The (Uncomfortable) Truth About Disability

(Answering the question “Why does DAS do what it does?”)

On this page you can:

  • Impact of the Pandemic: See the stark reality of how the pandemic has disproportionately affected the disabled including a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that shows the risk of death is more than 3 times greater for the more-disabled compared with non-disabled.
  • Extent of Disability in the UK: View the latest available government statistics from the last DWP Family Resources Survey on the extent of disability in the UK: the numbers: by age, by impairment type and by region. Did you know that 45% of people over pension age are disabled?
  • Employment: Review the research that shows the higher cost of living for the disabled and that they are twice as likely to be unemployed. Read about the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled in research carried out by the Centre for Social Justice.
  • Homelessness: The number of ill and disabled people becoming homeless surged by 53% in 2019 as local councils found themslelves increasingly unable to provide them with support. Read more here.
  • A Journey Less Equal: Review the report: “Being disabled in Britain – A journey less equal” published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The overall emerging picture was that disabled people were facing more barriers and falling further behind. They still are.
  • Poverty and Social Exclusion: Review the report by the New Policy Institute Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion which found that “once account is taken of the higher costs faced by those who are disabled, half of people living in poverty are either themselves disabled or are living with a disabled person in their household.”
  • Concern over suicides related to DWP benefit decisions: Find out how our work impacts on suicide and self-harm prevention and how an investigation by the BBC revealed There are serious concerns over the appropriateness of the assessments being carried out in the case of people with mental health issues and the lack of transparency in DWP internal reviews leading to calls for an enquiry.
  • Suicide Prevention: Find out about the causal link between disability, financial hardship and the likelihood of attempted suicide. Shocking numbers of people have committed suicide closely related to a refusal or downgrading of their benefits following assessment by DWP contractors. Read about the impact our work has in preventing suicide and self-harm.
  • Welfare Reform Injustice and Waste: Learn about how £60M per annum is being wasted on the cost of administering welfare reforms which were designed to reduce the cost of disability benefits and have failed. It represents such poor value for money to us the tax payer and its getting worse. On average 75% of appeals (100% during 2020 for DAS) are lost by the Department of Work & Pensions but the impact on disabled people from forcing them to fight in the courts can be devastating, pushing some into poverty and increasing levels of stress and anxiety.
  • Domestic Abuse: Access the Safe Lives research on Disabled People and Domestic Abuse that found the disabled are more than twice as likely to experience some form of domestic abuse than non-disabled victims and that they also suffer more severe and frequent abuse over longer periods of time.
  • The Social Model: Read about the Social Model of disability to try and understand the disabled persons perspective. It is thought provoking.
  • Rural East Suffolk is an Area of Relative Deprivation: See the relatively high levels of deprivation that exist respectively in the urban environment of Ipswich and the rural towns and villages of East Suffolk as analysed by Public Health Suffolk.

You can read our summary here:

The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the disabled

From the Office for National Statistics

In a survey carried out in July 2020 (figures for non-disabled in brackets where provided):

  • 75% of disabled people said they were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the effect that the coronavirus was having on their life.
  • 25% (13%) were most concerned about the impact on their well-being.
  • 13% (3%) were most concerned about access to healthcare and treatment.
  • 25% (7%) receiving medical care before the pandemic said they were currently receiving treatment for only some of their conditions.
  • 45% of disabled people reported high anxiety.
  • 46% (18%) say that the pandemic has worsened their mental health.
  • 42% (29%) are feeling lonely.
  • 36% (25%) say they spend too much time alone.
  • 25% (8%) feel like a burden on others, or have no one to talk to about their worries.
  • 40% (29%) had not met up with other people to socialise.
  • 9% (3%) are feeling very unsafe when outside their home.

From Public Health England

People with learning disabilities were up to six times more likely to die from Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic, analysis shows. A report from Public Health England (PHE) found the death rate for those with a learning disability was 30 times higher in the 18-34 age group. Mencap said the government had “failed to protect” a group already experiencing health inequalities. Social Care Minister Helen Whately has announced a review of the findings. (Reported by the BBC 13 November 2020.)

