The proportion of disabled people who live in poverty in Wales has risen by more than 40 per cent since 2010, according to “very concerning” new research.
Figures produced by Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) show that the percentage of working-age disabled people living in poverty in Wales rose from 27 or 28 per cent to 39 per cent in just five or six years.
The increase in poverty levels appears to have started at around the time the Conservative-led coalition government came to power in 2010.
The figures were provided to Disability News Service (DNS) by JRF after it published new analysis showing that nearly two-fifths of disabled people (39 per cent) in Wales were now living in income poverty, compared with 31 per cent of disabled people in the UK as a whole, and 22 per cent of non-disabled people in Wales.
JRF provided figures to DNS which showed that the proportion of working-age disabled people in poverty in Wales had fallen to an average of 28 per cent in the three years from 2008-09 to 2010-11 and 27 per cent in the three years from 2009-10 to 2011-12.
But the disability poverty rate then began to climb until it reached an average of 37 per cent in the three years 2012-13 to 2014-15, and as high as 39 per cent in the years 2013-14 to 2015-16.
The figures relate to levels of relative income poverty* and do not include income from disability living allowance and personal independence payment (PIP) – because these payments are designed to meet disability-related costs – but they do take account of other benefits, including employment and support allowance.
Miranda Evans, policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales (DW), the national association of disabled people’s organisations, said both the UK and Welsh governments should share blame for the increase.
She said: “The sharp increase in disability poverty is very concerning indeed.
“Many would put this down to welfare reform and the cuts to disability benefits.
“However, because JRF does not take into account ‘disability costs benefits’ like PIP in calculating the rates of disability poverty, this tells us that this increase is not solely down to welfare reform.
“We cannot simply point to cuts in disability benefits as being the cause in Wales.
“Much more must be done to address the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people.
“The lack of flexible, well-paid job opportunities is a barrier for many disabled people.”
DW had earlier said that the figure showing that 39 per cent of disabled people were in poverty was “no surprise”, as Wales had the highest proportion of disabled people in its population, the highest proportion of claimants of disability benefits and the widest employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people in the UK.
Ken Skates, the Welsh government’s cabinet secretary for economy and transport, told the BBC that the 39 per cent figure was a “national disgrace” and that “we must ensure that disabled people have the right skills, right transport and right opportunities to address this”.
Rhian Davies (pictured), DW’s chief executive, said that it “will indeed be a national disgrace” if the Welsh government failed to act.
She said in a blog that DW had “long called on Welsh government to fully recognise and act on the scale of poverty faced by disabled people, arguing that without this focus, general approaches to tackling poverty and unemployment will fail”.
Davies said DW and other national disability organisations had been reviewing the Welsh government’s Framework for Action on Independent Living – which resulted from DW’s Independent Living Now! campaign – but that “with the exception, perhaps, of digital inclusion, we found little evidence of improvement in the lived experience of disabled people since 2013, with many telling us that they are worse off”.
She said that much of the blame was due to the impact of UK government austerity measures, “which have seen benefits and services to disabled people slashed”.
But she said: “Welsh government cannot fully mitigate UK government actions, nevertheless there is more it can do in demonstrating leadership in areas where it has direct responsibility.
“The strong words of ministers must now be turned into stronger action.”
Davies, who chairs the Welsh government’s Independent Living National Steering Group, said a revised Framework for Action on Independent Living should set “ambitious and measurable targets aimed at addressing poverty and tackling barriers to independent living at both national and local level”.
Among actions the Welsh government could take, she said, was to increase the proportion of disabled people in its own workforce, from the current five per cent; use new infrastructure projects to “create a more inclusive and accessible built environment and transport system”; and use government contracts to advance disability equality.
And she called on the Welsh government to “emulate the European Union’s progressive approach to disability rights” by incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into new legislation.
A spokeswoman for the Welsh government said that its new, cross-government Economic Action Plan was “grounded on the principle that for those who can work, well-paid work is the best route out of poverty”.
She said: “We recognise that disabled people are at a much greater risk of having poorer employment outcomes.
“Next week we will publish our Employability Plan which will set out how we will support people, including those furthest from the jobs market, to increase their employability.
“This includes a specific target to increase the number of disabled people in work.
“The plan recognises the need to address the barriers which exist in society, including negative attitudes, organisational systems and physical obstacles which prevent disabled people from fulfilling their potential.”
She added: “Many of the levers to support disabled people lie with the UK government but we remain committed to working across government on issues where we can add value.”
She said the Welsh government was “working to develop stronger links” with the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions, “both to influence the delivery of more support for disabled people that enables them to secure employment, remain in work and progress”, and to raise awareness of the Access to Work disability employment scheme.
*The proportion of those living with less than 60 per cent of the median (average) income