BSACI position statement: Cost of living, health inequalities – and the adverse additional impact on children and young people living with allergic conditions
17th May 2023
“My child should have free school meals but is excluded because of allergies. I cannot afford the cost for packed lunches”
(Single working mother of a 6 year-old with milk, egg and nut allergy)
The cost of living crisis is disproportionately affecting households already under financial pressure. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) recently released a position statement outlining the severe and lasting impact of poverty on child and adolescent health www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/child-health-inequalities-position-statement
Even without chronic long-term conditions, poverty leads to poorer, and inadequate nutrition, poorer health and poorer long-term prospects1,2. It is easy to see how this is magnified when children and young people have a long-term health condition. For example, attendance for medical care has been costed at an average of £35 per appointment with non-attendances occurring due to inability to afford this3.
Allergic disease substantially increases the cost of living. Food allergy, especially if multiple major food groups have to be avoided, added an average yearly cost burden for families in Ireland of 1439 Euros (£1259)4-8. This was prior to the high inflation we have experienced in the last year. Poverty appears to be a risk factor for food allergy related hospitalisation.
Eczema adds to the cost of living due to the need for more frequent use of the washing machine, more frequent baths/showers and additional cost of over-the-counter soap substitutes and emollients9.
Asthma can be exacerbated by poor housing, poor ventilation and heating, and children in income deprived families are more likely to live in areas of high air pollution and live in substandard housing with poor ventilation10,11. The cost of living crisis will make heating homes adequately more difficult for many families
All the above usually require regular medical review. The child’s main carer may only be able to work reduced hours, may work under their level of qualification or may not be able to work at all due to the care needs of the child12. For UK families, their reduced income was compensated to an extent by carer’s allowance or other benefit payments. These, however, are increasingly being withdrawn, leaving families with no resources to fund the extra cost for food, heating, water etc.
We urge health and social care professionals to recognise the additional financial burden which is placed on families affected by allergic conditions and to support families at this time. They can support families in a number of ways: a letter to water company regarding reduced tariff; housing support letters; support when re-applying for carer’s allowance or other relevant benefits, and discussion with GP regarding prescription of certain food items.