Risk of death over three times greater for more severely disabled people

As reported in the Daily Mirror on 11 February 2021, disabled people made up 6 in 10 Covid deaths last year. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that of the 50,888 deaths from January 24 2020 to 20 November 2020, 30,296 were disabled people – 59.5% whereas disabled people made up only 17.2% percent of the study population.
Richard Kramer, chief executive of Sense, quoted in the Independent said disabled people had been “largely forgotten” during the pandemic and that cuts in social care support affecting those living independently had left disabled people at greater risk.
ONS researchers said no single factor explains the considerably raised risk among disabled people – saying the type of residence, socio-economic and geographical circumstances, and pre-existing health conditions all play a part.
Mehrunisha Suleman, senior research fellow at the Health Foundation, said the latest figures showed current measures to protect disabled people “are not enough” and that there was “an urgent need for more and better support”. She said: “Disabled people are more likely to have one or more long-term health conditions, which means they are at greater risk of suffering severe symptoms if they get Covid-19. “However, as well as protecting disabled people from exposure to the virus, measures must account for the potential negative effects of lockdown and shielding.”

Latest government statistics on the extent of disability in the UK

According to the Department for Work & Pensions’ Family Resources Survey published in March 2018 there were 13.9 million disabled people (22%) in the UK, an increase of 2 million in three years. No clear single driver for the increase was identified. A person is considered to have a disability if they report a long-standing illness, disability or impairment which causes substantial difficulty with day-to-day activities (the core definition of disability stated in the Equality Act 2010).

13.9 million people

22% of the population

Over one-fifth and up from 20% three years before.

The proportion of disabled people increases with age:

Children 8%
Working age adults 19%
Over state pension age 45%

By age

By impairment type

The most commonly-reported impairments are those that affect mobility, stamina/breathing fatigue, dexterity and mental health.

Of those who reported a disability, 24% reported a mental health impairment, up from 20%; visual impairments decreased from 14% to 12%. Mobility decreased from 53% to 51%. The percentage of people reporting most other impairments remained fairly stable.

Cost of living higher, employment worse

Two inconvenient truths that together make things so much more difficult:

  • Life costs an extra £583 a month on average if you’re disabled.
  • Disabled people are over twice as likely to be unemployed.

According to research published by the Centre for Social Justice there are 7.7 million working age-disabled people in the UK today, of whom 53.6 per cent (4.1 million) are in work.1 This compares to an employment rate of 81.9 per cent for working-age non-disabled people – meaning there is an employment gap of 28.2 per cent.
For certain health types, the numbers are even more concerning. Working-age people with learning disabilities in England have an employment rate of just 5.9 per cent. This is despite the fact that 65 per cent of people with learning disabilities want to work.

Being disabled in Britain – A journey less equal

The Equality and Human Rights Commission promotes and enforces the laws that protect our rights to fairness, dignity and respect. As part of its duties, the Commission provides Parliament and the nation with periodic reports on equality and human rights progress.

In ‘Being disabled in Britain: A journey less equal’ it assessed the state of equality and human rights for disabled people in Britain and set out the key areas requiring improvement. The overall picture emerging from the data is that disabled people are facing more barriers and falling further behind.

Poverty and social exclusion

The New Policy Institute in its report Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2016 found, “One aspect of poverty that can be understated in the official statistics is disability. When the extra costs of disability are partially accounted for, half of all people in poverty are either disabled, or in a household with a disabled person. Disability and family type are significant in explaining the children still in workless households; 46% of children in workless households have at least one disabled adult in the household.” Download the report summary below.

Concern over suicides related to DWP benefit decisions

Cases where people claiming benefits died or came to serious harm have led to more than 150 government reviews since 2012, a BBC investigation found. An inquest on just one case concluded in January 2021 that authorities made 28 errors in managing her case. In another, a family received a letter endorsing the decision to stop benefits saying the claimant was fit to work while, in fact, she was lying in a mortuary ahead of her burial, her mother said.

