New research shows what matters to people with complex disabilities

Over the past 3 years our Potential and Possibility research has helped us to understand the experiences and aspirations of people with complex disabilities. Today, we publish our 2024 research which involved 1,279 people with complex disabilities through a combination of polling and our own survey.  

Here are a few things we have learnt from this year’s Potential and Possibility research. 

Two people are communicating in sign language whilst other people watch and smile.

The health and happiness of people with complex disabilities remains a concern 

Although the individual results differ year to year, we have consistently seen people with complex disabilities reporting lower happiness and higher levels of anxiety over the past three years.  

Our research has also found that people with complex disabilities are also more likely to describe their health as bad/very bad. This year, 2024, 26% of people with complex disabilities described their health as bad/very bad, compared to only 9% of the general public.  

We also found that similar to last year people with complex disabilities are twice as likely to feel lonely compared to the general public. Over half of people with complex disabilities (55%) felt lonely compared to just over a quarter of the general public (26%).  

This highlights the many inequalities people with complex disabilities face and the importance of action to improve their wellbeing and happiness.  

There isn’t an end in sight for the cost of living crisis 

Our research into the impact of the rising cost of living consistently shows that people with complex disabilities are financially struggling. Last year’s Potential and Possibility research found that people with complex disabilities are more likely to find it difficult to afford the essentials.  

We also found that people with complex disabilities in receipt of benefits are another group who have been hit hard by rising costs

Despite energy prices coming down and inflation dropping, the cost of living crisis still persists for people with complex disabilities, leaving many more financially vulnerable and less resilient.  

We found a third of people with complex disabilities (33%) had run out of food and couldn’t afford to buy more.  

Over half of people with complex disabilities (56%) don’t feel they will be able to save a penny over the next year and 62% couldn’t afford a necessary but unexpected expense of £850. 

More is needed to help people with complex disabilities to be able to afford the essentials. 

More support is needed to help people with complex disabilities access employment 

Two thirds of people with complex disabilities who had a paid job (66%) enjoyed it.  Although paid employment may not be right for everyone with complex disabilities, for some it is an aspiration. 

Our employment research has found that people with complex disabilities face many barriers to accessing employment.  

Yet despite the barriers people with complex disabilities face, there is not enough support to help people with complex disabilities find employment.  Over half of people with complex disabilities (55%) who do not have a paid job wanted more support looking for employment

Concerningly, a third of people with complex disabilities (33%) didn’t feel they had the right support to overcome the barriers they face as a disabled person.  

Without a better understanding of disability by employers and more tailored advice and support, it is challenging for people with complex disabilities to access employment.  

There is more to do to address public attitudes and barriers faced by disabled people  

Exploring the experiences of people with complex disabilities using digital technology and their experiences of public transport highlights some of the barriers people with complex disabilities face day to day.  

Digital technology can be a vital way for people with complex disabilities to connect – 61% use social media and digital technology to keep in touch with friends and family. In addition, 45% of people with complex disabilities felt social media has helped them to build meaningful connections.  

Despite the benefits of digital 46% of people with complex disabilities feel excluded as they struggle to access services and activities online. 42% would also like to do more online, however it wasn’t accessible.  

Similarly public transport is something relied on by 52% of people with complex disabilities used public transport to see friends and family. Yet the same number (52%) found public transport difficult because of attitudes of passengers towards disabled people.  

Creating a truly accessible and inclusive world isn’t just about having the right technology it is also about putting disabled people at the heart of decision making and tackling negative public attitudes.  

So many problems. What are the solutions? 

Exploring the issues faced by people with complex disabilities helps us to understand what needs to change for disabled people. Our research helps to evidence the challenges and ambitions people with complex disabilities have helping us to make the case for meaningful change.  

That is why we are calling for the next UK government in our Plan for Change to prioritise the needs of disabled people.  

We are hoping this can be done by: 

  • Make sure disabled people can afford the essentials. 
  • Fund social care so no disabled adult goes without support. 
  • End the postcode lottery of social care for disabled children. 
  • Give every disabled child equal access to education. 
  • Make the benefits system work for disabled people. 
  • Tackle barriers to work. 
  • Always have a senior Minister for Disabled People. 

We believe these actions will help to address some of the many challenges faced by people with complex disabilities and improve their lives. We want to see the next UK government strive to make a meaningful difference to the lives of disabled people.  


Read the full Potential and Possibility 2024 research on the Sense website