Tag Archives: policy

Behind the figures: what do today’s sanctions figures mean for disabled people?

New figures out today show the scale of the Government’s new sanctions regime. In total, over 90,000 disabled people have had their benefits suspended for anywhere between 3 weeks and 3 years. Here’s four things you need to know:

How many disabled people do sanctions affect?

Since November 2012, when sanctions were tightened, 90,004 disabled people have had their benefits suspended.

This breaks down as 82,860 disabled people on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) – the out-of-work benefit available to everyone – and 7,180 disabled people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is meant to be for those who face the biggest barriers to work.

This means that 1 in 7 of the total number of JSA claimants who’ve been sanctioned are disabled people, and 4 in 5 of the total number of ESA.

How does this compare to previous years?

It’s hard to say exactly, because DWP haven’t published figures specifically for disabled people before last year.

But looking at the figures for those on ESA – the majority of whom are disabled people – we can get a sense of how many more people are being sanctioned under the new regime. The increase is pretty shocking.

Since December 2012 the number of ESA sanctions was 11,400. For the same period in 2011/12, the number of people sanctioned was 5,750. This is an increase of 50%.

Compare this with an 11% increase for JSA sanctions year on year, and it’s clear that the regime change has had an even more dramatic effect for those who face the most barriers to work.

Why are people being sanctioned?

What the stats show is people being sanctioned for things like missing interviews with advisers, or not engaging with the Work Programme, or sending enough job applications.

What they don’t show is the reality for disabled people: interviews with advisers clashing with medical appointments; inaccessible transport; advisers without specialist understanding of conditions and impairments; a lack of jobs with the flexibility disabled people often need.

Do sanctions work?

No. Disabled people face a wide-range of barriers to work. Lack of available jobs, fewer qualifications and even negative attitudes from some employers can make the workplace daunting.

So simply taking away benefits from a disabled person really doesn’t help – as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have repeatedly pointed out. In fact, suspending benefits can make things worse: stats from the Trussell Trust show that increasing use of food banks is linked to the tightening of sanctions.

Instead of simply suspending benefits for no reason, we need a system that actually works for disabled people, that supports them to find a job they want, and that takes seriously the barriers they face.

How does disability influence young people’s experience of the job market?

Guest post from Katy Jones who is a researcher within the socio-economic programme at The Work Foundation.

Today’s young people face a tough jobs market. Almost one million 16-24 year olds are unemployed in the UK, with crisis levels persisting since the recession hit half a decade ago. For the individuals involved, this often means a personal crisis, but youth unemployment is profoundly damaging both to our economy and wider society, with an estimated cost of around £28 billion.

However, young people’s experiences will be different according to a range of factors including demographic characteristics, qualification levels and the jobs available in local areas. The Work Foundation’s new report for the TUC – The Gender Jobs Split – investigates how young people’s labour market experiences differ by gender and how this interacts with other characteristics including disability.

Whilst small sample sizes mean we cannot draw any firm conclusions, our analysis suggests that disability acts to further constrain young men and women’s labour market experiences. Our report finds much higher levels of unemployment amongst young disabled people compared to their peers without a disability – and this is particularly the case for young disabled men. In 2011, 19% of disabled young men were unemployed, compared to 15% of non-disabled young men.

Barriers to work

Looking at differences in the benefits claimed by young disabled men and women can give us some idea of the different kinds of barriers to work faced. We found the reason more young men claim ESA, incapacity related and other disability benefits than young women is largely explained by higher numbers reporting learning difficulties and hyperkinetic syndromes (e.g. ADHD). In a previous report from The Work Foundation we also found evidence of an increasing incidence of mental health problems among young people not in employment, education or training (or NEET), with the proportion of those reporting a health problem and citing depression/bad nerves almost doubling from 8% in 2001 to 15% in 2011.

The occupational divide

Getting into work is only part of the story. The kind of jobs which young people start their working lives can have a big impact on their future opportunities. Again, our data suggest the occupations young people work in are constrained by both disability and gender. Young disabled men, for example, are more likely to be in lower skilled and lower paid work than non-disabled young men – the evidence shows they are overrepresented in elementary (unskilled) and caring and leisure occupations, and underrepresented in skilled trades, other manual work and professional occupations. Young disabled women are also most under-represented in professional occupations, but are less likely to be in unskilled work compared to their non-disabled peers. Instead, young disabled women are more likely to work in sales and customer services, caring, leisure and administrative and secretarial occupations.