Internal reviews are held by the DWP when it is alleged its actions had a negative impact, or when it is named at an inquest. However, it has been 11 years since the government was first made aware there was a problem with the tests it used to assess benefit claims after a coroner wrote to the DWP following the suicide of a man. During all that time, the government has simply marked its own homework, doing internal reviews.

Calling for an inquiry, Labour MP Debbie Abrahams who previously read out in the Commons the names of 29 people who have died, said: “There needs to be an independent inquiry investigating why these deaths are happening and the scale of the deaths needs to be properly understood.”

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey told the Work and Pensions Committee in February 2021 the DWP “did not have a duty of care or statutory safeguarding duty”.

A solicitor acting for one family said, “There seems to be a real issue with the DWP failing to make reasonable adjustments for claimants who due to their mental health issues struggle with responding to official letters or participating in assessments. When DWP decision making goes wrong it can, as we have seen in far too many cases, have devastating and sometimes fatal consequences… the case for reform is clear.”

In a clear sign that these assessments are of limited use, in Scotland from 2022, claimants for the main disability benefit will only have to undergo a test if any doubts remain about their claim following a review of their medical records. For the vast majority of people, the expectation is that they won’t have to undergo a test – removing from the process what has long been a source of extreme stress for them.

Read our report here about the causal link between the disabled, financial hardship (particularly brought about by welfare benefits being stopped or reduced) and the likelihood of attempted suicide.

£60,000,000 a year is wasted on fighting disability claims

According to the Independent, tax payers fund more than £60million a year fighting disability claims even though on average three out of every four (or 98% in our case so far this year) of cases that end up at a benefit tribunal are lost. Tick-box health assessments by giant outsourcing firms lead to many flawed decisions that mean the outlay by the Department for Work and Pensions is largely wasted. The impact on disabled people from forcing them to fight in the courts, however, can be devastating, pushing some into poverty and increasing levels of stress and anxiety.
Two years before in 2018 the cost was £44m per annum and that 39% increase is far greater than the increase in applications which was 13% for the same period. Despite all this the outsourcing firms earlier this year had their lucrative multi-million pound contracts extended a further two years to 2023.
This is all despite the DWP knowing that PIP claimants have the lowest level of benefit fraud. According to their own report Fraud and Error in the Benefit System (published 17/5/2018) fraud overpayments for the various benefits it controls are as follows: Housing benefit 4.6%, Employment and Support Allowance 2.2%, Pension Credit 3.5%, Jobseeker’s Allowance 4.3%, Universal Credit 4.7%, Personal Independence Payment 1.2%.

Disabled people suffer a higher rate of domestic abuse

Disabled people experience higher rates of domestic abuse than non-disabled. In the year to March 2015 the Crime Survey for England and Wales reported that women and men with a long standing illness or disability were more than twice as likely to experience some form of domestic abuse than women and men with no long standing illness or disability. Research has found that disabled victims of domestic abuse also suffer more severe and frequent abuse over longer periods of time than non-disabled victims.
SafeLives’ data reveals that disabled victims typically endure abuse for an average of 3.3 years before accessing support, compared to 2.3 years for non-disabled victims. Even after receiving support, disabled victims were 8% more likely than non-disabled victims to continue to experience abuse. For one in five (20%) this ongoing abuse was physical and for 7% it was sexual.
For a disabled person, the abuse they experience is often directly linked to their impairments and perpetrated by the individuals they are most dependent on for care, such as intimate partners and family members. National data shows that disabled victims are much more likely to be suffering abuse from a current partner (31%) than non-disabled victims (18%).

The Social Model

Read here about the Social Model of disability and compare it with the Medical Model to get a better perspective on disability and impairment and get an understanding of the difference between the two.

Indices of deprivation

Many disabled people and their carers living in the communities we serve start off with a disadvantage compared to other areas of Suffolk and of England as a whole according to the Indices of Deprivation 2019 Report published by Public Health Suffolk. Download an extract here: