Households containing at least one adult and one child with a disability have been hardest hit by the policy decisions of post-2010 governments, according to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The research, part of an ongoing study into the cumulative impacts of tax, social security and public spending policies, was released last week ahead of the autumn Budget. It found some families stood to lose at least 13% of their net incomes by 2022, largely because of welfare and tax reforms.
Households with at least one ‘core’ disabled adult (as defined by the Equality Act 2010) and at least one disabled child, are the biggest losers, with losses of over £5,500 per year, the report said. Families where children were not disabled, but at least one adult was, stood to lose £2,500.
Joe Godden, a professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said the findings would come as “absolutely no surprise” to frontline social workers. “Practitioners working with people with disabilities hear about the impact of cuts on a daily basis,” he told Community Care.
Older people were also likely to be disproportionately hit, with those in the 65-74 age group facing average losses of around £1,450 per year, the study found. More broadly, it concluded that the poorest households stood to lose about 10% of their income by 2021-22 because of tax and social security changes, while the wealthiest lost less than 1%.
‘Consistent negative gradient’
The EHRC report also examined the impact of tax and welfare reforms and wage changes based on households’ overall ‘disability score’. This was assessed by summing the number of functional difficulties, for example around mobility, memory or learning, across all adults and children within a given household.
The research highlighted a “consistent negative gradient” in terms of the impact of reforms.
Households with higher disability scores suffered greater changes to their net incomes because of less-generous benefits and tax credits, with the introduction of universal credit exacerbating the situation.
Households with a disability score of zero have the smallest losses on average, the report found. Households with a disability score of 4 or 5 lost around 7% of net income on average, while those with a score of 6 or more lost around 10% on average.
‘Increased costs of having a disability’
BASW’s Godden said social workers were well aware of a range of issues associated with tax and welfare cuts and other reforms that were disproportionately affecting people with disabilities.
“The increased costs of having a disability include the need to keep warm – harder if you are not able to be physically active – and travel costs if can’t manage public transport,” he said. “The costs of employing care workers for many has also gone up faster than benefits, partly because of the shortage of good social care workers.”
Godden added that worsening poverty among people with disabilities would have an obvious corresponding effect on their mental wellbeing.
“Living on the margins of being able to manage financially has a huge impact on people, leading to increases in depression and other mental health problems,” he said. “For people with a physical disability, coping with this pressure can be a double whammy – less money means they can’t afford to go out, leading to more social isolation.”
For people who already have a mental health problem the increased pressure of poverty can be a “tipping point”, Godden said, leading to more hospital admissions and increasing number of family breakdowns.
David Isaac, the chair of the EHRC, which makes recommendations to government on the compatibility of policy and legislation with equality and human rights standards, said the findings pointed to a “bleak future”.
Isaac called on the government to provide a “full and cumulative” impact analysis of all current and future tax and social security policies, something it has refused to do. “It is not enough to look at the impact of individual policy changes,” Isaac said.
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said the EHRC report made for “grim but unsurprising” reading.
“The report is clear evidence that the government’s reforms have been having a massive negative effect, driving disabled people deeper into poverty when they already don’t have enough money to live on.”
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at the disability charity Scope, said: “This report lays bare that life is still much tougher than it needs to be for many disabled people and their families.”
Atkinson added: “The government must develop a cross-government strategy, backed with adequate funding to ensure disabled people get access to the support they need across areas including employment, extra costs and care, so they can live independently and participate fully in society.”