Living in poverty has a “profound” impact on disabled children’s ability to secure the rights they are entitled to under three UN conventions, according to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC).
A new OCC report, We Want to Help People See Things Our Way, paints a “disturbing” picture of the lives of many disabled children and young people from low income families, according to Dr Maggie Atkinson, the children’s commissioner for England.
Her report calls on the government to commission an “urgent” review of the adequacy of support for every disabled child in England, a request dismissed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Researchers found some families with disabled children were too poor to heat their homes properly, while some disabled young people living independently did not have enough food and clothes.
They came across three cases of young disabled people who were too poor to buy all the food they needed, or were having to miss meals. One young man had not eaten for two days when he was interviewed.
Many of those interviewed said benefits were not high enough to cover the extra costs of being disabled, which had left their families struggling financially.
Atkinson said: “Whilst most feel loved and supported, some cannot afford the basic necessities to live in dignity. This is simply not good enough and breaches their rights.”
The researchers examined how low income affects disabled children’s rights across eight themes taken from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In addition to the impact of low income on the inability to meet basic needs, the rights of many disabled children and young people were damaged by “inadequate access to services, personal support, and helpful information”.
This includes problems with the lack of accessible transport, particularly in rural areas, says the report.
The research was carried out by The Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation at the University of Central Lancashire, and was led by a steering group of 11 disabled children and young people.
One of the members of the steering group said: “Some of us feel very lucky, but other disabled children and young people are struggling to get the basic things that make life worth living.
“Can the people with the power to do something about this please try to understand and do something?”
Researchers for the report talked to 78 disabled children and young people and 17 parents.
One young disabled woman told them: “I don’t get a lot of money, although I do get DLA [disability living allowance]. Right now I’ve got no money for food.”
And a young disabled man told them: “It’s stressful on my mum. I really worry I’m a burden on the family… I’d just like to think maybe one day I could support myself entirely and live on my own.”
Atkinson said that a “disproportionate” number of disabled children would be affected by the expected rise of between 300,000 and 700,000 in the number of children living in poverty due to the coalition’s tax and welfare reforms.
Families with disabled children will lose an average 4.7 per cent of their household income as a result of the changes – in the five years to 2015 – compared with an average of 3.3 per cent for all families with children, according to her report.
But Atkinson stressed that most disabled children and young people were well cared and provided for.
Among its recommendations, the report calls for the government to put on hold the roll-out of the new disability benefit, personal independence payment, until a “thorough review” has been carried out on its potential impact; improve the speed with which local councils carry out adaptations to homes; and increase young disabled people’s access to personal assistants.
And it says the government should publish “clear, accurate, reliable information” about disabled children’s rights, and the services provided for them.
But a DWP spokeswoman said the government would not be reviewing disabled children’s support.
She said: “We always look at our policies but we are not planning a review in response to the report.”
She added: “This is a small sample presenting a partial picture. In fact, independent reports show how we are world leaders in support for disabled people, with the UK’s spending on disability-related benefits a fifth higher than the EU average.
“The UK is also acknowledged as a world leader in supporting independent living for disabled people, having the best overall rating of 55 countries.
“We continue to spend around £50 billion a year on disabled people and their services and our reforms will make sure the billions spent give more targeted support to those who need it most.”