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January 2011



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First official survey since 1997 says many individuals with impairments are living socially isolated, cash-strapped lives
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Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor 

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 December 2010 19.02 GMT

Disabled people are almost twice as likely as able-bodied people not to be able to work, have a holiday or take courses according to a bleak assessment in the first official survey of people with disabilities since 1997.

The Life Opportunities Survey asked 18,000 people about the “social barriers” they faced in eight key areas of life and found many disabled people in Britain are living socially isolated, cash-strapped lives and struggling to participate in normal activities.

Large numbers of disabled people suffered from so much “anxiety and lack of confidence” that they struggled to lead a normal life.

The result is a startling gap between what able-bodied and disabled people could manage to do in life.

Almost a fifth of disabled adults felt so stressed that work was beyond them – compared with just 4% of the general population.

One in eight impaired adults felt so insecure they would not venture to take a long-distance train, compared with just one in 50 able-bodied people.

A disproportionately high number of disabled adults said they had limited engagement with the modern world and were unable to move freely, work or enjoy leisure pursuits.

In employment, 56% of adults with impairments experienced restrictions in “the type or work they did or the salary they were paid” compared with just 26% of the general population.

This income inequality severely disadvantaged those with disabilities. Almost a third of households with an adult with impairments said they could not afford a week away on holiday each year – compared with just one in five of other households.

Shockingly, 12% of adults with impairments experienced difficulty “accessing rooms within their home or difficulty getting in or out of their home” compared with just 1% of adults without impairments.

“We have to recognise that everybody faces social barriers but they are higher for people with impairments,” said Tom Howe, who heads the survey for the Office of National Statistics.

“I think some of these things are obvious, like transport. There’s no way you can get on a bus if you are in a wheelchair if the bus does not have a low floor designed for you.”

One of the salient points made by the survey is that disabled people appeared to struggle financially.

Almost double the number of households with a person who had an impairment found it hard to pay off loans compared with the 15% of general population.

An unexpected bill of £500 would leave 38% of impaired adults struggling compared with 26% of their able-bodied peers.

“It is hard to know whether this is because people with impairments have reduced incomes or because they have higher living costs,” said Howe.

Disability charities said the findings showed there was still a long way to go before disabled people in Britain could enjoy the same opportunities as non-disabled people.

Guy Parckar, acting director of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “The survey really highlights what the impact of inaccessibility and discrimination can be.

“When people face problems and barriers every day it not only reduces their opportunities, it can actually hold back their aspirations too.

“Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people, and twice as likely to have no qualifications.

“Despite the improvements that there have been in terms of legislation, we are still a very long way from having genuine equal opportunities.”

The ONS study comes after the government this week published plans to replace the main benefit for the disabled, disability living allowance (DLA), with a new benefit – personal independence payment – that would have tighter eligibility criteria.

In the June budget, ministers had already said they wanted to reduce the number of working-age claimants of DLA, currently 1.8 million, by a fifth.

This would reduce yearly spending on the disabled by a little more than £1bn by 2014-15. Ministers say they “do not know” how many people will be affected by the proposed cut.

Campaigners said that these figures called into question the government’s strategy, as the “barriers” to participating in everyday life remained too high for disabled people.

“What the results show is that after more than a decade of economic growth disabled people still experience disadvantage across all aspects of life,” said Neil Coyle of Disability Alliance.

“As we’ve hit a downturn, disadvantage and exclusion are increasing – but, worryingly, the coalition government is choosing to slash support for disabled people.

“Time-limiting one benefit and restricting access to other support – including DLA, which helps disabled people with higher costs of living – will only impoverish and isolate disabled people and their families further.”

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said the survey threw up some “interesting dilemmas” for the government.

He said: “The survey has revealed that nearly half of households where at least one person had an impairment are unable to afford expenses or make loan repayments.

“Disability living allowance was introduced to help disabled people meet the extra costs of living with a disability or impairment and allows many people to live their everyday lives as fully as possible.

“That is why it is also imperative that the government reverses its decision to continue with the withdrawal of the mobility component from disabled people in residential care.”

Read in Full:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/dec/09/disabled-people-missing-out-jobs-courses

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