From our data, it is difficult to understand what is driving these differences. But previous research finds that whilst disabled and non-disabled young people have similar career aspirations, outcomes are more likely to fall short of these for young disabled people.

It is vital that young disabled men and women are able to access the support they need to make a successful transition into the labour market. We argue that this must be tailored for different groups of young people, including those with disabilities and caring responsibilities. Any help which allows young people to enter and sustain work should recognise and challenge the different barriers often faced by young women and men. In addition, we think young people should be supported in the first few years of employment, rather than just focusing on getting them into any job.

Young people’s early labour market experiences can have a huge impact across working life. Whilst today’s youth labour market is a particularly harsh place to be, our research suggests that young people with disabilities appear to be even more restricted in their choice of occupation and ability to take up work. To echo Scope, “disabled people need specialised support but they’re not getting it”. It is vital that support to help young people enter and sustain work recognises and effectively challenges the different barriers often faced by young women and men.

Read the report from the Work Foundation. Scope runs a career training course for young disabled people in east London.

An essential foundation

Guest post from Martyn Sibley – blogger, entrepreneur, and co-editor of online magazine Disability Horizons

Did you recently read or hear about David Weir and his housing situation? Despite his huge success he still lives in an awkward and inaccessible house. Imagine, if a 6 time gold Paralympic hero struggles, what is life like for an everyday disabled person?

In general the cost of living is rocketing, incomes are falling and then there’s the fact that life costs more if you are disabled. Then let us take a more specific look at social care. Getting out of bed, getting dressed, preparing food and showering are basic, but necessary actions for us all. Many disabled people are being denied access to this very crucial support.

Richard Hawkes explains this exceptionally well in his New Statesman article. On a personal level, I’ve just travelled the length of this great country and seen some of the most amazing sights of Britain. With my wheelchair, adapted car and 24/7 care support; I’m independent, run my own business and travel the world. However in the past I have had issues securing the funding for these essential foundations to my life.

Of course, this problem is wider than my own experiences. The care system is in crisis, local authority budgets can’t cope and two things are happening: The bar on who gets care is rising, and those lucky enough to get care are seeing their services squeezed and rationed. Furthermore, with an ageing population, this effects everyone of us!

On a political level the Care Bill will be debated by MPs in the commons in late October. The government is attempting to sort this mess out. The big question is who is in and who is out of this system. I fear they are going to set the bar at a very high level.

From government to the general public, from businesses to disabled people; we all have basic needs and deserve to have them with dignity. I just hope we all wake up and act before we reverse the great progress of disability rights in recent years.

Whilst David Weir fights for accessible housing, Hannah Cockroft is fighting for our social care and our future. Earlier this week she supported Scope at a Britain Cares event in Parliament, where MPs could see how important social care is to their constituents.

So #WhatDoYouDoWithYours? Are you similar to me, living your life with some social care support? Let’s get sharing our stories and help people understand why this is so important.
Post with the #WhatDoYouDoWithYours hashtag on Twitter and share the story of what you use social care to do in their lives.

Check out what other people have been saying or find out how to get involved.

The right to an independent life

Post from Alice Maynard, Chair of Scope

AliceDisabled people want to live independently in their community. We want to decide where we live, who we live with and how we go about our day.

In 2013, I think – I hope – most people would back that aspiration.

Unfortunately too often this doesn’t reflect the reality of disabled people’s lives, and this autumn we’re doing something about it.

Firstly, we’re going to be calling on the Government to be bold when it comes to reforming social care.

The current system is on its knees. The London School of Economics estimates that 69,000 disabled people who need support to live independently don’t get any. While, 40% of those lucky enough to get some support say it doesn’t meet basic needs like getting up, getting washed and dressed and getting out of the house. Yet Government plans, which will be debated by the Lords on 9 October, will shut 100,000 people out of the system altogether.

But if we want a bold response from the Government, we have to do more than shout from the sidelines. We have to show what’s possible by taking difficult decisions.

For example, we run care homes. We’ve taken a long, hard look at them all, and asked ourselves if they do enough to support disabled people to live independently in the community.

Staff do a great job, but many homes were opened in the 1970s, aren’t located in the heart of the community and are simply not set up to offer disabled people enough choice and control over their lives.

In the last five years, Scope has changed or closed ten of these services. We’re now proposing to change or close more over the next three years.

