Removing support from financially vulnerable households will increase poverty among disabled children, says Srabani Sen
It is estimated that it costs three times as much to raise a disabled child as a non-disabled child. Families with disabled children face extra costs in nearly every aspect of their life: food, heating, water, holidays, transport, childcare, clothing and housing to name but a few.
Raising a disabled child can also create additional barriers to entering and remaining in employment. One of the reasons for this is because there are fewer childcare facilities that disabled children can access and where they can access them, parents generally have to pay a higher fee. These two factors result in families with disabled children being disproportionately likely to live in poverty.
Disability living allowance (DLA) is the only non-means tested benefit available to families with disabled children to help them meet the additional costs of raising a disabled child. DLA opens the doors to a number of other benefits designed to help families with disabled children live ordinary lives.
One of these, which within the new universal credit system will be known as ‘disability additions’ is targeted at low income and out of work families. This is a supplementary benefit to help households with disabled children meet costs such as extra heating or baths.
Under the proposals within the welfare reform bill, disability additions will be cut in half for all but children with very specific needs, such as severe visual impairment or night-time care needs. This will result in financial support being reduced by over £1,400 per year to families who are likely to have equally high costs.
Family Action has estimated that this cut will result in a loss of benefits of more than £22,000 of support over the childhood of a disabled child. This is an enormous amount for the households on the lowest income, who are already at significant risk of living in poverty or debt.
Earlier this year the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign and the Family Fund surveyed families who receive this benefit and asked them how the cut will impact on their families.
One parent told the campaign: “This would be devastating for us as I can barely afford to pay the bills etc on what we get now. If it is reduced, I don’t know what I would be able to do. It is extremely worrying and my son, like many other disabled children, would be the one to suffer” another said: “(This) would restrict the quality of life for the whole family”.
While families currently in receipt of this benefit will have transitional protection against this cut we at Every Disabled Child Matters estimate that this policy will impact on up to 57% of all families with disabled children in the future.
Worryingly this week the government released information that it had previously underestimated the number of families receiving this benefit by 70,000. This means that 170,000 families will have this benefit immediately frozen in 2013 and potentially cut if there is a change in household circumstance.
Given that DLA is currently awarded to just over 300,000 children this cut will be felt by a huge proportion of families with disabled children.
It seems inevitable that removing this support from financially vulnerable households will increase child poverty rates amongst disabled children. The government’s impact assessment estimates the welfare reform bill will reduce child poverty by 350,000; however this calculation does not take into account this cut, nor the reduction in financial support for childcare for many households.
We therefore fear that this policy does not meet the government’s recently announced “family test”, of which David Cameron stated: “If it hurts families … then we shouldn’t do it”. As this is a policy that will undoubtedly hurt families with disabled children, we urge the prime minister to think again.
• Srabani Sen is an Every Disabled Child Matters board member and chief executive of Contact a Family; Every Disabled Child Matters is a campaign hosted by children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau