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The hidden cost: the cost of living crisis risks leaving people with diabetes storing up health problems for the future

Hannah Poll

Diabetes UK is seeing the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on people who are living with or who are at risk of diabetes. As well as being forced to cut back on essentials in ways which risk their health now, there’s a serious risk that people will be storing up health problems for years to come – and the NHS needs to be prepared for this.

  • Health inequalities

Over 5 million people in the UK are living with diabetes – that’s one in 14 people. And the number of people with type 2 diabetes has almost doubled in the last 15 years.

Every week, diabetes leads to more than 190 amputations, 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks and more than 2300 cases of heart failure across the UK, the majority of which can be prevented with proper care and support.

Health inequalities play a huge role in diabetes prevention, care and treatment. That’s why at Diabetes UK we wanted to find out how people with and at risk of diabetes have been impacted by the rising cost of living, and use this to inform our policy work.

How is the cost of living affecting people with diabetes?

Diabetes UK surveyed 6,490 people living with diabetes, or who had been told they’re at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The results show people are at risk of their health worsening now, and may be storing up issues for the future.

People surveyed told us that rising costs are negatively affecting how they manage their condition (77%). 66% cut back on essentials like food or energy or have gone without entirely e.g., cooking less, buying cheaper but less healthy food, or switching off fridges to save energy – which can affect food and medication.

The costs of care

These cutbacks mean it’s more important than ever that people with and at risk of diabetes have access to routine care and support from healthcare providers. This can help manage their condition, avoid complications such as foot problems, strokes, and heart attacks, and receive support to prevent type 2 and gestational diabetes.

But people are telling us that they’re struggling to manage diabetes care costs at a time when squeezed incomes make it more difficult to live well. 23% have cut back on costs related to managing their diabetes or risk of diabetes, such as hypo treatments, self-funded diabetes technology or travel to appointments.

This is embedding existing health disparities – 11% of people in the most deprived areas of the UK told us they haven’t been to afford to travel to appointments, compared to just 3% in the most affluent areas. This is especially worrying when we know that people living in the most deprived areas also experience poorer access to care and treatment, and so face worse outcomes.

The case for a well-resourced NHS

Diabetes care processes haven’t recovered from dropping off under the coronavirus pandemic, and there’s evidence people are entering the health system at a “sicker” point – e.g., already experiencing complications, or diagnosed in an emergency state.

When rising costs mean people are already struggling to stay on top of their diabetes or manage their risk, not being able to access care will compound these problems. We’re worried we’ll see long-term impacts from this which will put an avoidable strain on the NHS in the coming years.

As well as tackling the root causes of the cost of living crisis so that people have the money in their pockets that they need to live healthy lives, Government must publish the NHS workforce strategy in full as a priority. The NHS needs funding and resource to withstand any long-term increases in rates of diabetes complications and diagnoses because of the cost of living crisis. We will also be feeding into the government’s Major Conditions Strategy to advocate for including diabetes care and prevention which takes into account rising numbers and increasingly complex needs and co-morbidities.

Read our report ‘The Hidden Cost’ for more insights and information on what we’re calling for.


Hannah Poll is a Senior Policy Officer leading on type 2 and gestational diabetes prevention policy at Diabetes UK, and holds an MSc in Food & Water Security. She’s previously worked in anti-poverty roles focusing on housing, debt, employment, and welfare policy. Hannah is passionate about food justice and tackling the root causes of health inequalities.