Number of disabled people in poverty rose by 200,000 in one year… says DWP

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The number of disabled people living in poverty has risen by 200,000 in just one year, government figures have revealed.

The new figures [summary results, tables 7a and 7b], published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), show levels of absolute poverty rose between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the figures meant another 200,000 disabled people living “terrible, degrading, miserable, half-lives”.

The figures are likely to be influenced by continuing government attempts to cut spending on disability benefits, including policies such as the benefits freeze and cuts to payments to new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).

The WRAG cuts of nearly £30 a week were introduced in April 2017, with ministers trying to justify them by claiming they would “incentivise” sick and disabled people to find work.

The new poverty figures are part of the annual Households Below Average Income report, which was published last Thursday (28 April).

They also show that as many as 600,000 more disabled people are now in absolute poverty, compared with 2010, when the Tory-led coalition government came to power.

Media attention focused on a rise in child poverty, but the report also shows increased levels of absolute poverty – the government’s preferred measure – affecting disabled people.

Households are said to be in absolute poverty if their income is less than 60 per cent of average (median) income in 2010-11, adjusted for inflation.

Before housing costs are taken into account, the proportion of individuals living in households including a disabled person who were in absolute poverty rose from 16 per cent to 18 per cent, between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

And the number of disabled people living in absolute poverty – before housing costs – rose from 3.6 to 3.8 million.

Once housing costs have been accounted for, the proportion of individuals living in households including a disabled person who were in absolute poverty also rose, from 22 to 23 per cent.

And the number of disabled people living in absolute poverty – after housing costs – rose from 4.9 million to 5 million, an increase of 100,000.

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Wealthy people running the government think poverty means not having much money.

“They don’t understand poverty, it doesn’t just mean little money; it means bleakness, fear, misery, hopelessness, day in day out, no rest and no remission, stretching into a degrading future.  

“It means hunger, it means cold in winter, it means worsening mental health, it means bad living condition and fear of being on the streets.

“And for some people it means death by suicide, starvation or other easily preventable causes. 200,000 more disabled people in poverty isn’t just a number.

“Five million disabled people in absolute poverty is five million individual human beings living terrible, degrading, miserable, half-lives. A living nightmare.”

Michelle Maher, from the WOWcampaign, said the figure of 200,000 more disabled people in absolute poverty was “no surprise to campaigners who recognise the multiple cuts disabled people face”, including the bedroom tax, and cuts to housing benefit and council tax support, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, cuts to employment and support allowance, and the impact of the benefits freeze and the benefit cap. 

She said WOWcampaign had been fighting for seven years “to get the government to assess the impact of all disability cuts” and to demonstrate a duty of care to disabled children and adults across the UK and to “make sure disabled people are not driven into poverty”.  

She said: “They refuse, as they know the figure would emerge that disabled families could use to fight for support, and shock the public.

“I absolutely cannot comprehend the inhumanity and cruelty shown to our fellow citizens.”

She predicted that the roll-out of universal credit would make the number of disabled people in absolute poverty “far, far worse”. 

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd accepted that the increase in disabled people in poverty was caused by continuing government attempts to cut spending on disability benefits, or explain what other factors may have caused the rise.

But she said in a statement: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government, and we take these numbers extremely seriously.

“Absolute poverty rates for people in a family reporting a disability are lower than in 2010, and we are spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before.

“We are looking at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances.”

Although DWP is correct that the proportions of households in absolutely poverty are slightly lower (by one percentage point) than in 2009-10, the numbers of disabled people in absolute poverty have increased by 300,000 (before housing costs) and 600,000 (after housing costs) between 2009-10 and 2017-18.

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