The scale of poverty among disabled people and their families is undermining our society’s shared values of compassion and justice, says Helen Barnard.
In our country we believe in taking care of one another and protecting each other from harm - so it’s simply unacceptable that 3.8 million disabled adults and 300,000 disabled children are trapped in poverty; and that over 3 in 10 disabled people live in poverty compared to only 2 in 10 non-disabled people.
Disabled people are held back from a decent living standard by many different constraints:
- They are less likely to have a job, despite many being keen to work. The difference in employment rates among disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed slightly in the last few years – but it is still very large; only around half of disabled people are in work, compared with over 8 in 10 non-disabled people.
- Work can’t be relied on to deliver a good living standard. Disabled people are less likely to have higher qualifications and they are more likely to be low paid, even when they do have good qualifications.
- Finding and sustaining work that can be fitted around fluctuating health conditions or medical appointments can be very challenging.
- Many disabled people also face higher costs, for equipment or appliances, heating bills, travel and many other parts of life. The benefits intended to help with these additional costs often don’t fully cover them, leaving people facing higher deprivation than non-disabled people with a similar income.
Research from the Social Metrics Commission shows that nearly half of all people locked in poverty in the UK are disabled themselves or live with someone who is. It also shows that disabled people are disproportionately likely to be stuck in persistent poverty – trapped for years with few opportunities to escape.
What can be done?
The Government has launched a new drive to tackle the barriers faced by many disabled people.
Increasing access to suitable housing, improving statutory sick pay and helping employers to do more to open up work opportunities are all important steps towards loosening the grip of poverty.
In addition, our social security system should be a key to unlock the constraints of health conditions, care needs, rising costs and low-paid, insecure work. But research from the Disability Benefits Consortium shows that it isn’t providing that key for far too many people.
As well as working with employers and regulators, the Government must work with disabled people to redesign the system so that it frees people from the constraints of poverty and disability when they most need support, rather than tightening their grip.