The proportion of families with disabled children who are living in poverty rose by nearly a third in two years, even before the cost-of-living crisis, according to a new poverty measurement being developed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The measurement – which aims to provide a more accurate way of calculating deprivation – shows that nearly half of all individuals in families with at least one disabled child and one disabled adult in the UK were living in poverty by 2021-22, according to a DWP report published quietly last Thursday.
The new measurement, which calculates “individuals in low resources”, found the proportion of people in families with disabled children who were living in poverty increased from 33 per cent in 2019-20 to 43 per cent in 2021-22.
The rise was even higher for those in families with disabled children but no disabled adults, increasing from 25 per cent in poverty in 2019-20 to 38 per cent in 2021-22, a rise of more than half in just two years, according to the new DWP progress report and consultation.
The proportion of people in families with at least one disabled child and one disabled adult who were living in poverty, according to the new measure, rose from 39 per cent in 2019-20 to 46 per cent in 2021-22.
These figures compare with 17 per cent of individuals in families with no disabled members who were living in poverty in both 2019-20 and 2021-22.
This means that people living in families with disabled children were more than twice as likely to be living in poverty than those in families where no-one was disabled in 2021-22, while those in families with both a disabled child and a disabled adult were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to be living in poverty.
As the figures for 2022-23 are not yet available, there is no account taken of the impact of the subsequent cost-of-living crisis.
The individuals in low resources figures – known officially as a “below average resources” (BAR) measure – are being developed by DWP and are based on work by the Social Metrics Commission.
The commission’s own report (PDF), released just days before Christmas, calculated that, under the new measures, there were 14.9 million people living in poverty in the UK in 2021-22, of whom 8.6 million were living in families that included a disabled adult or child, and 6.3 million in families that do not include a disabled adult or child.
It also found that, of the 14.9 million people in poverty, 4.7 million of them were disabled, with 3.2 million disabled working-age adults, 600,000 disabled children and 800,000 disabled pension-age adults.
The aim of producing the new BAR figures is to provide a more accurate measure of poverty than the existing households below average income (HBAI) figures.
One of the reasons the BAR figures are likely to provide a more accurate measure of how many disabled people are living in poverty is that they account for what is known as “inescapable disability-related costs” (IDC), which HBAI ignores.
This means that the new figures take account for the first time of the extra disability-related costs that disabled people face, although DWP is continuing to develop this IDC figure to make it more accurate.
Among other improvements to HBAI, the BAR figures also take account for the first time of overcrowded households and childcare costs.
It means that the more accurate BAR measure “tends to find even higher poverty rates for the most disadvantaged… in comparison to HBAI”, such as families with children and those with a disabled family member.
Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts and author of The War on Disabled People, said: “It’s very welcome to finally see poverty measures that take account of disability-related costs and which therefore provide a more accurate picture of the scale of disadvantage faced by disabled people.
“This enables us to prove what we know anecdotally and gives greater weight to our calls for a fundamental overhaul of the social security system.”
She added: “The findings are consistent with projections published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2018, which warned that families with disabled children and where there are both disabled adults and disabled children would be worst hit by tax and welfare reform changes up until 2021-22.”
But she said the figures that now show the scale of that disadvantage were “still shocking”, with the Social Metrics Commission’s report showing that more than 57 per cent of poverty was disability-related in 2021-22.
Clifford said: “This is a terrible indictment of a country as rich as Britain, where, over the same two years that the new measures show very sharp increases in disability poverty, the number of billionaires in the UK rose by 20 per cent.”
Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy adviser for Disability Rights UK, said: “While the DWP attempting to develop a more accurate measure of how many disabled people are living in poverty is welcome, it is decades overdue.
“That its pre-cost-of-living crisis draft measurement shows that 4.7 million disabled people were likely to be living in poverty is truly shocking.
“That level of deprivation must be far worse now.”
He said it was “bitterly ironic” that the government was not using the new figures to push for disabled people’s benefits to be increased to relieve this “extreme poverty”.
Butler said: “Instead, the government intends to abolish the work capability assessment (WCA), that will see around 632,000 disabled people worse off, with those who receive the universal credit support component losing around £4,700 a year.
“What’s needed instead is a benefits ‘essentials guarantee’ that also accurately reflects ‘inescapable disability-related costs’.”
A consultation on DWP’s ongoing BAR work will run until 11 April.
Despite the report being written and published by DWP, a spokesperson for the department refused to comment on whether ministers were concerned at the rise in disability poverty it showed, or to explain what action they would take to address it.
He also refused to say whether ministers accepted that the figures showed that making it even harder to claim disability benefits through its WCA reforms would be reckless and dangerous.
Instead of commenting on the new BAR statistics, he referred in a statement to HBAI figures, and also to overall poverty levels, and made no reference to the number of people in disability-related poverty.
He said: “While there are 1.7 million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared to 2010, we know the challenges disabled people and their families face.
“That is why are investing billions breaking down barriers to work, cutting taxes and curbing inflation to make everyone’s money go further, while our £104 billion support package includes raising disability benefits by 6.7 per cent from April.
“The development of this measure will sit alongside DWP’s existing poverty statistics to give us a better understanding of those who are struggling.
“The households below average income statistics remain the source of official poverty estimates and will be published as usual in March this year.”
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