It’s the right thing to do. But it’s important we do it in the right way.

We tell the people most directly affected first, and before making a decision on a home, we consult with the people who live there, their families, staff and local authorities.

When we do change or close care homes, we will always do this sensitively and respectfully, supporting everyone affected by the changes to understand what they mean and what choices are available to them.

It’s very easy to demand that the Government makes difficult decisions. It’s much harder to make them yourself. Disabled people want to have choice and control over where and how they live. We think it’s right that the services we offer them make that possible.

The bedroom tax, ATOS and social care at the Labour Party conference

Guest post from Megan Cleaver, Parliamentary Officer at Scope.

It was the second leg of Scope’s conference tour last weekend when the Labour Party headed to Brighton for their annual gathering.

It was an important week for Labour disability policy as the Party published their Making Rights a Reality (PDF) report which included two key announcements.

After a long running campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’, a measure which will cost over 400,000 disabled people between £624 and £1144 per year, Labour Leader Ed Miliband promised delegates that they would scrap the policy if they got into power in 2015. This is a welcome move as for many disabled people, a spare bedroom is not a luxury, but an essential- needed for specialist equipment, or so their severely disabled child can sleep separately from their siblings.

And there was more good news from Shadow Welfare Secretary Liam Byrne who committed to ending the Government’s contract with ATOS, who currently undertake the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). But while there are countless horror stories around the behaviour of ATOS assessors which has provoked the ire of many disabled people, the blame cannot be pinned squarely on them for the failings of the WCA.

As we said to Liam Byrne, Shadow Disability Minister Anne McGuire and Shadow Employment Minister Stephen Timms at conference, if Labour is seriously committed to getting disabled people into work, and not just off benefits, there needs to be a complete rethink of the whole assessment process to ensure it addresses the many barriers disabled people face when it comes to finding a job. Just handing a P45 to ATOS is not enough.

Arguably the most transformational policy announcement to be made at conference was Andy Burnham’s vision for ‘Whole Person Care’, paving the way for the full integration of the health and social care systems with one service (with one budget) coordinating a person’s physical, mental and social needs. This vision is an exciting prospect for disabled people who are facing their own ‘social care crisis’, often falling through the cracks between the NHS and social care system.

In his leader’s speech, Ed Miliband likened the scale of the ambition of ‘Whole Person Care’ to that of the creation of the NHS is 1948. But like much of the debate on this issue, he framed the reforms to social care purely as a means of solving the care crisis for older people. But when a third of social care users are working-aged disabled people, it is vital that the care system works for them.

As Paralympian Sophie Christiansen highlighted in her speech at the Women and Equalities discussion panel (where she received the first standing ovation at Labour Conference), getting the right social care was vital to her being able to live independently and train to become a gold medal winning equestrian.

Social care is the cornerstone of independence for disabled people. It gives them the vital support which enables them get up, get washed, get dressed so they can go to work, get involved in their local community, and reach their potential. And this is the message we will take to the Conservative Party as the Scope conference tour makes its final stop in Manchester.

Read our previous blog from the Lib Dem conference.

Five reasons why social care is STILL the biggest issue facing disabled people

1. The social care system is on its knees. Social care is the support disabled people get from their council to get up, get washed and dressed, and live independently. Cash-strapped councils have been upping the bar for support eligibility, with 83% of councils now setting the threshold at a higher level. According to London School of Economics 69,000 disabled people have been pushed out of the system. And councils are squeezing the support for those that are in the system. A Scope survey found almost 40% of disabled people who continue to receive social care support are not having their basic needs met including eating properly, washing, dressing or being able to get out of the house. ADASS says councils are facing a further 10% cut in their budgets. Have a listen to Angela Murray explain why social care is so important to her. Take away the preventative support and people fall into crisis. A series of experts and politicians made the link between the escalating A&E crisis and social care over the last six months.

2. Britain Cares about social care. Over the last six months the public has been showing it cares about social care. The Stephen Fry-backed Britain Cares campaign has seen over 25,000 people contact their MP about social care for disabled people – a thousand of whom have sent personalised photos to show they care. At the same time Angela launched a petition on Change.org, which has received more than 45,000 signatures. A similar petition on 38 degrees garnered just as much support. Those will passion for craft have worked the words ‘I Care’ on to everyday items and sent them to their MPs to show their support.

