Account for the incidence of poverty in disabled people. What implications does this have for social security policy?

“Dominant cultural values are reflected in the self- portrayal of a society and negative representations of disability abound” (Priestly 1999)

This paper will be looking at poverty amongst disabled people and the provisions that are made for them. Focusing on benefits for those who cannot work and opportunities for those who can, the present governments attempts at providing for disabled people will be explored and evaluated.

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Labour inherited a fragmented system of welfare from the conservatives and had to strive to restructure the system in a more adequate way. Since 1997 labour has placed an emphasis on ‘work for those who can, security for those who cannot,’ Millar, J. (2003) advocating a person centred approach to their social security structure and promising to modernise the conservative’s piecemeal system. Their main aim has been to target worklessness and economic inactivity and to make ‘real changes.’

The Medical and Social Models of disability are different ways of approaching how we think about and act towards disabled people and guides how policy is created by the government.

It is important to understand the definitions on which the Labour government are basing their policies which are a combination of the following;

The medical model defines a person’s disability in terms of their medical condition. Terms such as arthritic or epileptic may be used to describe a person. This model places the disabling factors on the individual, who has a need, and fails to account for the disabling factors in society.

The social model focuses on the limitations of society. Barriers imposed by society are the disabling factor, not impairments. In other words, disabled people are primarily disabled by the design of the environment and/ or the attitude of others in society, rather than by their impairment. Disability is the restriction society imposes upon people with impairment. Most disabled people believe that the social model more accurately describes their situation than the medical model.

It is generally agreed that we are living in a social security system dominated by the medical model although arguably much is being done to make the transition from a medical model to a social one.

Disabled people are often found to be in poverty for three main reasons: By being disabled often the person is not able to work, hence naturally the disabled person will be financially worse off than an able-bodied person, having to live solely on benefits; Often disabled people also have a higher cost of living due to their condition, equipment such as stair lift can be costly. Through being in the house for long periods of time naturally their utility bills will also be higher; Lastly disabled people often suffer social exclusion from the job market making it almost impossible to find jobs that are suited to their needs.

Disabled people can now expect help from the labour government through various initiatives;

The New Deal for disabled people (NDDP) has provided disabled people with new opportunities to work.

Pathways to Work pilots are the Government’s most concerted effort to encourage and assist those people on Incapacity Benefit to return to work, and work with key stakeholders to promote the value of job retention. Job Centre Plus (2005). The aim is to enable people to overcome obstacles to work, by focusing on their capabilities and thereby challenging the belief that people with health conditions are incapable of work.

Job Brokers are people provided by the job centre plus scheme who are employed to help disabled people because of their experience of working with people with health conditions or disabilities. Job Brokers give them advice about the local labour market, discuss with them the most appropriate route into employment and agree with them the next steps to take. Their skills and abilities are matched to the needs of employers. It is identified if they have any training needs and then working with local training providers gives them extra support, helping them through the process of applying for jobs and supporting them during their first six months in work.

Work focussed interviews have also been introduced through the Pathways to Work scheme in order for the disabled person to maximise their potential of getting a job making sure they are kept up-to-date with all vacancies that come up.

The labour government has also been keen to ensure that there are financial incentives to go back to work. An increase in the national minimum wage meant that disabled people would not be put off by the low wages they could expect to receive previously. Also the conversion of disability working allowance into Disabled persons tax credit in 1999 meant that disabled people should not be put off by going back to work because of fear that they will lose a substantial amount of income as a result. Also one hundred per cent of money coming in through payments such as maintenance is retained. As well as this the working tax credit now incorporates disabled people.

As well as finding it hard to get a job in the first place disabled people often find it difficult to retain their job due to implications relating to their disability. Various ideas have been implemented to try to combat this problem including the Disability Discrimination Act which enables disabled people to work without fear of discrimination.

Workstep has also been introduced by the government to try to combat the problem of work retention. The Workstep provider introduces the individual to their manager and colleagues at work and keep in touch to make sure everything is going smoothly. The scheme also provides subsidies to help disabled workers and their employers meet any extra costs which might otherwise act as a barrier to employment. The scheme can help pay for the special equipment that allows a disabled person to do a job or it can pay for adaptations to premises or work equipment – ramped access to a work station for instance. The scheme can also pay for human aids, such as sign language interpreters for Deaf people and readers for blind people.

