Headlines: November 19th, 2003

There is a call today for urgent policy initiatives to target the links between disability and social disadvantage. It follows research that shows adults are more likely to become disabled if they are already living on low incomes.The study, published today, was carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which says that while acquiring a serious health problem or other impairment is often thought of as a random misfortune, the results show this is far from being the case. Using data from a major national survey of 10,000 adults interviewed each year, it shows that a disproportionate number of people who become disabled come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Tania Burchardt, from the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, conducted the research and says it demonstrates an urgent need for new policy initiatives to target the links between disability and social disadvantage. These, she suggests, should include action to reduce health inequalities and to direct more resources to enabling disabled people to stay in work. She believes the research also underlines the value of offering greater support to partners and other carers, through improved benefits.

The study shows that adults whose incomes place them in the poorest fifth of the population are two and a half times more likely to become disabled in any one year than those in the top fifth, and that people with lower educational qualifications are more likely to become disabled than those with higher qualifications. It also reveals that the risk of disability is greater for those adults who are out of work or in low status jobs, such as machine and plant operators, sales staff or people working in personal and protective services, including security, catering, healthcare and childcare staff.

A quarter of individuals who became disabled were already living in households whose net incomes placed them below the poverty line. By contrast, only one in six households unaffected by onset of disability were poor, using a standard, official definition. The study also shows how disability affected the working lives and incomes of other family members. One in ten partners of people who became disabled reported taking on caring responsibilities and, in some cases, giving up their own job.

Tania Burchardt says at present the Government’s New Deal policies are focused on getting disabled people into work and less attention is paid to helping people to keep their jobs when they become disabled or to preventing health conditions and accidents that cause disability in the first place.

A summary of the study’s findings is available, free of charge, from JRF, The Homestead, 40 Water End, York Y030 6WP or from www.jrf.org.uk   The full report, “Being and becoming: social exclusion and the onset of disability” is available, free of charge, from sticerd.lse.ac.uk/case .