3. £3.8billion. The June Spending Review saw the Chancellor make significant cuts across Government departments – to reach a target of saving £11.5bn, including removing automatic pay rises for time served for staff in schools, NHS, prisons and the police. Against that backdrop he announced a £3.8 billion investment – including £2 billion of new money – in social care with the aim “of delivering better, more joined-up services to older and disabled people, to keep them out of hospital and to avoid long hospital stays”.  The Government announced this money would be spent through Health and Wellbeing Boards. This is significant as it was the mechanism a Scope-facilitated joint inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Local Government Group and All Party Parliamentary Disability Group recommended in its report Preventing Crisis: Making social care reform work for disabled adults. This should enable the money to be spent on front line services, reacting to local demand.

4. We’ve now got the small print. Some of the cash can go into the main social services kitty (or black hole judging by ADASS’ latest budget survey). But there are conditions attached, that demand councils to spend most of the money on joined-up health and social care.  Councils and health services have to agree plans for how it will be spent, which then need to be signed off by Health and Wellbeing Boards. The Government also wants to see joint approaches to assessment and care planning and, where care is joined-up, one accountable professional. Cash should also be targeted at supporting patients being discharged from hospital who need care. Most intriguingly councils only get the extra cash if they retain their eligibility threshold at the current level. This is very much a case of the Government addressing what it sees are the most urgent issues, while it goes about making the case for the Care Bill.

5. The crucial question is who gets care and who doesn’t. The Government will answer this as part of the Care Bill, which has had its first set of debates in the Lords. Under the current plans – reiterated by the Minister in a discussion guide, which also gave a clue as to how eligibility would be worked out. The good news is that some of the detail of how the Government will decide eligibility looks good. The bad news is that the Government intends to set the bar for eligibility to social care at a level which London School of Economics (LSE) says will leave 105,000 disabled people with significant needs outside of the system altogether. The bill also seeks to tackle the crisis in care by introducing a cap on costs, a new means-testing threshold and national eligibility to end the postcode lottery in care. It is due to be debated in the Lords in October and then it’s over to MPs at the end of the year. Scope – like a number of organisations – is arguing that by squeezing people out of the system the government undermines other more positive moves, such as a cap. We’re also expecting a consultation in November which will be a chance for disabled people, carers, families and public to have their say.

Have the Paralympics improved the daily lives of disabled people?

To mark the anniversary of the Paralympics we wanted to know if disabled people thought London 2012 has improved their lives.

Lord Coe says legacy is a ten year task, but this is a useful point to ask how things are going.

In July the Government argued that the “Games improved attitudes to disability and provided new opportunities for disabled people to participate in society”.

Two well-known former Paralympians – Ade Adepitan and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson – have recently had their say.

But the views of ordinary disabled people are missing from the debate.

Over the last month we’ve been gathering their comments and opinions – through a poll of a thousand disabled people, through social media and also by looking at what they’ve been telling Scope recently about their lives in 2013.

We think this provides pretty compelling evidence that the Paralympics Legacy hangs in the balance.

There’s lots of ways to tackle the issue of legacy.

But we thought we’d take as our starting point, what the Government said it was hoping for: a change in attitudes and improvements participation in sport and community engagement.

We review these ambitions below and also on the Scope blog publish a collection of quotes and comments from the disabled people we spoke to.

Changing attitudes

Disabled people feel strongly that what’s said publicly is crucial in shaping attitudes. Behind this is the shocking fact that 90% of Britons have never had a disabled person in their house for a social occasion.

So it’s no surprise that disabled people, charities and the Government all saw the Paralympics as an opportunity improve hardening attitudes.

And – in the short term at least – most people think it did just that.

Surveys in the aftermath of the games pointed to an improvement in public attitudes. Lord Coe declared that ‘we’d never view disability in the same way’.

Scope’s new poll backs this up. Some 70% of disabled people think that the coverage of the Paralympic games had a positive effect on public perceptions.

Scope’s chair Alice Maynard describes the Paralympics as “a breakthrough moment”. She says: “Disabled people had never been so visible. Disability had never been talked about so openly”

But where are we one year on?

Recent Government figures show that over half of a sample of the public (regardless of whether they are disabled or not) said the Paralympics gave them a positive view of disability.

There have been moments when – like in 2012 – positive disabled role models have had a high profile in the media. Channel 4 brought back the Last Leg. Comedian Francesca Martinez hailed comedy as the new Paralympics following disabled comedian Jack Carroll star-turn on Britain’s Got Talent.

