Disabled people over two times more likely to be living in food poverty than able-bodied, report finds

May Bulman
Report finds disabled people in the UK face a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment, barriers to access to health services and housing and a widening disability pay gap: iStockphoto

Disabled people in the UK are over two times more likely to be living in food poverty than non-disabled, a report has found, prompting concerns that people with disabilities are being “left behind in society”.

Campaigners have called for a “new national focus” on disability rights after an alarming report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found disabled people in the UK face a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment, barriers to access to health services and housing, as well as a widening disability pay gap, among other problems.

Revealing what the Commission described as “failure” by the Government, the report found that 18 per cent of disabled people aged 16-64 across the UK were living in food poverty, compared with 7.5 per cent of non-disabled people – showing the disabled community is more than twice as likely to struggle to pay for food than the rest of the population.

In an indication of the financial difficulties faced by disabled people, the report found that the disability pay gap in Britain has continued to widen in recent years, with disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women having the lowest median hourly earnings of the population.

Less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6 per cent), compared with almost 80 per cent of non-disabled adults – with the gap between these groups having widened since 2010/11.

The findings also showed that while the qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people.

Educational attainment came out in a similar vein, with the performance of disabled pupils in England, Wales and Scotland still much lower than their non-disabled counterparts. The proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least five A*-C GCSEs in England is three times lower than for non-disabled children – standing at 20 per cent and 64 per cent respectively, and they are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded, stated the report.

With regards to housing, the findings showed that disabled people have continued to face problems in finding adequate housing due to a shortage of accessible housing across Britain, while in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased.

Accessing healthcare services is also problematic for disabled people and they are less likely to report positive experiences, according to the report, while considerable shortcomings remain in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.

When it came to detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983, the report showed that they are continuing to increase in England and Wales, with the number of detentions in hospitals having seen an alarming increase from 46,600 in 2009/10 to 63,622 in 2016.

Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice, with a 54 per cent drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination having been reported following the introduction of fees in July 2013.

David Isaac, Chair of the EHRC commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people said: “While at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the 13 million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next 20 years to be a repeat of the past.

Mr Isaac urged that the report should be a “call to arms”, saying it was impossible to ignore that disabled people are being “left behind”, adding: “We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.

“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

Responding to the report, Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, accused the Government of being “incoherent”, urging that “urgent action is needed”.

Mr McDonald said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day in, day out.

“But Government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people.

“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the Government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We’re committed to building a fairer society, and ensuring equality of opportunity for disabled people is an important part of this.

“In the last year alone almost 300,000 disabled people have moved into work, and we plan to go even further by providing more tailored employment help, increasing the number of disability employment advisors in jobcentres, and working even more closely with businesses through our Disability Confident scheme.

“We also continue to ensure there is a strong safety net in place, spending around £50 billion a year to support disabled people and providing hardship payments and benefit advances for those who need extra short-term support.”

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