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2 May 2023

How has the cost of living crisis impacted eye health? Poll reveals harsh reality

Broken glasses taped up

This article was originally written by Rachel Nunn for Insight magazine.

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) is warning that eye health in the UK is under threat due to the cost of living crisis. Many people are being forced to choose between spending money on their sight or feeding their children and, eye health is becoming another casualty of this crisis. The AOP is urging the government to increase the NHS optical voucher to help those in need to access proper eye care.

A recent public poll of over 1,000 people carried out in October shows just how much of an impact the cost of living crisis is having on people’s day-to-day vision, with many wearing out-of-date prescriptions and “making do” with taped-together glasses.

The poll revealed that 36% of people, across all ages, are wearing out-of-date prescriptions and 19% are using broken glasses they have had to self-repair. Shockingly, almost a third (31%) are even wearing their friends’ and family’s eyewear to avoid spending money on their own. Participants in the survey also described the difficulties they face carrying out basic everyday tasks such as driving, doing their job, reading and watching TV.

Some of the comments from participants in the survey were heartbreaking, including: “Although my sight is very important, so is feeding my children” and “I have a pair of reading glasses from the pound shop because I don’t have any spare money to get an eye test and new glasses. I know that they are not correct for my vision, and I have to strain my eyes to read properly”.

A survey of 876 optometrists further supports the AOP’s concerns. Seven in 10 in the profession have seen a patient in the last three months who needed vision correction but took no action because they couldn’t afford to.

The AOP is calling on the government to increase the value of NHS optical vouchers, which would encourage patients to seek the eye care they need. A fifth of the public surveyed (18%) did not know if they were eligible for an NHS sight test and voucher towards the costs of glasses. Three-quarters (77%) of optometrists surveyed said increasing the value of NHS optical vouchers would encourage patients to seek the eye care they need.

Adam Sampson, Chief Executive of the AOP, says, “It’s of deep concern that people are being forced to make decent vision an optional ‘extra.’ The stories to come out of this research are truly shocking, and it’s imperative that action is taken now to minimize the long-term damage to people’s eyesight.”