A national disgrace: the high price of disability poverty in Wales
The JRF Report Poverty in Wales 2018 (7 March 2018), found that 39% of disabled people in Wales are in poverty compared with 22% of non-disabled people; and that the poverty rate among disabled people in Wales is the highest in all of the UK.
Responding to the findings on BBC Wales Live news bulletin, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates AM, stated that it was a ‘national disgrace’ and that ‘we must ensure that disabled people have the right skills, right transport and right opportunities to address this’.
Wales has the highest proportion of disabled people in its population, the largest number of disability-related benefit claimants and the widest employment gap with non-disabled people anywhere in the UK. JRF’s findings are therefore of no surprise to Disability Wales which has long called on Welsh Government to fully recognise and act on the scale of poverty faced by disabled people, arguing that without this focus, general approaches to tackling poverty and unemployment will fail.
The Framework for Action on Independent Living (2013), instigated by DW’s successful campaign Independent Living Now! sets out Welsh Government’s commitments to fulfilling its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (CRDP) as well as tackling barriers in areas such as information and advice, transport, housing and employment.
Disability Wales amongst other national disability organisations has participated in reviewing the Framework over the last year which included engagement with disabled people across Wales during Spring 2017. With the exception, perhaps, of digital inclusion, we found little evidence of improvement in the lived experience of disabled people since 2013, with many telling us that they are worse off.
Much can be attributed to the impact of UK Government austerity measures, which have seen benefits and services to disabled people slashed. The UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People found that the government had committed grave and systematic violations of at least three Convention articles, with the Chairperson Theresia Degener, describing the policy as a ‘human catastrophe’.
Welsh Government cannot fully mitigate UK Government actions, nevertheless, there is more it can do in demonstrating leadership in areas where it has direct responsibility. The strong words of Ministers must now be turned into stronger action. The revised Framework – which should be progressed as a matter of urgency – should set out a bold vision for securing disabled people’s rights in Wales. We need to see ambitious and measurable targets aimed at addressing poverty and tackling barriers to independent living at both national and local level.
Regarding employment, disabled people make up just 5% of Welsh Government’s own workforce, despite comprising 22% of the population. Given the forthcoming Employability Plan, it must lead by example if its proposals are to be credible with employers across Wales. Major new infrastructure projects afford opportunities to create a more inclusive and accessible built environment and transport system. Procurement is another tool to advance disability equality via Welsh Government contracts. Furthermore, as we prepare for Brexit, Welsh Government can emulate the EU’s progressive approach to disability rights by incorporating the CRDP into legislation and policy as well as introducing a Socio-Economic duty.
With drive and determination, we can turn the tide on inequality to benefit as a nation from disabled people’s full inclusion. If not, the failure to act will indeed be a national disgrace.
Chief Executive, Disability Wales and Chairperson of Welsh Government’s Independent Living National Steering Group