Tackling child poverty - third year progress report : annex B - child poverty in families with a disabled adult or child

Evidence about child poverty in families with a disabled adult or child. The report presents the latest data on the child poverty targets and includes further evidence on the drivers of child poverty among this priority group.

1. Income from employment

1.1 Hourly pay

Indicator 1: Hourly pay

In 2017-20, average hourly pay among low-income disabled families was £8.49. This was similar for all low-income families (£8.52).

Source: Family Resources Survey[22]

While there is only a small difference in average hourly pay between disabled and all low-income families, there was an overall pay gap of 17% between the disabled and non-disabled workforce in Scotland in 2019.[23] This difference may be partly because the average hourly pay figure for disabled families will include not just disabled parents' pay, but also pay for non-disabled parents with a disabled partner or child. It may also be partly because we are looking only at those on lower incomes, where the scope for pay gaps will be lower than among the whole earnings distribution.

1.2 Employment rates and hours worked per household

Indicator 2: No paid employment

Disabled parents are less likely to be employed. Two-thirds (60%) of disabled parents aged 16-64 were employed in 2019 (53% of women and 73% of men), compared to well over four fifths (88%) of non-disabled parents. The disability employment gap therefore stands at 28 percentage points among parents.

Source: Annual Population Survey, ONS

The lower employment rate among disabled parents, as well as the fact that disabled employees are generally under-represented in higher-skilled occupations, is likely to be partly related to differences in education outcomes (see section 1.4) as well as other significant barriers.[24]

In trying to understand broader issues around working patterns for parents in families with a disabled member, we found that experiences of employment (or partners' experiences) were mixed. Some felt undervalued or that they didn't have enough hours, but appreciated the lack of stress or the flexibility that it allowed them to do other things, particularly in terms of their caring responsibilities.

"He sticks with the small company that he's been with a long time. He doesn't feel that he's being paid comparable to what he should be but we're happy… We have what we have and I'm not bothered I would rather my husband was happy and feeling relaxed."

However, many disabled parents, or parents with a disabled family member, describe how their health needs or caring responsibilities mean that it is not realistic for them to undertake employment. The implication is that for these parents, child poverty would need to be tackled either through significant formal or informal health and care support or through the other key drivers, such as by reducing their costs of living and/or increasing their income from social security.

"He [my husband] looks after me because of my disability, and after my wee boy as well… he cannae work because he needs to go and collect him from school and take him to school and if anything happens to him at school."

Indicator 3: Hours worked

On average, working-age adults in low-income disabled families in employment worked 22 hours per week in 2017-20 (compared to 24 hours among adults in all low-income families in employment).

Source: Family Resources Survey[25]

Disabled people are around twice as likely to fall out of work as non-disabled people (10% vs 6% in 2017/18)[26] and returning to work is significantly harder for disabled people (6% returned to employment in the following 3 months compared to 28% of non-disabled people in 2007-20).[27] This is particularly true for women, around the birth of a child when working patterns often change. One in five (18%) 'economically inactive' disabled women were 'looking after family/home' (compared to 7% of 'economically inactive' disabled men) in 2019.

Certain disabled groups are more likely to face barriers into employment:

  • For disabled parents from visible minority ethnic groups, multiple disadvantage and labour market barriers are reflected in a lower employment rate (38%) than for white disabled parents (61%).[28]
  • Mental health conditions appear to impact more negatively on employment rates (28% employment rate in 2019).

Among those in employment, disabled mothers are particularly unlikely to work full-time (36% in 2019, compared to 49% of non-disabled mothers and 86% of disabled fathers).[29]

There are indications that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a worse impact on disabled people's employment, including disabled parents, as they are more likely to work in industries hit hard (such as hospitality and distribution).[30] The employment rate for disabled adults aged 16-64 in 2020 is estimated to have fallen by 2.1 percentage points, compared to 1.0 percentage point for non-disabled adults.[31]

Barriers into paid employment

The data shows that many people who are not in employment want to find paid work, and 'economically inactive' disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to say that they want to work.[32] Just over a fifth (22%) of unemployed or 'economically inactive' disabled parents want to work.[33] Some of our research participants would also have liked to take on (more) paid work.

