Poverty figures offer no protection from the cliff edge


theweeksubNew government figures show that the number of disabled people in “relative” poverty fell by 100,000 in the coalition’s second year, although only because the real value of benefits fell by less than real wages.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, released today (13 May), showed that from 2010-11 to 2011-12 there was a fall in the proportion of disabled people living in relative poverty.

But DWP said this was because disabled people were likely to receive a larger proportion of their income in benefits than non-disabled people, and the fall in the real level of benefits had been smaller than the fall in real earnings.

The Households Below Average Income figures show there was a fall by one percentage point, to 19 per cent, in the proportion of individuals living in relative low income in families where at least one member was disabled.

Since 2004-05, the proportion of disabled people living in relative poverty – those with less than 60 per cent of average income – has fallen by four percentage points, from 23 per cent to 19 per cent.

But the figures also show that the number of individuals in absolute poverty – which looks at changes in real incomes – rose by 900,000 people from 2010-11 to 2011-12.

There were no figures for the number or proportion of disabled people in absolute poverty, but Disability Rights UK said this was likely to have risen.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “Disabled people have traditionally been hit hard in tough economic times.

“We fear that disabled people are likely to suffer again now with a significant rise in working-age absolute poverty before the majority of disability benefit cuts take effect.”

John McArdle, a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, said it was “preposterous” of the government to suggest that its welfare reforms were not driving disabled people further into poverty.

He pointed, among many other cuts and reforms, to the 600,000 fewer disabled people set to receive the new personal independence payment (PIP) by 2018 than if the government had not scrapped working-age disability living allowance.

He said: “Disabled people are facing a catastrophe in terms of how they are going to be impacted by poverty. Disabled people are right on the cliff edge.”

The DWP admits in the new report that disabled people who are not claiming disability benefits are even more likely to be living in relative poverty.

And the report says that, because the impact of disability-related costs is still not taken into account, there are likely to be more disabled people in poverty than shown by the official figures.

A DWP spokeswoman said that families with disabled members were likely to receive a greater proportion of their income in benefits – rather than earnings – than non-disabled families.

She said: “Benefits and earnings both fell in real terms. However, benefits rose, on average, by more than average earnings and therefore those on benefits experienced a slight improvement in their position compared to those in work, moving them out of relative poverty.”

13 June 2013