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Failure to invest is widening inequality

14 February 2007

Failure to invest in support for families is driving millions into poverty and, unless urgently reformed, will create new patterns of widening inequality and disadvantage that Britain can ill-afford. That's the message being delivered today by Sir Bert Massie, Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), and backed by Carers UK.


Over the past decade, developments in new rights (under the Disability Discrimination Act), has opened doors and helped create a sense of belonging for millions of disabled people. But, warns Sir Bert, the failure to invest in and reform key public sector services has left many without the assistance and support they need to take up the new opportunities these rights provide.

This lack of investment is shoring up massive problems for the future, says Massie. As services retreat, against the backdrop of an increasing older population, more women and men will be pulled from fully contributing to Britain's economy to plug the gaps where the public sector no longer goes, therefore widening inequalities and disadvantage.

Sir Bert's call for public service reform are endorsed by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), Carers UK and Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) at the launch of the Disability Agenda, (1).

Sir Bert said: "The positive developments of the last decade have undoubtedly helped to create a more open road for disabled people to be and do the things they want to in life. But at the same time the public services, resources and support many require to take up these new opportunities have either not materialised, remain at odds with these goals or have gone into decline.

"Many disabled people have been invited to look to the stars, only to find the ground opening beneath them. It is clear, that without action now, the challenges of the coming years will create new patterns of inequality and disadvantage that Britain can ill-afford."

The Disability Agenda offers a fresh approach both to existing and new challenges expected over the next ten years, calling for more family-centred policies to create more opportunities, resilience to poverty and greater investment in public services to deliver what people need.

The Agenda also offers a prescription to meet Britain's core goals of 80 per cent employment, eradicating child poverty by 2020 and creating a more skilled workforce because it tackles some of the most persistent poverty and inequality in Britain today – that which is experienced by disabled people. Key facts are:


There is a 50 per cent employment rate for disabled people. This falls to 20 per cent for people with mental health problems

Longer working lives, and the increasing incidence of disability as we age, means more disability in the workplace. Current estimates of under employment of older people costs the economy between £19 billion and £31 billion every year.

Child poverty

One in three children living in poverty has a disabled parent

Over half of all families with disabled children live in or at the margins of poverty.

Children in Bangladeshi families that have a disabled parent face an 83 per cent risk of growing up in poverty, compared to 36 per cent in white families.

Women and caring

There are six million unpaid carers, set to rise to 9 million - a third have never worked; 20 per cent have had to decline work; and many experience poverty in retirement.

84 per cent of mothers of disabled children are out of work; successive surveys cite the lack of affordable childcare.

Seven and a half thousand children under 16 provide substantial levels of support to their disabled parents.

Imelda Redmond, Chief Executive of Carers UK said:

"Providing care and support to family and friends who need help because of illness or disability, still often goes unseen and unrecognised. It is estimated that within the next 25 years the numbers of people providing care will increase by 50 per cent to 9 million. What we are seeing is a number of policy collisions that makes life for carers very difficult. There is real pressure for people to remain in work – and work for more years – and equally strong pressures to provide support to a loved one. The choice couldn't be more difficult. We need to reverse the trend of poor investment in social care and the very low levels of state benefits available to carers."

Sir Bert said: "The inequality many disabled people experience is felt keenly by others. There is an army of unpaid carers who risk poverty in their retirement. The mothers of disabled children who can't work because there is no affordable childcare. The thousands of people with mental health problems stranded on benefits with little hope of finding an employer who will take them on.

"The Disability Agenda offers a new direction for tackling issues though reform, investment and culture change across our public services. Britain can do better than maintain millions of its citizens in such conditions and we must recognise that by doing so we all pay."

The Disability Agenda was developed by the DRC to provide a policy prescription not only for Government, but also within a new framework under the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) (2).

Jenny Watson, EOC Chair said:

"We need to see real investment, now and in the future, if families are not always going to fall through the inter-sections of public service provision. There are 6 million carers in the UK today, nearly 60 per cent of who are women. Carers often find it impossible to find work that they can balance with their caring role. As a consequence they face poverty in retirement, something that particularly impacts on women.

"We need to see real investment with services designed around users' needs. If we fail to act now what possible explanation do we give those future generations that we will have been left so far behind?"

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