"It's my lifelong work ... in my opinion I am talented and skilled at ... if I can do it, I can impact on people. The more I can work, the more I can help other people. It's not the priority of earning money, the work I do benefits people's lives."

"I work part time and I'm a full time carer for my dad so I just kind of fit everything in around their needs and my kids' needs… I'm committed to doing 35 hours' a week care for my dad which I can do quite easily… and I find myself checking up on my mum's mental health as well because she's there and she has to deal with them [uncles who live with them] throughout the evening and the night-time because that's not something I can do with my kids here."

However, the literature suggests that disabled families face additional barriers into employment. These include difficulties with transport, a climate of low expectations, anxiety/lack of confidence and effects on benefits.[34] Our interviews supported some of these findings.

"I'm interested in psychology. But I fear that I will let someone down if I can't come to work. [In my current role], someone else will do it if I can't. As a psychologist, people need you."

"He is [interested in other jobs] but he's frightened. I think confidence and self-esteem is what he would need. I think going on a course to boost these is the thing he would need to be able to do that."

"I couldn't take on additional work say after school until bedtime because I would be penalised financially [regarding Carer's Allowance]"

Parents of disabled children can also face additional difficulties, such as higher levels of stress and poorer mental health.[35]

Our discussions with disabled families provided further evidence of the increased barriers to work around logistics of fitting care into a school and working day.

A lack of adequate support also appears to be a key barrier to disabled people accessing employment, as well education and social security.

"With my elder son, when they become an adult everything gets ignored. He can't hold a job, he's never been able to finish a college course but there's nothing out there to help him."

An Inclusion Scotland report on issues faced by young disabled people in Scotland notes that many young people feel like they 'face an abyss' when they leave school and lack adequate support to find employment or go into further education.[36] Two-fifths of the young people with learning disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders who responded to an ENABLE Scotland survey said that they did not get support to think about and plan their future when they finished school.[37] Two-thirds were worried about this.

Enablers into employment

Greater availability of flexible working and home working could allow more disabled people into employment, or into higher hours, or roles that are better paid or more suited to their skills.[38] Flexible working is important for many disabled families for example to fit around medical appointments and adapt to changes in their health.[39] If more agile working practices are cultivated as we recover from the pandemic, this presents an opportunity for jobs to be better designed to suit the needs of both disabled people and unpaid carers.[40]

Many of our interview participants stressed the importance of flexibility for them, in terms of ensuring that that they could meet their health or caring requirements.

"I'd need to be here at the end of school, so 9.30-3 is the time I could work. But if I go and work in the store and there's a problem at the school and he has a meltdown then I'd have to go, they can't bring him down. That would be a struggle, that's what happens, I can't leave my mum to do it, that's not appropriate, so I would have to find someone who's pretty understanding who'd just let me leg it to sort it out."

"With employers, there's not a lot of flexible jobs. If you were a wheelchair user, there's an adaptation for that. There are not a lot of flexible jobs where you could work from home when you're not able to get out of the house… I would find it easier to keep working from home."

There is some public support for positive action to support disabled people's employment. As of 2015, two-fifths (40%) of adults thought that someone with a disability should automatically get an interview for a job – but three-fifths (58%) thought that this was unfair.[41] There is also some support, particularly among third sector organisations, for setting public sector targets to improve the disability employment rate.[42]

1.3 Labour market

The number and type of jobs available in the labour market have an impact on both parents' hours worked and their hourly pay.

Indicator 4: Underemployment

8% of disabled parents were in work but would have preferred to work more hours for the same rate of pay in 2019. This compared to 5% of non-disabled parents.

Source: Annual Population Survey, ONS

Indicator 5: Under-utilisation of skills

Over 1 in 5 (22%) employed, disabled parents with a degree qualification were in low or medium skilled occupations in 2019. This compared to 16% of employed, non-disabled graduate parents.

