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The Disabled Cost of Living: Food Shopping is Even Harder When You’re Gluten Free

Millions of people are currently struggling to heat their homes, pay their bills and afford food in the toughest Cost of Living Crisis the UK has seen in 30 years. In our new series, The Disabled Cost of Living, we will hear how disabled people are disproportionately affected, due to their lives already costing more and being valued as less.

During the current cost of living crisis, the price of everyday basics seems daunting enough, without having to navigate a specialist diet alongside it. Yet, the everyday truth for those of us who medically must eat these specialist foods is that our lives are even more expensive. 

The fact is that the cost of a free-from diet is higher than its non-free from counterpart. This becomes all the more frustrating when you remember that this is not a way of life that is chosen, but rather one that is medically prescribed.

It becomes a cruel case of paying a literal price for an uncontrollable disability. 

From allergens to the varying chronic illnesses that are managed through diet, there is a multitude of uncontrollable reasons that people require these specialist foods.

For me, it is a strict gluten-free diet to manage my Coeliac Disease. What is important to remember is that it is a medical requirement and a necessity. 

Whilst the range of free-from products available at the supermarket is increasing, so is the price.

Coeliac UK claim that a gluten free diet costs 3-4 times more than its standard equivalent, meanwhile, a study in 2018 showed that in the UK, some gluten-free food costs on average 159% more than their gluten-including counterparts. 

As a student with Coeliac Disease, navigating the cost of a gluten-free food shop seems like an endless juggling process. Watching at the checkout as the number rise when specialist bread and pasta are scanned through is heart-breaking every time. 

On top of navigating a chronic illness, simply figuring out what I can afford to eat is incredibly exhausting. The food shop should not have had to have been one of my biggest stressors whilst studying for a degree.

It becomes exhausting having to pay extra for a lifestyle that I did not choose and have no choice but to follow.

Convenience goes out of the window when it comes to the price of specialist food. These items that are designed to be easy swaps for everyday staples are raised to such high of a price that they become difficult to maintain in a weekly shop.

They are no longer convenient swaps and planning meals is no longer an easy task each week.

In the UK, free from food has become medically even less accessible than ever. 

In 2017, the Department of Health and Social Care removed access to a wide range of gluten-free foods on prescription, and in 2018, objectives were set out to reduce this further.

The inaccessibility of these foods from a medical standpoint leaves supermarkets as the main place to go for these specialist items.

Because of this, it comes down to either spending the excess amount on food in shops or going without items like free-from bread.  

Specialist foods can be avoided in a food shop to save some money. With a focus on whole foods such as meat, nuts, potatoes, fruit, vegetables, and rice you can eat a balanced diet without the need for as many specialised foods.

This however does come with the luxury of time to plan, prepare, and cook these meals – a luxury that a lot of people with chronic illnesses do not have. 

Another option to ensure you get your money’s worth of meals is to batch cook. This offers a cost-effective option that will leave you with multiple meals out of one night’s cooking.

Freezing meals to have in weeks to come can not only help you to cut down the cost of food shops but it also means you have convenient, quick and easy meals to hand on low spoons days. 

Back in May, The Trussell Trust sent out a tweet listing unexpected items that could be donated to their food banks, including free-from substitutes as one of them.

The work done by food banks is amazing for making food accessible for everyone, yet the scarcity of free-from foods within these food banks makes these places and food even less accessible for people that need it. 

At most food banks, they try their best to cater to allergies and dietary requirements when informed. Yet this comes down ultimately to how much has been donated or not.

If you are able to, consider donating long-life, free-from items to your local food bank, as this could really benefit someone that is struggling to afford the cost of specialist foods.  

Life with a chronic illness brings fatigue, brain fog and appetite changes to name only a few symptoms. This all makes navigating specialist foods all the more taxing. It becomes an endless cycle of literal, mental and physical cost – all because you tried to buy food that would not make you sick. 

It goes without saying that everyone should have equal access to food. When your medical needs and lifestyle demand a certain diet, it is unfair to have to pay more for something that is out of your control.

 A chronic illness is enough to deal with without having to spend a small fortune on a loaf of gluten-free bread.  


Citizen’s Advice has lots of great guides but these two in particular:

If you’re struggling with living costs gives advice on how you can get help paying for food, rent, what benefits you may be entitled to and how to get help from your local council.

Using a food bank gives details on what to do if you have no money for food, if you’re shielding or self isolating, getting a referral to a Trussell Trust food bank, going to a food bank and what to do if you need to use one again.

Turn2Us Benefits Calculator can help you find out what you may be entitled to claim and also gives a detailed explanation of each different benefit.

The Social Fund covers cold weather payments, winter fuel payments, funeral payments and the Sure Start Maternity Grant that you may be eligible for.

If you are on certain benefits you may also qualify for a Budgeting Loan to help you buy furniture, pay rent, travel costs, clothes and other thins

Jack Monroe’s blog is full of actual money saving recipes that are easy to cook and fully costed. None of that just eat dried pasta bullshit.

Shout is a confidential mental health support service that is available via text. Free, 24/7. Text “SHOUT” to 85258.

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