The Simon Heng Column

Three out of 10 disabled people are living below the poverty line, and the proportion is increasing, despite government attempts to reverse this process. Disabled adults are now twice as likely to live in poverty compared with those without disabilities and are three times as likely to be unemployed, whatever their level of academic attainment.

These disturbing findings from research commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published this month come on top of estimates by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities that only 11 per cent of people with learning difficulties are in paid employment, although many of them want to make a contribution through work.

In a letter to The Guardian Clare Kober states that this report confirms the results of Leonard Cheshire Foundation research, In The Balance. She points out that, when the figures are adjusted, because estimates of income include benefits such as disabled living allowance (which is meant to cover the extra expenditure needed to cope with their disabilities rather than provide disposable income), 61 per cent of disabled people are actually living in poverty.

In previous articles, I have written about the inequalities of the benefit system, which makes it more difficult for disabled people to break out of the poverty trap, precisely because ceasing to claim some benefits involves losing others that are intended to cover the extra costs of disability.

But this isn’t the only barrier to employment for us.

It is less than 30 years since most disabled people were living in institutions, and less than 10 years since most of us were expected to occupy our time at day centres, rather than find paid employment. It is hardly surprising that, given the culture of dependency, so many of us choose to claim benefits rather than enter the job market, where many will face personal and institutional discrimination – despite the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – financial insecurity and a loss of personal support. And motivational back-to-work interviews won’t change any of these facts.

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