Disability and poverty

The links between disability and poverty are complex but they are very connected.

Disability causes poverty and poverty causes disability.

Disability is one of the key indicators for living in poverty.  In 2013, it was estimated that 40% of disabled children and a third of disabled adults lived in poverty in the UK.

This is a pretty bleak post but I think it’s important that people start thinking about the details. 

Living in poverty is awful in many many ways but government policies and people’s attitudes towards poverty are disabling people as you read this.  And more than that, they are making disabled people more vulnerable to futher disability. 

Unless we look at the different factors, risks and influences, we will not be able to stop this cycle.

Disability causes poverty

This side of the circle seems more obvious or more intuitative I think.

Being disabled is expensive

Life costs £550 more on average a month if you happen to be disabled (Scope).


You may not be able to work which leaves you dependent on benefits or possibly a pension for your income.  In my case, I get a pension and some Personal Independence Payment.  But because my pension is above my allowable cost of living, anything over £12,000 goes straight on my care.  Thus meaning that despite paying into my pension, I still find myself below the minimum income standard (for a non disabled person).

In 2016, single people need to earn at least £17,100 a year before tax to achieve the MIS, and couples with two children at least £18,900 each. – Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Work hours

If you can work, your disability may affect the hours and types of work you’re able to do and thus restrict your income.

The same is true if you have a disabled child – there are appointments to go to etc and if you’re on a zero hours contract then you have few rights.  Also if you have a disabled child, you may (you shouldn’t, but you may), find childcare costs are higher or you just can’t find someone to look after your child (again, you shouldn’t but…).  You may end up unable to work because of your child’s needs.

Relationship stress

Having a child with a disability can place stress on the parents relationship and relationship breakdown can be a factor in causing poverty.

Reduced educational opportunities

Time out of education, due to ill health or appointments etc, can impact on a disabled child’s educational attainment which can then affect earning potential as an adult.  As can other barriers to education.  Perhaps your local school doesn’t have wheelchair access so you are forced to go to a different, lower quality but level access school.  Or your school has poor support for dyslexia etc.  All of this will effect your performance and hence your job opportunities and earning potential.


The infrastructure also plays a part in work and living costs.

Inaccessible work places mean that disabled people don’t have the same opportunities as none disabled people.  Yes, employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments but there isn’t very much an office on the third floor of a very old, tiny building are going to be able to do to get my wheelchair to the office.  There’s also transport issues – if you can’t drive, you’re probably reliant on public transport to get you to work which again limits which jobs you can consider.  You may be unable to move home because of limited accessible housing so you have to look for jobs on your doorstep.

Ever tried getting across London in rush hour?  Now add in a wheelchair… Firstly that would be painful and it’d take longer and there’s the stress of the crowds.  If you want to use the tube, depending on which stops you needed, you’d have to get assistance to get on and off…  And then there’s all the tube stops which are still not accessible…

If you need to get to a medical appointment but the bus or train isn’t accessible or isn’t reliably accessible (think only half the buses having access), then you can find yourself forking out for a taxi just for the peace of mind.

I’m attending a free art class for people with mental health issues and whilst it’s only the other side of town, when it starts to get cold and icy I know I will have to pay the £10+ in taxis to attend.  I can’t get the bus because the bus route means I’d basically have to virtually get to the venue before getting on a bus.  And I can’t wait around in the cold hoping for a bus to arrive on time and with the wheelchair space free.  The cost in terms of my health make that a no go.


Stigma and prejudice also affect disabled people’s affluence.  If you go for an interview and the interviewer assumes you’re incompetent because of your disabiliy, you’re unlikely to get the job.  If you have a job and a prejudice manager, you’re probably more at risk of getting fired (even if it’s an unrelated reason).  If walking down the street means you get spat at, you’re probably not going to be especially keen on walking to work every day…

Poverty causing disability

“There is a strong link between povety and Special Educational Needs (SEND). Children from low income families are more likely than their peers to be born with inherited SEND, are more likely to develop some form of SEND in childhood and less likely to move out of SEND categories whilst at school” – Joseph Rowntree Foundation

If you’re living in poverty, you may find yourself at risk of disability for a number of reasons.


For example, a damp home, an unsafe step etc increase your risk of breathing difficulties or a bad back.  There’s also the stress which a poor living environment can cause.  You may find that your area has higher pollution rates or higher crime rates, both of which have potential to cause disability.

Learning  and development

If a parent is working all the hours they can then they have less time to support their child’s development and learning and possibly less time to notice any developmental delay and hence are less likely to seek advice or support.  Or be able to seek advice and support if they want to because such professionals work 9-5 when a parent is also likely to be working…


Money is obviously a big part of this discussion.  Lack of money brings with it stress, inability to provide everything your child needs, buying cheaper and less nutritious food etc…
You may also end up working multiple jobs which is going to put it’s own pressure on your body and increase your risk of pain, RSI etc.
If you can’t afford to go off sick then your bad back gets worse and worse.  If you can’t get time off work to see a dr, your illness gets worse and becomes something more disabling.
Depending on where in the world you live, you may not be able to afford to seek healthcare at all.


Reduced access to preventative healthcare and reduced access to medication etc increase risk of preventable illness or exacerbate the effects of illness.
If you are unable to access healthcare (whether it’s the cost of healthcare, the cost of getting to your healthcare provider or not being able to take time off work), you are increasing your risk of disability.  If you can’t get your child immunised because of the logistics of doing so, you may inadvertently expose them to risks.
Being born into poverty increases your chance of being born early and being born underweight, both of which are risk factors for disability.


The stress of living in poverty inevitably impacts on mental health and poverty related stress can result in family breakdown which can be a cause of disability or SEND.
Children who grow up in low-income households have poorer mental and physical health, on average, than those who grow up in better-off families.

Intergenerational factors

A parent with a disability has a greater chance of living in poverty which means their child has a greater chance of having a non hereditary disability than their peers.  And so the cycle continues…

I’ve had a brief look at the UK here but the picture is often bleaker in other countries such as America and developing countries.


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