Source: Annual Population Survey, ONS

The additional barriers into employment mentioned previously, such as logistics and care, will also have an impact on under-employment rates and under-utilisation of skills. Among disabled parents these two indicators appear more acute than among non-disabled parents. In addition to the broader issue of a lack of job opportunities, more specific labour market barriers faced by disabled people include employer attitudes and inaccessible job adverts and application processes.[43]

Case study

Joanne is a single parent to her two children. She has a health condition, and one of her children has autism. As well as taking care of her children, Joanne also cares for a disabled relative.

She is a qualified social worker, but can't currently fit that around her caring responsibilities. At the moment she works part-time in her child's school, which means she can fit it in with school drop-off. She doesn't think the school is meeting her child's needs, but if she moved her child to a different school she would have to give up her job.

Most of Joanne's income currently comes from social security. She has considered taking on additional part-time work, but that would mean that she'd no longer be eligible for her Carer's Allowance.

The COVID pandemic has exacerbated some of these employment barriers for many people, and also added new ones.[44]

"I haven't been able to work since the outbreak. We started Universal Credit just prior to the pandemic. Because of the situation at home and the struggle to work … it was piecemeal."

"I usually work full time, but I was made redundant. My health complaint played a role as there was a fitness test at work. I lost my job and then straight into lockdown. I struggled to find anything as the schools were closed."

Although for others COVID has not impacted on their employment, or led to an increase in hours.

"My husband has had more [work], definitely more… It hasn't been a negative for us, probably the workload for us at the time in lockdown it was."

Disabled people in employment were more likely than non-disabled people to say that their job was very or extremely stressful in 2017-2019 combined.[45]

Workplace discrimination also plays a role in disabled people's under-participation in the labour market, with negative attitudes towards disabled people enduring.[46]

1.4 Skills and qualifications

Gaining skills and qualifications is an essential step to finding and maintaining well-paid work as an adult. However disabled parents are much more likely to have low or no qualifications, compared to non-disabled parents.

Indicator 6: Parents' qualifications

Almost one in five (17%) disabled parents had low or no qualifications in 2019, compared to 7% of non-disabled parents.

Source: Annual Population Survey, ONS

Disabled people in the UK aged 21-64 with severe or specific learning difficulties were particularly likely to have no qualifications as of 2020 (57%), followed by those with epilepsy (29%) and autism (28%).[47]

As of 2009-11, just under a fifth (16%) of disabled adults in Great Britain had at least one barrier to education and training opportunities, compared with 9% of non-disabled adults.[48] Disabled adults were more likely to cite difficulty with transport (20% vs 8% of non-disabled adults) and the attitudes of other people (9% vs 4%).

Indicator 7: School leavers attainment gap

Disabled secondary school leavers are less likely than non-disabled school leavers to attain one or more pass at SCQF Level 5 or better. For both disabled and non-disabled school leavers, those living in the most deprived areas are also less likely than those living in the least deprived areas to attain one or more pass at SCQF Level 5 or better.

Graph 6: Percentage of school leavers from publicly funded secondary schools in Scotland attaining one or more pass at SCQF Level 5 or better, by SIMD quintile (20% most and least deprived) [49] and whether declared or assessed disabled, 2014/15 to 2019/20 combined
Bar charts showing the percentage of school leavers attaining one or more pass at SCQF Level 5 or better, by SIMD quintile and whether they are disabled

Source: Scottish Government school leaver attainment statistics

The vast majority of disabled school leavers are recorded as leaving to a positive initial destination (90% vs 93% of non-disabled school leavers in 2019/20).[50] Disabled young people were much more likely to be in further education[51] (48% vs 28% of non-disabled peers), but much less likely to be in higher education (22% vs 45%) or be employed (9% vs 16%), 3 months after the end of their final year of school.

Barriers to gaining skills and qualifications

Identification of needs

The Scottish Health Survey records 11% of children as disabled. In the Pupil Census 2.7% of pupils were assessed or declared as disabled in 2020.[52] The data for children and young people with additional support needs includes pupils who are assessed or declared as disabled. A child or young person has an additional support need if they, for whatever reason require extra or different support from that of their peers to fully benefit from school education.[53]

There is significant variation across local authorities in the number of children and young people recorded as both disabled and with additional support needs.[54]

Getting the right support

Both pupils with additional support needs and their parents and carers interviewed as part of recent qualitative research were broadly positive about their experience of school, as were some of our research participants.[55]

"They've been fantastic. Anytime the school knows that he has an appointment coming up or an overnight stay the school was wanting to be involved. They wanted to be kept up to date with everything that's going on. They are really on the ball with it, they really try to help. They've even phoned up to chase up his progress to find out what's going on."

The Additional Support for Learning framework seeks to ensure that children and young people get the support that they need to reach their full potential. However, some parents and carers have reported that it can be hard for them to navigate the support system for children with additional support needs (perhaps particularly for those on lower incomes) and it can take parents a long time to get their child the right support.[56] Some of our participants continued to feel that school support for their children was lacking whereas for others getting the right support made all the difference to having a more positive school experience that could lead to better educational outcomes.[57]

"My son doesn't get enough support there, there's not enough staff and they're spread so thinly over the kids, it's never going to work, there's just not enough."

"I'd say the support hasn't been there [and] I'm quite surprised… for instance when she went up to high school and up to then we'd been doing her injections for her so she had to learn to do that herself so I don't know if anyone in the high school was trained to do it but certainly there weren't any nurses, so there's been a lot of pressure on her."

Case study

Rachel has two sons, Ryan who is 11 and Jake who is 7. Both have autism. Ryan also has severe anxiety, and Jake has ADHD.

The boys were previously at a school where they didn't get the support they needed. The children were not properly assessed and Rachel felt that her concerns were dismissed and she wasn't listened to. Ryan is intelligent but requires support including with his emotional development. Without this, he developed severe anxiety around school and Rachel now home-schools him, which they find much better.

Since the family moved, Jake has started at a new school that has properly assessed his needs and supported him to get a diagnosis of ADHD. He is much happier at school and the staff have built a good relationship with Rachel, acknowledging her as a caring and knowledgeable parent.

Difficulties accessing the right support come in a context of resource constraints, and a significant increase in the number of pupils identified with additional support needs over the last decade.[58] Many local authority officers and school staff believe more resources are required for additional support.[59]

Very few of members of the education workforce surveyed by ENABLE Scotland in 2017 said that they could meet the needs of a pupil with a learning disability. The report noted concerns that initial teacher education may not adequately prepare teachers for teaching children and young people with additional support needs.[60] Actions have since been set out to address this.[61] Many believe that making more and better use of support assistants is key and investment has recently been made in this area.[62]

Low attendance and exclusion

Disabled pupils tend to have somewhat lower school attendance rates than non-disabled pupils (91% compared to 93% in 2018/19) and a higher exclusion rate, (at 38 per 1,000 pupils compared to 21 per 1,000 for non-disabled pupils).[63] Trends are similar for pupils with additional support needs.

Bullying and loneliness

Many disabled students and those with additional support needs report instances of bullying and feeling lonely and excluded at school.[64] In some cases, pupils move schools or leave early as a result. Many education staff believe that children and young people need help to better understand and engage with their disabled peers.[65]

Impact of COVID-19 on education

There are concerns about the impact that school closures have had on families with a disabled child.[66] Disabled students may have found it harder to participate in distance learning due to accessibility issues, which may further impact on their educational attainment, although children considered to be vulnerable could access in-school learning during the pandemic if the local authority considered it appropriate and in their best interests.[67] It has also been reported that children of disabled mothers were less likely to have access to the equipment they needed to study at home.[68] While this was not a topic that was explored a great deal in our interviews, one parent reported difficulties both they and their daughter faced home schooling, and taking time to get the support that they needed.

"[My daughter] was actually given a place in school during COVID because of her disability, she was struggling with her routine being out of sorts and I was struggling to home-school her, I couldn't get on with the technology… I feared she was going to fall behind, but this was after the second lockdown which I was quite annoyed about because I was actually informed that she should have been offered a place from the beginning."

1.5 Childcare & transport

The availability of high-quality, flexible and affordable services such as childcare and transport are important enablers for parents to access employment – as well as to reduce their costs of living.


Indicator 8: Childcare affordability

Among households with a child aged between 0 and 11 years old who are paying for some type of childcare, those where someone has a long-term condition are more likely to find it difficult or very difficult to afford childcare. Over a third (37%) of those households where someone had a long-term condition found this in 2018-19, compared to 24% of those households where no-one had a long-term condition.[69]

Source: Scottish Household Survey

Overall, parents of disabled children may be less likely to access formal childcare, although there is a lack of up-to-date evidence for Scotland in this area.[70] Many of our interview participants, all of whom had now school-age children, instead provided it themselves, sometimes also relying on family and friends.

"[I am] basically a full-time housewife, taking care of the kids and other duties. Two members of my family are quite close by that I can go round to and chap the door and ask for help."

"My mum and my sister help me. So if I'm not fit to take her to school my mum will come down or my sister. I can get a friend that lives just round the corner to pick her up if needs be."

The reasons for this vary, but focus around concerns on staff training and capacity and lack of choice.[71] Some parents reported that they didn't use formal childcare because it was not available in their area.

"There's no real childcare for a 12-year-old with autism."

"There is nothing. No afterschool care no afterschool facilities. Two primary schools but no facility like that. There really isn't anything. We've got a few childminders but there is such a demand here for childcare. They are just full, the ones that are here."

Our research also shows that awareness can be a barrier for some. For others, even if childcare was available, it was either too expensive or too infrequent to be of use.

"If there was more transparency from the childcare sector about what's available and what they specialise in that would be really helpful."

"Even if I approach [children's charity/service] and the facilities that are there, I would only get an hour once every 2/3 weeks, so there's no point in bothering … and he wouldn't know the staff enough to be able to leave him there."

"I was speaking to someone from social services and they advised [I use the holiday club] but it's £31 a shift, that's a lot of money, and his view was she gets DLA so you could potentially put her in for 2 days a week and that's her DLA but I thought, what happens if she wants to go to the zoo, and what happens if she goes in for 45 minutes and then wants to come home. So that was an option I was looking at for holiday time but it would probably only be once a week at those costs."

Some parents reported that they didn't feel comfortable letting other people take care of their children.

"There's not a lot of people I trust with my girls. Today's world's just a horrible place so I'd rather not leave them with anyone if I can help it."

"I just don't think they could cope and I don't think anyone could take care of my children as well as I do. I'm not going to traumatise my children just so I can take a break. I think that's just not fair and selfish."

Others spoke about the benefits that more wrap-around childcare for school-aged children could offer both them and their children.

"An afterschool facility would be brilliant for her. She would definitely use it. We need more support. We need afternoon activities for her to do. She just constantly wants to be doing something. I think that would make such a big difference to her life."

"If there were afterschool activities that he [son] wanted to do … if there was an additional hour or two where he loved doing it and it was great fun… we would jump at that opportunity. If that delays the time we get him, that would be beneficial."

One participant from an island community reported limited childcare availability and the knowledge that if she used more, it would result in others missing out:

"My friend's son is on her own with him and needs it more than that. It's a terrible situation where I have friends who all need something, they're saying 'well she's got 3 days, she's got x days' etc. and the system is forcing them to act this way because there isn't enough childcare. So I feel like I can't push in there and say 'oh I've got 3 hours' so I can go and do the shopping and I know that someone else wouldn't get it then. Not really fair."


Indicator 11: Satisfaction with public transport

Seven in ten (69%) disabled adults in a low-income family were very or fairly satisfied with the quality of public transport in 2015-19. Satisfaction was similar among non-disabled adults in low-income families (74% satisfied). Due to relatively small sample sizes the difference is not statistically significant.

Source: Scottish Household Survey

People on low incomes are more dependent on public transport than those on higher incomes, and disabled people are more reliant on some forms of public transport than non-disabled people.[72] Therefore it is logical to suggest that low-income disabled families will also be more reliant on public transport.

