The Cost of Being Disabled: Why Welfare Reform Cuts Deeper with Disability.

Dr. Rosalind Tyler-Greig from Inclusion Scotland blogs on the impact of welfare reform on disabled people as part of Challenge Poverty Week 2015

At 30 per cent, the poverty rate for disabled adults in the UK is twice that for non-disabled adults.[1]  This means that the experience of being disabled all too often goes hand-in-hand with the experience of poverty. It is of little wonder then that the welfare reform agenda has made a devastating contribution to the lives of disabled people – already more likely to struggle financially and now facing an onslaught of targeted cuts.

Disability brings a long list of daily expenses that non-disabled people are less likely to be troubled by.  It was recently reported that disability alone can cost around £550 per month.[2]  So, why is disability so expensive? There are a number of reasons. Inclusion Scotland’s 2015 Welfare Reform Impacts Guide, for example, highlights some of the impacts which visual impairment has had for one couple:

“our clothes get caught in things and ripped … we can’t cut our grass so we’ve got to pay someone … We’ve got windows to clean … Everything has to be paid for. But people don’t understand because people can do these things themselves. We can’t.”

It is not only people with visual impairments who may have to pay those types of expenses. Physical impairments or immobilising health conditions can also mean that people need to shell out for extra everyday expenses.  For example, there are extra heating and electricity costs associated with the need to use washing machines more often or recharge electric wheelchairs; and there are travel costs where people rely on taxis because buses are inaccessible.

Of course, all services come at a cost. But even the basic personal care which some people require daily is no exception. In Scotland, local councils charge people for any social care services provided at home or in the community.[3]  This might be help with bathing or getting dressed, doing the housework, or taking part in community activities.   And the amount a person has to pay varies depending on where they live. For example, the hourly rate for care in West Lothian is £8.28, but in Angus this jumps to £23.70.

Disabled people are under specific financial pressure. Covering the ‘basics’ does not always just mean the weekly shop. It can also include many important parts of personal care and the daily routine – and indeed, getting to shops in the first place.  It also doesn’t help that access to affordable care is a bit of a postcode lottery. A campaign has been organised in Scotland to draw attention to this and to advocate for equal and affordable care for all who need it.

You may now be thinking, ‘but disabled people receive benefits to pay for care’.  And you would be correct. Indeed, the purpose of disability benefits – such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is to help pick up the bill for these extra costs. To ensure that people are not left isolated, or hungry, or lacking basic care, if their health or impairment restricts their ability to work or move around easily.  However, while around 189,000 Scots disabled people of working age were receiving DLA in November 2014, it is estimated that by 2017/18 56,000 will have lost their entitlement completely and a further 49,000 will have partially lost out.[4]  The impairments or conditions people live with will not have changed, but tougher assessment criteria will mean that they have to find other ways to foot the bill disability leaves them with.

PIP is paid whether you are in or out of work, but ESA is only paid to those out of work. And another great barrier for disabled people is the world of work.  Disabled people are far less likely to be employed – in Scotland, the employment rate for working age disabled people has fallen to 43.9%, compared to 80.9% for their non-disabled counter-parts.[5] This isn’t because disabled people are less interested in work, either. In fact, out-of-work disabled people are more likely to want to work than non-disabled people who are unemployed.[6] And Inclusion Scotland’s report earlier this year corroborated this. If only employers could see past the ‘disability label’ and realise that impairments come in all shapes and sizes and are often not too difficult to accommodate.  Moreover, an Access to Work fund is in place to pay for the adaptions an employer needs to make to accommodate a disabled employee. However only around 2% of working-age disabled people in Scotland currently use this fund, so it needs to be better promoted.

As a result of being either too ill to work, or overlooked because of prejudice and rigidity in the labour market, disabled people are more likely to rely on the social security system as a whole and are therefore affected by a multitude of cuts. In fact, severely disabled people are affected by up to 19 different social security cuts.[7] This, together with the expense of disability, is a fast-track route to poverty. When benefits claimants are slated in the media or by our right-wing government, the attack is massively directed at disabled people who did not choose their position in society. When we think claiming benefits is some kind of lifestyle choice, we have swallowed a poisonous rhetoric. We have forgotten the reasons people receive benefits, and the reasons they might have no choice.  Worst of all, we are tricked into thinking that those living in poverty deserve it. They don’t.

[1] Employers’ Forum on Disability, via English Federation of Disability Sports 2015


[3] That is, any care which is not provided in a residential care setting.

[4] See Inclusion Scotland’s response to Committee’s Call for Evidence: The Future Delivery of Social Security in Scotland

[5]  Labour Force Survey, ONS Feb, April 2015 (not seasonally adjusted).


[7] Simon Duffy (2014) Centre for Welfare Reform

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