Income and Poverty

Disability, long-term conditions and poverty

  • Published 15th Jul 2014
  • Authors: Tom MacInnes, , Adam Tinson, , Goretti Horgan, , Ben Baumberg, , Declan Gaffney,
  • Category: Income and Poverty

Most studies underestimate levels of poverty among disabled people. This study shows the size of these underestimates, and explores the difficulty in escaping poverty through paid work – and how policymakers might tackle this.

Key points

  • Poverty among disabled people is consistently underestimated. This study uses two different adjustments, each finding at least a ‘missing million’ of people in poverty in households with a disabled person.
  • Making society less disabling will reduce poverty among disabled people. Possible ways of doing this include improving affordability and accessibility of transport and housing, developing standards for consumer devices, stopping legal discrimination, better use of technology, and making markets for assistive technologies work more effectively.
  • Disabled people are less likely to be working and more likely to be low paid. There are four main ways that this could be tackled:
      • The benefits system: simply removing people from benefits cannot be seen as a sign of success. Rather, changes are needed so that the system doesn’t stop people from being able to work; including flexible, portable benefits are needed that allow people to move to areas where there are more (and more suitable) jobs.
      • Specialist programmes can help people return-to-work when they include personalisation rather than sharp targets. Intensive in-work support with employer subsidies can make a difference.
      • Early intervention can help, including better workplace practices and responsive health systems, as well as a healthy psychosocial work environment.
      • Finally, employers are critical – many disabled people simply face limited opportunities. There are some good managers, yet a common perception that employing disabled people involves extra costs, and a limit to ‘reasonable’ adjustments. Stronger actions may therefore be necessary, including regulation and incentives.
  • Finally, disabled people stressed that work is not always the solution; that all the policies above should resist the temptation to simplify the diversity of disability; and that it may be necessary to change the current public debate. The idea that ‘work is the best route out of poverty’ clearly cannot apply to all disabled people, and reducing the aim of poverty reduction to simply improved access to employment would be counterproductive.