British double leg amputee and Paralympic Gold medalist, Richard Whitehead, is running a marathon a day this summer from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

But our new poll suggests that despite all this, disabled people remain concerned by public attitudes to disability.

81% of disabled people say that attitudes towards them haven’t improved in the last twelve months – with 22% saying that things have actually got worse.

Of the respondents who have experienced a decline in people’s attitudes over the past year, 84% think media coverage of benefit claims and the welfare system has had a negative effect on public attitudes.

That last point is crucial.

Despite welfare fraud being 0.7% of the benefits budget, the Government regularly contrasts the hard working person gets up early for work, to his benefits claiming neighbour’s whose blinds are pulled.

Cabinet members have had their wrists slipped for misusing welfare statistics. But people continue to think benefit fraud is worse than it is.

Tanni Grey-Thompson recently summed up the impact of the myth that most people who claim benefits are scroungers: “I’ve lost track of the number of letters from disabled people who have been spat at in the street…One letter I received described how a disabled person was in a bus queue and someone came up and started asking them how many thousands in benefits they were costing.”

The Government’s own analysis of 2012 legacy raises this as an issue. Against this back drop, it says: “How long the uplift in public attitudes will last is more questionable”.

That’s why Scope is using the anniversary to call on the Government to halt the scrounger rhetoric once and for all.

Participating in sport and engaging in the community

One important fact first: the 2012 had a huge impact on Paralympics sport. As the head of the British Paralympics Association recently underlined, its profile and its funding are both greatly improved. Paralympians go to Rio with huge confidence.

But for ordinary disabled people the jury’s out.

The Government says “Participation in sport and recreational activity by disabled people increased by 4.2 percentage points in 2012 from 2005/06”.

Sport England says 362,000 more disabled people now play sport than in 2005, but it is estimated that only 18% of disabled adults undertake physical activity for more than 30 minutes a week, and those with impairments are still around half as likely to be active than their able-bodied counterparts.

This is echoed in Scope’s poll, which reveals only 10% felt that the Paralympics had inspired them to take up a new sport or re-visit a sport they once did.

Meanwhile when it comes to volunteering, the Government says: “The Games also opened up a range of volunteering, cultural and sporting opportunities for disabled people that did not exist before. Participation in volunteering by disabled people increased year-on-year to 2012, compared to 2005/06, and 4% of Games Maker volunteers had a disability.

But Research by Disability Rights UK and Community Service Volunteers has found evidence that many people with disabilities are experiencing a surprising level of difficulty in finding volunteering roles.

As Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said recently: “If you can’t get out of bed or get washed in the morning, then you can’t change the way people think, you can’t take part in sport and you are not going to be involved in the community.”

Disabled people have three big challenges before they even get to the sports club or volunteering centre: getting the basic support from their council, getting about and paying the bills.

Getting the basic support

Disabled people rely on support from their councils to get up, get dressed, get washed and get out of the house.

But councils have been upping the bar for eligibility, with 83 per cent of councils now setting the threshold at a higher level. According to London School of Economics 69,000 disabled people have been pushed out of the system. Support for those in the system is being squeezed. A Scope survey found almost 40 per cent of disabled people who continue to receive social care support are not having their basic needs.

Angela from Luton talks about the impact this has on her.

The Government recently committed to investing £3.8bn in social care and its Care Bill reforms are introducing a cap on costs and national eligibility to end the postcode lottery in care.  But the Government has also said the plans will set as standard the higher level that most councils have moved to. According to the London School of Economics (LSE) this will leave 105,000 disabled people outside of the system.

Paying the bills

Life becomes more expensive if you’re disabled and you’re more likely to be on a low income if you are disabled. Living costs are spiraling and income is flatlining for everyone. But recent research showed just how tough things are for disabled people.

One in ten disabled people have used doorstep loans, compared to just 3% of the general population. Fifteen per cent of disabled people – over double the rate for the public (7%) – use loans to make ends meet.

Here’s Susan from Ealing talking about her financial predicament.

What’s the Government’s response to the financial crisis facing disabled people? It is taking away £28bn of financial support, sticking with both the broken system for deciding if disabled people are entitled to out-of-work support and the discredited Work Programme, which has spectacularly failed to support disabled people into work.

Accessibility

There was an ambition for the 2012 Games to be the ‘most accessible ever’ and TFL in particular took measures to improve accessibility. But in 2013 it remains a fact that 66 of the 270 Tube stations are step-free. ONS data shows that nearly half disabled people have had issues access leisure activities.