Recent Government policy has delivered some significant improvements in the employment prospects of disabled people but further action is needed to

support disabled people in the labour market.

The job centre plus scheme although in theory, seems like a well thought out plan, its application is somewhat problematic in that the help that disabled people often get from the job brokers is not of particularly high value. Job Brokers links with prospective employers are limited and disabled people are sometimes critical of Job Broker’s failure to deliver jobs to them or they are given jobs that do not correlate with their skills or experience. BBC (2004)

From the opposite perspective, Jobcentre Plus advisers feel that they lack the skills to address certain complex issues with their clients and are anxious about asking them questions on health conditions. BBC (2004). Here there seems to be a lack of understanding of disability by the job centre staff and the staff appear to be insufficiently knowledgeable on disability matters. This often means that disabled people do not feel comfortable in the surroundings it is necessary for them to be in in order to acquire a job, as has been the case for them for years previously, the Job Centre scheme appears to be no different; “Disabled people have become increasingly critical of the roles of professionals in their lives, in that such encounters have been viewed as essentially demeaning and oppressive” (Barton, 1989).

There are also practical implications to the scheme; Scope, RNID and MENCAP criticised Job Centre Plus for not being fully accessible and for not training frontline staff to recognise people with specific disabilities and their support requirements. Swain, J. et al. (2004). The offices where the interviews are often held are not easily accessible to disabled people “…if people are going to be required to attend work-focussed interviews, those interviews have got to be accessible to the people required to take part in them. It is a basic point that gets missed out far too often” (TUC). Often many disabled peoples requirements are dealt with via post due to problems such as inaccessibility.

Job retention rates are still low and very few disabled people or employers are actually aware of the Access to Work scheme. BBC (2004). This means that employers are still avoiding employing disabled people due to the perceived costs. The scheme also fails to facilitate career progression as there is a lack of continuity in support when a disabled person changes jobs. If this is allowed to happen a disabled persons career progression can only be limited and fragmented, and perhaps discouraging them from returning to work if the job they have changed to does not cater for their disability. Of those who are able make a transition into work, one in three are out of a job again by the following year, compared with one-fifth of non-disabled people. BBC (2004)

For those who cannot work the government have introduced various benefits which lay under three main headings;

Earnings replacement benefits are benefits for those who cannot work due to sickness or disability; Incapacity benefit is for people of working age who cannot work due to illness or disability and are not entitled to statutory sick pay or their statutory sick pay has run out. Entitlement usually depends on national insurance record (except some young adults) and may be subject to a medical assessment. Severe Disablement allowance is a benefit which was abolished for new claims in April 2001, however many people continue to receive it. The benefit was for people under 65 and incapable of work, but whose national contributions were not enough to claim long term Incapacity benefit.

Extra cost benefits such as Disability living allowance and supplementary Security Income cover some of the extra costs that are associated with being disabled. The Disability Living Allowance is paid if the person needs help looking after themselves including severe difficulty walking. The benefit is paid at different rates depending on how the disability affects the person.

Means tested benefits such as Disability insurance are available to those who are disabled of which there are five types; social insurance paid for by contributions; means tested benefits for people on low incomes; non contradictory benefits means tested by need; Universal benefits based on broad categories of people with no test of means or needs and lastly Discretionary benefits widely used in the provision of social assistance , the provision of benefits for those in need who are not covered otherwise. Millar, J. (2003). Disablement benefit also helps those disabled at work or a disease contracted at work.

Benefit issues are of huge importance to disabled people. They have extra costs combined with lower incomes. For disabled people, particularly those who are excluded from work entirely, a properly resourced and efficient benefits system is a civil rights issue.

The criticisms of the government’s disability strategy for those who cannot work lies mainly in a few sub groups of disabled people and these particular circumstances will be discussed;

Those who have saved over �3000 have their entitlement reduced for Working Persons Tax Credit and if a disabled person takes up this tax credit they could stand to lose all, or part of their council tax and housing benefit (Swain et al. 2004). Often this does not create positive results for some people who often rely heavily on the aforementioned benefits.

The rate at which incapacity benefit is paid is not parallel to the rate of pensions. Pensioners are those who made sufficient national insurance contributions and they receive a set amount of money each week. Often disabled people are not able to make national insurance contributions at the same level as able-bodied people- by paying a higher amount of money to those who have been able to make the contributions they are in effect discriminating against disabled people, particularly against those disabled from birth. Incapacity benefit is also withdrawn from those who have been unemployed for over three years, making little room for the fact that there may be many circumstances that mean that a person is unable to work rather than unwilling.

