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Nearly half of everyone in poverty is either a disabled person or lives with a disabled person

07 February 2020

Four million people with disabilities in the UK are living in poverty. In total, seven million people in poverty are either a disabled person or live with a disabled person – nearly half of everyone in poverty, highlights a new Joseph Rowntree (JRF) research report .

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has identified several drivers of poverty for disabled people in the UK:

  • disabled people face higher costs of living
  • there is a sizeable difference in the highest level of qualification between those who are disabled and those who are not: 19% of disabled adults have a degree or above, compared with 35% of non-disabled adults
  • disability, ill-health and society’s response to these conditions often prevent people from working. For example, disabled people tend to earn less than their non-disabled counterparts even if they have the same qualification levels.

The JRF is clear that “in a society that believes in compassion and justice, it’s simply wrong that being disabled puts you at a higher risk of poverty”.

 Its new research details that:

In 2017/18, 31% of the 13 million people with disabilities in the UK lived in poverty – around 4 million people. By contrast, the poverty rate among the non-disabled population was 20% in 2017/18.  This gap in poverty rates has persisted over time.

An additional three million non-disabled people in poverty live in a household where someone is disabled, meaning that, overall, nearly half of the 14 million people in poverty are affected by disability.

Poverty is especially high among families where there is an adult who is disabled, at nearly 33%. If there is also a disabled child, the poverty rate is 40% – more than twice the rate where there is no disability.

Disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to face barriers to paid work. In 2017/18, 50% of working-age disabled people were not working compared with 18% of non-disabled people.

They also work fewer hours on average and are more likely to be low paid. However, the poverty rate is still higher for disabled people with a given level of qualifications – they tend to be paid less than non-disabled people with the same qualification level, including a degree.

We need a continuing commitment to improve the numbers of disabled people in work, but much more action is needed by governments and employers if the disability employment gap is to be closed.”

The JRF stresses that benefits do not protect disabled people against poverty. It says:

“Those receiving disability benefits have lower employment rates and are more likely to be reliant on other benefits for their income (the real value of which has been eroded by the freeze on benefits), including Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit.

Those who are of working age are particularly at risk: 1.3 million working-age adults who live in a family in receipt of disability benefits live in poverty.”

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

“The findings of the JRF research are both shocking but unsurprising.

 The social security system should provide a financial safety net for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.

Yet, since 2008, changes to welfare benefits have led to this safety net collapsing, causing people to feel abandoned by a cruel and unfair system. Financial security for most disabled people has all but vanished and many of us have been left living in poverty and isolation as a result.

Radical reform of the disability benefit system is urgently needed. Not only does a reformed system need to provide better and reliable financial support. It also needs to provide tailored support to those disabled people who could work without compulsion and conditionality and treat of sanction.”

The JRF report Poverty 2019/2020 is available @ jrf.org.uk