Disabled people face challenges on the transport system, including:[73]

  • being able to access accurate and relevant travel information both before and during the journey
  • not being able to spontaneously travel because of the need to book assistance
  • buses being infrequent and inaccessible, particularly in rural areas
  • being able to access public transport vehicles and public transport interchanges, especially at night when these may be poorly lit
  • difficulties accessing priority seating, especially for disabled people with hidden impairments
  • safety and comfort concerns, including experiencing discrimination and stigma from both transport staff and other travellers.

Many of these challenges are likely to be even more difficult when travelling with young children.[74]

Some interview participants reported difficulties with public transport and subsequent reliance on cars or taxis. For many this was related to their or their children's impairments, and for one participant a lack of public transport in their rural area meant a lot of time spent driving (with further implications for costs of living).

"I drive my son down to the school. It's not too far but because of his pains in his joints by the time he got there he would be sore."

"[Car is] my primary mode of transport, she won't sit on a bus and she struggles on a train."

"It's an issue for me as I can't sit on a bus as it rattles too much as it causes too much pain. I would feel more comfortable standing on a train. I wouldn't sit on a bus."

Case study

John lives in a rural area with his wife and son. His wife is ill, and doesn't drive. He spends at least 2 hours a day in the car taking his son to school and other activities. There is a school minibus, but it won't pick his son up because they live just over the border in a different county.

John is self-employed, and the time he spends driving means that he has less time to spend on his work, as well as with his wife. The lack of public transport also limits their childcare options and the amount of activities his son can take part in. However, he and his son also enjoy the time they spend together in the car, talking and laughing.

John's wife would like to learn to drive, but they can't afford it.

Restrictions imposed on public transport during the pandemic including physical distancing measures have resulted in fewer accessible seats and spaces for wheelchair users. In May 2020, 99% of respondents to a Disability Equality Scotland poll had experienced issues with physically distancing during their daily exercise or when undertaking essential journeys.[75] The Transport Transition Plan developed by Transport Scotland aims to mitigate these issues.[76]

Other services

Social care and self-directed support play a key role in enabling disabled people to live independently and participate in their communities, employment and education, in addition to other benefits. However it is reported that many disabled people are not getting the support they need, for reasons including resourcing pressures and high eligibility thresholds.[77] Social care, alongside medical care, has also been significantly disrupted during the pandemic.[78]

Many low-income families with disabled children feel that formal and informal support for their children has decreased since the pandemic began.[79]

Most adult carers on the lowest incomes (65%) said that they received none of the forms of support asked about, such as short breaks, advice, counselling, practical support or support workers, in 2019. For those that did receive support, the most common form was help from family or friends (received by 21%).[80]

In our interviews, many participants brought up the difficulties they had experienced with healthcare and significant problems that this has caused them or their family.

"I have to pay for a private therapist because the waiting times are so massive… I consider myself extremely fortunate because at the moment I can do this. But that can all be taken away with my next PIP application."

"My doctor has been very unhelpful and says that it's phantom pain… I asked if I could see a female doctor and was told that she wasn't available at that time. It was as if I was being fobbed off. They're all in the same building. The waiting times in other practices are long. People told me to stick with the doctor I had."

"If you have ailments and illnesses that are not physical, the health service is struggling to recognise that as valid… You have to get a lot sicker to trigger a response … have to get into a very poor state of health. The preventative health care, such that a person is able to heal themselves, is pretty absent… it's hit and miss if you get a GP who is more sympathetic. The response is that we can't solve the problem… the best we can do is to provide antidepressants. The prescription of medication is a crutch to get them off the waiting list and to leave them to it... that's not a health service. That is a massive, massive failing of the health service."

Some participants had not been able to get a diagnosis, which prevented them from accessing other support.

"I don't receive disability benefits as I've not been diagnosed."

"I know that if he gets diagnosed with ADHD he can go through therapy and I can go to classes to help him."


Email: sjsu@gov.scot

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