Scope polling suggests the real issue when it comes to accessibility people’s willingness to do something different or be flexible to accommodate a disabled person. Last summer 76% of disabled people told us they have experienced people refusing to make adjustments or do things differently. We regularly hear from disabled people who talk about this issue. Buses don’t stop. You’re not let into a club or bar because you ‘look drunk’.

As Scope’s Tom Hall recently told Marketing Week, disabled people and their families represent 20 million potential customers. Both local businesses and big brands should be doing so much more to tap into the £80bn purple pound.

Disability in 2013

The Government hoped the Paralympics would improve daily life for disabled people.

But one year on disabled people have been telling Scope that daily life is really tough.

Here are some reasons why:

Basic care

Disabled people rely on support from their councils to get up, get dressed, get washed and get out of the house. But councils have been upping the bar for eligibility, with 83 per cent of councils now setting the threshold at a higher level. According to London School of Economics 69,000 disabled people have been pushed out of the system. Support for those in the system is also being squeezed. A Scope survey found almost 40 per cent of disabled people who continue to receive social care support are not having their basic needs. Angela from Luton talks about the impact this has on her:

The Government recently committed to investing £3.8bn in social care and its Care Bill reforms are introducing a cap on costs and national eligibility to end the postcode lottery in care. But the Government has also said the plans will set as standard the higher level that most councils have moved to. Experts say this will leave 105,000 disabled people outside of the system.

As Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said recently: “If you can’t get out of bed or get washed in the morning, then you can’t change the way people think, you can’t take part in sport and you are not going to be involved in the community.”

At the same time parents of disabled children have also been raising concerns about the difficulties they face when it comes to finding the right kind of support, services and activities for their children.

Paying the bills

Life becomes more expensive and you’re more likely to be on a low income if you are disabled. Living costs are spiralling and income is flattening for everyone. But recent research showed just how tough things are for disabled people. Fifteen per cent of disabled people – over double the rate for the public (7%) – use loans to make ends meet.

What’s the Government’s response? It is taking away £28bn of financial support, sticking with both the broken system for deciding if disabled people are entitled to out-of-work support and the discredited Work Programme, which has failed to help disabled people find work.

Attitudes

Most non-disabled people don’t get a chance to speak to disabled people, so disabled people feel strongly what’s said publicly is crucial in shaping attitudesDisabled people, charities and the Government all saw the Paralympics as an opportunity improve hardening attitudes. Scope’s chief executive Richard Hawkes describes last summer was as “a breakthrough moment”.  He says “disabled people had never been so visible. Disability had never been talked about so openly”. Surveys in the aftermath of the games pointed to an improvement in public attitudes. But, as the Government’s own report found, there are increasing concerns that this is being undermined by negativity around benefits.

We want to know what you think. What is your life like in 2013? Respond below, on Facebook or tweet us @Scope.

In-depth research shows that disabled people are financially excluded

New research published today looks beyond the welfare debate, and at the untold story of disabled people’s financial exclusion.

Disabled people’s finances are being hit from all sides. Earlier this year, research found that 3.7 million disabled people will lose £28 billion worth of support through the welfare changes – some being hit by six reforms at once. And in the Spending Round earlier this month, the Chancellor announced that there will be an overall cap on social security spending– including the amount spent on disability benefits.

A quarter of disabled people live in poverty, even before the extra costs of being disabled are factored in. The coalition’s cuts and caps will have an acute impact on disabled people and risk pushing more disabled people below the poverty line.

But there is another, largely untold part to the story of disabled people’s finances. In-depth research conducted by Ipsos MORI (PDF 1.2MB) published today examines the financial inclusion of disabled people.

Being financially included means having access to appropriate, affordable financial products and services – and knowing how to use them effectively without incurring costs. It means being able to build a financial safety net through insurance and savings; smooth fluctuations in income perhaps by drawing on credit; manage money and plan ahead. Most of all it’s an essential part of people living independently and being able to partake in all that society has to offer.

The research (PDF 1.2MB) shows that the story of disabled people’s financial inclusion is a complex one. Some disabled people are in a very poor financial situation.  Half have relied on credit to pay for the everyday items needed in life, while a similar proportion are struggling to pay their bills. For these, being able to save even occasionally; pay insurance premiums; or make credit card repayments, is unrealistic.

