clothes that fit him.

When he was three years old his mum, Zoe, and grandmother, Rita, started looking for suitable clothing for him but could only find the correct outfits in specialist catalogues, charging between £12 and £15 for items like bigger popper vests.

She wrote to M&S which sent samples to test with Caleb and later the retail giant launched a specialist, adapted clothing range for disabled children that included popper vests and sleepsuits in bigger sizes than its other baby and child ranges.

The items that were costing about £12 were available for about £4 each instead.

Image caption Robin Hindle Fisher says that disabled people need to be savvy shoppers

The commission, which began work in 2014 and published a final report last year, found that disabled people and their families have a combined spending power, known as the "purple pound", of more than £200bn a year.

It also estimated that businesses that were not engaging with their disabled customers were missing out on up to £420m a week.

Its chairman Robin Hindle Fisher, who has worked for 30 years in the financial services industry, said: "We called on disabled people to be bold and loud - to get their voices heard and let businesses know about the opportunities they are missing out on.

"A year later we are delighted to see that where Britain's 12.9 million disabled consumers and their families have made their voices heard, brands have risen to the challenge.

"We would now like more businesses to recognise the value of their disabled customers and compete for a share of their considerable spending power.

"This can only be good for companies and their shareholders and, at the same time, produce more competitive markets and improve the lives of disabled people."

Apart from the M&S case, examples of progress, according to Mr Hindle Fisher, were:

  • An investment by taxi hire service Uber in 100 wheelchair access vehicles which charge the same fares as other vehicles. Uber said it wanted to extend the service in the future
  • Ticket provider the Ticket Factory signing up for an access card that allows people with disabilities to automatically communicate their accessibility requirements
  • A review of the insurance market by the City regulator
  • Consumer rights information for people with disabilities available from consumer group Which?

The commission said that disability organisations should club together to bulk-buy products from clothes and shoes to energy provision.

Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, said: "The Extra Costs Commission rightly highlights the good sense of businesses that are making the most of the purple pound by offering innovative products and services that disabled people need. I hope it inspires other businesses to do likewise."

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