There is also a limited awareness among disabled people of the incentives to return to work such as the tax credits. The disability element that can improve the financial incentives for disabled people returning to work for 16 hours or more a week. However many disabled people are unaware of this and so take up is very low.

The benefit system for disabled people although sufficient for many people still holds a number of problems. Firstly the forms that need to be filled in are long and complicated for which many people need advice and can take up to two hours to complete. Once they have been filled in and completed there is often a long wait before the claimant actually receives any of the benefit. Once the benefits do arrive occasionally they are often wrong and people are not receiving what they are entitled to. The Citizens Advice Bureau found that One in five of all benefit decisions is wrong and that figure rises to half in the case of Disability Living Allowance. Also, very often there is a psychological barrier faced by many, particularly the elderly, of feeling they are asking for charity and moving into unfamiliar territory. This inevitably leads to people into settling for what they have got which is very little or instead suffering unnecessary stress through attempting something they feel uncomfortable with and know very little about.

There is also a limited awareness of the financial incentives to return to work provided by tax credits. Tax credits have a disability element that can improve the financial incentives for disabled people returning to work for 16 hours or more a week. Large, P. (2005). However, awareness and take up among disabled people is low.

Looking at the provisions made by the government for disabled people that a move from a medical to a social model is a positive move supported by disabled people as the policies and strategies created will be informed by those who know best- the disabled people themselves.

Most changes that have occurred since the labour government have been centred around those who can work;

Disabled people can now expect a guaranteed standard of treatment by the government and social policy by their employers. Introductions such as a minimum wage have has social as well as economic benefits for disabled people as it gives them a guaranteed standard of living as well as being able to not feel inferior to other able-bodied people as they may have felt before due to their wages or salary being lower.

The introduction of the Job Centre Plus scheme and the New Deal for Disabled people seems better in theory than in practice;

There is very little cohesion between the parts that make up the Job Centre Plus scheme, namely the staff at the centres and the disabled people. There are limited links with external statutory services such as the education system, social services and the Job Centre Plus is failing to draw upon the expertise of existing organisations.

The services provided by the Job Centre Plus should be more tailored around individual needs rather than trying to provide for all disabled people in the same way. Specialists should take responsibility for guiding and assisting disabled people through all stages of support and all the way to open employment where this is appropriate.

By further understanding what disabled people want social policy can go a long way to giving disabled people access to power as well as wealth. Currently disabled people are having to live in an able- bodied society in which they struggle to fit in. By giving them more opportunity they can be more fully integrated.

Much emphasis has been placed however on getting those who can into work. Much of the population of those who cannot work are being overlooked and more needs to be done to help those who cannot work out of poverty;

Awareness of benefits needs to be addressed so that disabled people are receiving what they are rightfully entitled to. Such benefits need to be clearly marketed for them to be taken up.

All benefits for disabled people should be in line with any other benefits similar able-bodied people are receiving, it is unfair that a person disabled at birth should not receive the equivalent of a full pension because they have not been able to make adequate contributions due to the fact they were unable to work.

The process of applying for benefits should also be made simpler for disabled people. Often they are unable to pursue mistakes with benefits and often need help filling in forms which may not always be available. With all of the extra stresses and strains that they come across in their life things like this should be made easier for them.

Over all it seems benefit and care agencies need to work together to provide a better joined up system where all of the parts work together to ensure a better standard of life for the disabled. Recent evidence suggests that the governments attempt at helping disabled people into work has led them to being no better off than they were ten years ago.


BBC (2004) Poor take-up of disabled New Deal [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 21st December 2005]

DirectGov (2005) Disabled people [Online] Available from:;chk=j4gVFM [Accessed 21st December 2005]

Job Centre Plus (2005) Incapacity benefit [Online] Available from: [Acessed: 22nd November 2005]

Large, P. (2005) Paying for the additional costs of disability [Online] Available from: [Accessed 21st December 2005]

Barton, L. (1989) Disability and Dependancy. Falmer Press, London.

Millar, J. (2003) Understanding Social Security: Issues for Policy and Practice. The Policy Press, England

Swain, J. et al. (2004) Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments. Sage Publications, London.


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