Official figures ‘underestimate disability poverty by one million people’


newslatestThe number of disabled people living in poverty is about one million higher than official figures, according to a new report.

The authors of the report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) told the all-party parliamentary group on disability this week that the true number of people in poverty who were living in households with a disabled member was at least four million, rather than three million.

This is because official figures include cash paid to disabled people through disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA) (and now also personal independence payment).

The report’s authors – Tom MacInnes of the New Policy Institute and independent consultant Declan Gaffney – argue that this money is intended to cover some of the extra costs of disability, so should not be counted as income when trying to count the number of disabled people in poverty.

MacInnes and Gaffney told the meeting that disability poverty in the UK was relatively high compared to other wealthy European countries, while the level of employment for disabled people in the UK was very low when compared with similar European countries.

Gaffney said their research showed that employment was not the only solution to poverty.

He said: “We need to challenge the assumption that paid work is a solution to poverty among all disabled people. This is clearly not the case.”

The report is one of seven major reviews that will form part of JRF’s major anti-poverty strategy, and drew on the views of a number of leading disabled people – including Sue Bott, Kaliyah Franklin, Jenny Morris, Liz Sayce and Jane Young – who took part in a policy workshop organised last autumn by Disability Rights UK.

MacInnes and Gaffney call in the report for the government to make it easier and more worthwhile for disabled people to move into work, and provide better specialist welfare-to-work programmes.

They say that intensive, long-term, in-work support combined with employer subsidies can also prove effective.

And they argue that, despite an “intense policy focus” on reforming disability benefit systems across the world in recent years – including in the UK – there is no evidence that employment rates of disabled people are increased by reducing the generosity of disability benefits or tightening eligibility.

And they say that although there are some good managers, there is still a common perception that employing disabled people involves extra costs, so stronger action could be necessary, such as supporting disabled people to assert their employment rights and providing targeted help for small companies.

They also suggest that making society less disabling would reduce poverty among disabled people, for example by improving the affordability and accessibility of housing and transport – such as expanding the Motability scheme – stopping legal discrimination in markets such as insurance, and making markets for assistive technologies work more effectively.

17 July 2014