But for disabled people, financial exclusion is about more than just lacking money:

  • One in eight (12%) disabled people cannot physically access their bank.
  • Some want to protect themselves against financial crises, but feel they are turned down for insurance (8%), or are forced to pay higher premiums, on the basis of being disabled (22%).
  • Most (84%) are confident in managing their own money, but do not have access to the right advice, and may be completely in the dark about the welfare changes that will affect them – in 2012 almost half (45%) had never even heard of Universal Credit.
  • Some could afford to save a bit each month (17% agreed strongly that they could), or make credit card repayments but without knowing all of the options available to them choose to borrow off family and friends (38%) or ‘do without’ instead (48%).

For these disabled people, it is the role of the government, industry and regulators to ensure equal access to the right financial products. In a series of pamphlets published today, Scope outlines ideas for ensuring financial inclusion for disabled people in three main areas: Credit and Debt, Savings and Insurance and Information and Advice.

The Government wants people to be financially independent – to manage their own money and live their lives with minimal state support. The delivery of these aims so far has involved hastily removing the social safety net from beneath disabled people, without putting in place structures to build up their own financial resilience. For those disabled people who will always need some state support, drastic changes in their benefits mean that poverty, and spiralling debt are a more pertinent risk than benefit traps. For others, becoming more financially resilient is a real possibility – one that could be achieved through access to the right products and advice, and through policies which promote financial independence – and one that the Government would be unwise not to recognise.

View the pamphlets here: Financial SituationCredit and Debt, Savings and InsuranceInformation and Advice.

View the research: Disabled People and Financial Wellbeing

View the data tables

Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits

Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford
“Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford want to discover how much benefit is enough to live on and if work is worth it.” (photo: BBC)

Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, most famous for expressing their utter contempt for an Apprentice contestant’s business acumen with nothing more than a scratch of the chin or an arch of the eyebrow, are turning their attention to welfare.

If ever an issue warranted such uncompromising prime time scrutiny it’s welfare.

The programme, which airs on Thursday at 9pm on BBC1, will see four claimants and four taxpayers come face-to-face to explore each other’s lives, examine their values and speak their minds.

I was lucky enough to be asked to help the programme make sense of what welfare means for disabled people.

This is easy. Life costs more if you’re disabled. At the same time you’re also more likely to earn less or be out of work.

So – especially now with incomes flat-lining, living costs spiralling and even fewer jobs out there – it’s tough for many disabled people to pay the bills.

We know many disabled people turn to loans to cover essentials.

Welfare – or more precisely financial support when you’re struggling to make ends meet – is the difference between disabled people paying the bills or not.

The programme is timely. Welfare is the subject of an £18bn squeeze by the Government. Last month the Government announced a cap on future welfare spending.  Parliament is for the first time having a debate about the combined impact of all the different changes on disabled people. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Work and Pensions Ministers is taking on the issue.

A lot is said about the need to make sure benefits go to people that really need it (and not hand-gliding benefits-fakers) and to make sure welfare helps people get work rather than put people off finding a job. 

But a couple of points tend to get lost. 

Firstly some people need benefits. It doesn’t make them a scrounger. It doesn’t make them a lay-about. It just means they need support to do things everyone else takes for granted. And it should not be conditional on finding work or the state of the economy . 

Secondly fraud on welfare, particularly disability benefits is tiny. 

The Government is planning to take disability living allowance away from 600,000 people. This financial support is a lifeline that helps disabled people cover the costs of doing things yourself at home and also getting out and about. The Minister argues that too many people claim it, the implication being that some must be fiddling the system. But fraud rates are actually less than 1%

I spent an afternoon with Nick and Margaret as they filmed in the main lobby of the London School of Economics at lunchtime. It wasn’t the best place in London to get people to be quiet while you film a documentary. 

But one thing came across clearly, they knew their stuff. 

They were interested in the issues and were asking the questions that the public would want to know. In fact they paid short shrift to the producer’s less well-informed suggestions and did things the way they wanted to.

The trick with any complex issue is attracting attention to it and explaining it in a simple way.  

People are more likely to watch a programme with Nick and Margaret in it than they would be to watch a documentary on welfare. The title might be provocative, but it gets people into the issue. Then it’s about seeking explain it in a simple way without dumbing down.

Nick and Margaret were great. I hope the programme gets the right messages across and more people get to understand what is really going on.

Watch Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits tonight at 9pm on BBC1.