Last time we looked at the earliest data available regarding the cost of living with a disability; today we jump forward over 15 years to see what’s changed for disabled people in the UK.
The Cost of Living with a Disability: Initial Findings
In short, life is still more expensive for disabled people in the UK compared with non-disabled people. Significantly, our ability to capture data has also improved, potentially resulting in a more accurate picture than the one presented in 2004. The data comes from a report by disability charity Scope and the House of Commons Briefing Paper titled: People with disabilities in employment.
On average, the Scope report found that disabled people face extra costs of £570 a month as a result of their condition; this amount was calculated to include the welfare payments designed to bridge the extra costs of being disabled. By comparison, disabled people in 2004 had a minimum of £200 of weekly “unmet needs” – costs not covered in their budget standards. Minimum unmet costs in 2004, therefore, reached £800 per month; in 2018, the number had dropped to £570 a month. Adjusted for inflation, the unmet costs in 2004 would equate to £1,167 in 2017; that’s a reduction of over 50%. Although, it’s worth noting that costs vary between those surveyed by Scope, with a reported one in five experiencing extra costs of over £1,000 a month.
Costs Are Dropping – But What’s Holding Back Equality?
It appears the cost of having a disability is slowly falling overall, yet the problem persistently remains. What are the causes of this average £570 extra cost disabled people incur each month? According to Scope, the areas where extra costs were incurred fell into three categories: paying for specialised goods and services, greater use of non-specialised goods and services, and spending more on non-specialised goods and services; examples given include paying for assistive technology, increased use of private transport, and higher insurance costs respectively.
These extra costs are further complicated when we factor in the limited amount of disabled-specific services on offer in the UK. The Scope report said, “disabled people are often underserved by businesses across several markets, leading to increased costs for vital goods and services”. While products and services in various areas (bathroom production and installation, for example) are available in abundance for non-disabled people, the same cannot be said for services providing disabled-specific needs. This creates a bubble economy around those who have little-to-no-choice, arguably resulting in a dual value of the pound – £100 for a non-disabled person is worth just “£67” for those with disabilities, reported Scope.
Employment and Disability
Just as the cost of living differs from region to region for disabled people, the cost of employment can also play a significant role. The Scope report found disabled people in work are £148 better off each month.
Acknowledging how employment can benefit disabled people, the government’s strategy in tackling these extra charges is to encourage more disabled people into work – an additional one million by 2027. But what is the current employment outlook for disabled people?
According to the House of Commons briefing paper, an estimated 3.8 million people with disabilities are currently employed. The employment rate is just over 50% (compared with 81.1% for non-disabled people), while around 3.3 million were economically inactive (not in work or looking for work). Since 2013, employment for disabled people has increased by 31%. The employment rate for men and women sits at 50.7% for both groups, although there are around 400,000 more disabled women in work than disabled men.
As part of the government’s employment strategy, specialists are being recruited into Jobcentres to provide expert knowledge of disabilities and to support employers in making use of government funds. Other areas covered under the strategy include making apprenticeships more accessible for those with disabilities, reassessing how to support working for those with the greatest needs, and researching the barriers disabled people may experience in self-employment.
Significantly, in 2010 the government introduced the Equality Act, which “prohibited direct and indirect disability discrimination in employment and recruitment.” The act challenged employers to make “reasonable adjustments to support disabled job applicants and employees.” This was an update to legislation from the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and fell in line with the EU Equal Treatment Directive.
Overall, the employment environment for people with one or more disabilities appears to be improving; however, reports suggest that the switch from the disability living allowance (DLA) to the personal independence payment (PIP), specifically the fit-for-work test involved in the PIP assessment, had an adverse effect on those it aims to protect. Before being scrapped earlier this year, test outcomes meant that thousands had payments stopped; individuals suffering as a result of the fit-for-work test were largely those with mental health disabilities or the so-called “hidden disabled”. Fit-for-work tests may have been ceased, but the PIP’s impact continues to affect disabled people around the UK.
The Role of Personal Independence Payment
The PIP started in 2013, replacing DLA, as an improved way of assessing the needs of disabled people in the UK. However, according to the Scope report, those needs are still not being met: “While the Government has accepted or partially accepted all the recommendations [from an independent review in 2017], a complete overhaul of the PIP assessment is required.”
PIP serves to level the playing field between disabled people and non-disabled people by helping to tackle the financial penalty of disability. However, according to the Scope report, PIP isn’t providing enough money to bridge the gap. Instead, PIP is based on an assessment that according to survey participants “isn’t working”. Two-thirds of PIP claimants successfully challenged their PIP amount and won – an indicator that the measurement tool is not accurate:
“For example, the assessment for PIP would reflect that a wheelchair user may need a mobile shower chair to make it easier to get in and out of the shower. As a result of reduced mobility, that same person may consume more heating in order to stay warm, but this is something that the assessment would not identify clearly.”
Although the picture is clearly improving, the cost of living with a disability in 2018 is still high. The impact of these extra costs is making it more difficult for those with disabilities to prosper; “[the extra costs] make it harder for disabled people to get a job, access education and training opportunities, pay into savings and pensions, and participate fully in society.”
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