Our latest research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation explores the links between disability and poverty – disabled people and their households face higher poverty rates than non-disabled people: 31 per cent compared with 18 per cent. Nearly half (48 per cent) of people in poverty are either disabled themselves or in a household with a disabled person. This 48 per cent figure amounts to 3.9m disabled people and 2.7m people living with them.
The poverty experienced by disabled people tends to be deeper as well. A quarter of working-age disabled people are living on below half the average income, compared to 13 per cent of non-disabled people. Nearly a fifth of disabled people are unable to afford multiple basic goods and services like heating or meet unexpected expenses, three times as high as for non-disabled people.
Why are poverty rates so high? The first is higher costs. Disabled people tend to face higher costs in terms of things non-disabled people may not need (for example, medication or appliances), as well as more of the things everyone uses (such as higher heating bills). These higher costs mean that a disabled person would have a lower standard of living than a non-disabled person if they both had the same income.
This is the case even when households with a disabled member are receiving benefits designed to account for the extra costs of disability, such as Disability Living Allowance/Personal Independence Payments and Attendance Allowance, suggesting the inadequacy of these benefits. Our research adjusts income to remove these benefits: including income designed to meet extra costs but not including those costs would artificially depress poverty rates for disabled people. As the graph indicates, even with this adjustment, the figures are likely to be underestimates of poverty among disabled people, but capturing the full costs of disability is an impossible task.