A new study commissioned by the Trussell Trust, and conducted by the Scottish Centre for Social Research, has provided information about the drivers of hunger among disabled people and the reasons behind the significant overrepresentation of disabled people referred to food banks.
The report, Disability and Financial Hardship (2023), proposes a range of evidence-based policy changes to help bring about a more compassionate, person-centred and fairer disability benefits system which prevents disabled people from falling into financial hardship and needing to turn to a food bank.
Why are disabled people at increased risk of going without the essentials?
Disabled people face significant additional costs and lower incomes that put them at greater risk of going without the essentials. This is the result of the barriers disabled people face to work, and the low paid and part-time nature of work, combined with the very low levels of income from the social security system.
Disability benefits should act as a lifeline that allows everyone to participate fully in society. However, 62% of people in disabled households referred to Trussell Trust food banks are not receiving any benefits specifically related to their disability, and the figure in Scotland is even higher at 74%.
The research finds that hunger and food bank use among disabled people is at least in part driven by a number of structural issues with the disability benefits system. Low awareness of benefit entitlements and eligibility, long waits, incorrect decisions, and an arduous and often stressful application and assessment process are damaging to people’s mental and physical health, and deepen exclusion.
What can we do to fix this?
The UK government has announced reforms to the Work Capability Assessment, however the reforms do not address these problems or increase dignified support, but instead risk reducing the limited safeguards disabled people currently have.
It’s time for a new approach. We’ve set out the five building blocks to ensure dignified, accessible support for disabled people and people with health conditions:
- Everyone gets a decision on their disability benefit application which is right first time and as swift as possible.
- Everyone who wants it can access meaningful and person-centred employment support, avoiding the use of punitive financial sanctions wherever possible and instead using other services to increase engagement.
- Tackling financial hardship is always addressed as part of improving the health of individuals and society.
- Everyone is aware of the benefits they are entitled to, and are supported to apply through the widespread availability of quality accessible independent advice and support.
- Much wider adoption of flexible employment practices and a significant increase in good quality jobs accessible to disabled people.
Everyone has a role to play in building a society with dignified, accessible support for disabled people and people with health conditions, across all levels of government and wider society, and this should be developed together with people with lived experience.
Putting these five building blocks into place will help us to ensure that disabled people and people with health conditions can live fulfilling lives and are never forced to use a food bank.