The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the many inequalities people face in the UK including living in poverty. As of February this year, a Social Market Foundation report found that 42% of families who rely on disability allowance are living in poverty due to a lack of government support and their catastrophic failure to protect the most vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Poverty can be categorised into social, economic and political factors that mean people are left without their basic needs being met. So why exactly are disabled people disproportionately affected?
As someone who has cerebral palsy and grew up within a lower/working class environment I understand first hand just how difficult managing a health condition on a low income can be.
Whilst there is help available in the form of disability benefits, often the system in place is designed for people to fail rather than to access the vital financial support they desperately need.
For example, I was once asked to walk repeatedly in a pip assessment when I turned 16, despite explicitly noting that I haven’t been able to do that since birth.
When tweeting about this I received over 17,000 likes and 500 responses detailing how they had been belittled and treated almost like criminals for asking for support, with many calling the assessments degrading and humiliating.
It is because of this treatment that many disabled people can’t access vital support and are also scared to, meaning they fall into poverty.
The Social Market Foundation report also found that “a substantially higher proportion of individuals who live in families with disabled members live in poverty, compared to individuals who live in families where no one is disabled”.
The average cost of living for a disabled person is around £583 more than that of someone without a disability according to the UK charity Scope.
This is because of factors such as:
- Accessible transport costs as many disabled people don’t have access to personal transport
- Electricity costs due to charging specialist equipment such as hoists and powered wheelchairs
- Equipment like powerchairs and aides
- Needing adaptations to your home
- Adaptive clothing
This means that for families with disabled household members life costs considerably more in order to keep their dignity and independence intact.
As well as the above, disabled people are around 3 times as likely not to hold any qualifications compared to non-disabled people, and around half as likely to hold a degree-level qualification (ONS).
There are many reasons for this including the fact that education facilities can’t always support disabled students due to lack of educational funding and appropriate training, therefore, leading disabled people more likely to be in lower-paid jobs or unemployed.
As well as this many businesses are reluctant to hire disabled people due to the extra costs they may incur whilst doing so therefore to lift disabled people out of poverty so they are able to live without fear or struggle we must first break the stigma around disability and employment.
The government’s failure to support disabled citizens since they began power has put the most vulnerable at significantly higher risk of falling into poverty and needing to rely on benefits and food banks to scrape by in life.
Austerity in the UK has affected working-class communities disproportionately to any other sectors of society and it’s more likely disabled people live within the boundaries of what is considered to be lower or working class.
Justin Tomlinson is the official minister for disabled people in the UK yet he has not made his presence known during the pandemic or indeed since he started the role in 2015.
Disabled people often feel they have no voice within parliament, yet the man who is supposed to use his voice on our behalf doesn’t have the common decency to even attempt to fix the dire consequences of Conservative austerity.
Growing up on a council estate poses challenges to everyone but not least to those with disabilities.
Conversations around poverty rarely consider accessible housing and the needs of those with disabilities, yet they are more likely to face the devastating effects.
More must be done within government to ensure we no longer hear of the untimely deaths of disabled individuals due to government incompetence.
In order to support disabled people, the benefit system must be reviewed in order to keep it in line with humane and ethical practices. Otherwise it will continue catch people out instead of being there to help without judgement or shame.
(Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
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