Image: Sigmund, Unsplash

Spring Budget: It’s time for a system that allows disabled people to flourish

March is here, which means that we have (almost) made it through the Winter; one that, given the economic climate, has been tough for nearly everybody across the country. A rise in interest rates, triggered by a variety of factors; the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, gas price rises due to the war in Ukraine, and of course Liz Truss’ mini-budget, which will no doubt go down in history for all of the wrong reasons. With electricity and gas bills soaring, the cost of household food shops rising, and many mortgages and rents spiraling, it has been one that has caused anxiety for many of us across this country, and a winter that many of us will be glad to see the back of, at long last.

However, for disabled people, people with long-term health conditions, and carers, the pressures of this winter were often felt more than most. The Office of National Statistics found that 51% of disabled people cut their spending on food and essentials, compared to 40% of non-disabled people. And research from The University of Bristol and abrdn Financial Fairness Trust found that nearly half (48%) of disabled households have struggled to keep their home warm and comfortable at some point this year. The Government have given targeted packages of support, such as the one-off Cost of Living payments, but many felt that this did not go far enough. The charity Scope found that 80% of disabled people that they spoke to did not think the £150 payment would be enough to cover their increased cost of essentials. 57% who were in receipt of the £650 payment said that this wasn’t enough either.

The fact that there has been lots of press coverage on these issues, with mainstream news outlets from Sky News to The Daily Mirror reporting on the rising cost of living for disabled people, is generating awareness for our rights and the struggle that we face on a day-to-day basis, but this is only the tip of the iceberg, in a society that holds so many disabled people back; something that The Disability Policy Centre discussed at our event with The Equality Trust and Disability Rights UK.

At this event, what was apparent from every speaker and attendee, was that we all agreed on the clear fact that disabled people face barriers in nearly every single aspect of their life, and even before these recent years, we have an economy that is stacked against us at every stage. From attending school, to accessing public transport, to being able to just enjoy a day out at a concert or museum, barriers are faced at every single stage of life, and ‘equality of opportunity’ just simply does not exist.

Our guest speakers at our event, Disabled Students UK and The Institute for Work, highlighted this eloquently. Education and employment are often crucial aspects of someone’s life, but for disabled people, the system is stacked against us from the outset. The Government’s own data shows that disabled university students are more likely to drop out than their peers, and less likely to achieve top grades. The Disability Employment Gap was 29.8% in 2022, which is the widest point that it had been since 2018.

With the Spring Budget due this week, there is much speculation as to what may be delivered. We know that both the Government and the Opposition have spoken this year on their policies to reform the welfare system, and support those disabled people who wish to work, into meaningful employment. The Health and Disability White Paper is also due imminently.

But the problem runs much deeper than that, and there is no quick fix. Creating a truly accessible society requires almost every single Government department to take responsibility for real reform. The debate should not be reduced to just talking about the welfare system – because disabled people deserve so much more than that. Breaking down barriers for disabled people is a problem for all of us – every citizen, every business and every community. Every Government department whether Local, National or International.

We know that it is not someone’s disability that creates these barriers – it is the society that we live in that disables people each and every day.

We look forward to seeing what is in the Spring Statement, and how the Opposition parties respond. However, what we are really calling for is for politicians to think bigger and bolder than they have ever before. Creating true accessibility and opportunity for disabled people isn’t going to be fixed by a small tweak here or there – it requires bold thinking about reforming the system as a whole.

Every person in this country, and over the world, deserves to live in a society that allows them to flourish. To never feel like the system itself is what is holding them back from living the life they deserve. Disabled people have waited for this for long enough – now is the time for action.

Guest blog from Celia Hensman and Chloe Schendel-Wilson, The Disability Policy Centre

This is a guest blog and the views of the authors are not necessarily those of The Equality Trust