Income and Poverty

Disabled people need to be at the centre of any attempt to tackle poverty

  • Published: Jul 16, 2014
  • Author: Tom MacInnes
  • Category: Income and Poverty

Yesterday we launched our evidence review on disability, long term conditions and poverty at the All Party Parliamentary Group on disability. Produced alongside Disability Rights UK, the report forms part of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s anti-poverty strategy.

The JRF strategy is ambitious and wide ranging, covering diverse topics such as homelessness, work, the family and debt. All these aspects are important. But our report makes the case for putting disability at the centre of any anti-poverty strategy.

And there is a very simple reason for this – scale. On the standard low income measure, one in three people in poverty in the UK is either disabled or lives with a disabled person. Around one in four disabled people lives in poverty. Any attempt to reduce poverty in the UK has to confront these figures.

In fact, the official estimates of poverty among disabled people and their families understate its true extent.  The income measure normally used includes all earnings, benefits and interest from savings that a family receives. The idea is that income is a good proxy for living standards and the ability to participate in everyday society.

This income includes Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance, paid to disabled people in recognition of the additional costs of disability. So if we are comparing like with like in attempt to compare living standards, DLA and AA should not be included in the income calculation.

Unsurprisingly, this makes a big difference to the number of disabled people in poverty. The graph below shows the number of people in families currently getting DLA or AA who are considered to be in poverty. It then shows the number who would be if that DLA or AA were not counted as income. The difference is around one million people.


There is actually plenty of evidence that DLA and AA do not fully meet the costs of disability, so even this calculation may be an underestimate. Capturing these costs, however, is difficult. Conditions vary between individuals and fluctuate over time. The barriers disabled people face which impose additional costs (lack of local transport, for instance) vary from place to place.

So if the scale of poverty among disabled people is one key finding of the report, diversity is the second. In our comprehensive review of the literature, we found countless studies showing that, for instance, schemes to help disabled people into work needed to be based on the needs of the individual, not taking a standardised approach to all disabled people. The thrust of policy under this government and the last has tended to go in the opposite direction.

One final point. The report, as a review of available data and literature, is necessarily backward looking. It does not major on recent changes such as, for instance, the move from DLA to personal independence payment (PIP). As such, it will require some updating and some of the analysis will feature in our future poverty monitoring reports for JRF. In her recent blog, Jenny Morris makes a strong case for saying that the outlook for disabled people, across various indicators such as employment support, household incomes and housing opportunities, has deteriorated in the last four years. Combining these observations with the findings of our report, the trajectory for poverty, both for disabled people and the population as a whole, looks bleak.

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