Over 40% of children in poverty live in a households with at least one disabled person. Three-quarters of these are also in at least one other priority group.
Disabled families face additional barriers into and in the labour market. These include caring responsibilities, discrimination, effects on benefits and anxiety or lack of confidence. Many want to be in work or increase their hours, and disabled parents are less likely to be working at a suitable skill level. Adults with mental health conditions face particular barriers into employment and in almost half of families in poverty with a disabled adult, they have a mental health problem. For many disabled families, flexible work and suitable shifts would be invaluable in enabling them to access paid work. The care infrastructure is also critical – in terms of childcare, healthcare, adult care and support for carers. Disabled people also face barriers to gaining skills and qualifications, so tackling these could further help address the employment gap.
For other disabled families, caring and health needs mean that employment is not currently a realistic option. For these families, child poverty would need to be tackled either through significant formal or informal health and care support, by reducing their costs of living, and/or by increasing their income from social security.
Costs are higher for disabled families although evidence suggests that they are working hard to manage finances, using affordable credit and not running up high debts. Support such as school clothing grants and free school meals are welcome although the meals do not seem to meet all families' needs.
Social security is a complex picture between devolved and reserved agencies. We know that disabled families experience a range of difficulties with benefits currently delivered by the UK social security system. Scottish Government is working to address these problems for when disability benefits begin being delivered in Scotland; the impact of these changes for disabled families will be closely monitored.
The literature and secondary data presented here mixes UK and Scottish evidence, with some of it more dated and most of it pre-pandemic. Some of the research stems from Disabled People's Organisations and poverty stakeholders and while providing good depth of views and experience, the background of the research should be considered when analysing conclusions. Qualitative interviews with 12 families provides colour to the data, sometimes confirming and sometimes contradicting literature and secondary evidence.
There does not appear to be any one clear lever for tackling child poverty among disabled families, with the research showing that in practice each individual family's circumstances are highly unique and require a tailored package to meet their individual needs. However, stability combined with flexibility in work, care, support and income packages appears to be key. This may be ever more important in coming years, as disabled families look likely to see many problems exacerbated by COVID.