Eating leftovers, struggling to pay bills, poverty: survey paints bleak picture of life for disabled people

The disability organisation in Greater Manchester which convened the panel says the Government needs to urgently change course on austerity.

A major survey of disabled people in Greater Manchester has painted a bleak picture of life getting worse and harder in the city-region due to a combination of Covid-19, austerity and the current cost of living crisis.

The GM Big Disability Survey 2022 asked almost 1,500 disabled people in the city-region about issues including money, food and paying the bills, housing, transport and social care. Concerningly it said the results show there is evidence quality of life has decreased for disabled people since the last time the survey was done in 2020, with some disabled people living in “shocking” poverty.

The disability organisation which convenes the panel which put the survey and report together is now urgently calling on ministers to start changing course and bring an end to the years of austerity. The government, meanwhile, has outlined the financial support it has been offering to disabled people and says it has been helping more people get into work.

How was the survey done and what did it find?

The GM Big Disability Survey is put together by the Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel. This is convened by the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and brings together 15 different organisations working in the sector as part of a partnership with the mayoral office and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).

For its 2022 survey it quizzed 1,617 people across the city-region, 1,495 of them disabled, about a variety of subjects related to everyday life and the issues that affect them. This was done between June and August this year.

The survey warns of what it terms a “three-fold assault” on disabled people’s rights and quality of life, which it says is caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, austerity and now the cost of living crisis as well. It is extremely concerning that life has got worse for many people in Greater Manchester since the previous survey in 2020 and that disadvantage is having a severe impact on their quality of life.

It warns that 20% of respondents could not afford even essential items, with 28% living on essentials and nothing else. One person told the survey they occasionally eat leftovers given to them by a neighbour. A quarter of those who replied said they had used a foodbank.

Almost 1,500 disabled people were quizzed for their views on the issues that matter to them. Photo: AdobeStock

There are also widespread problems with being able to pay bills. A third said they cannot pay all their bills, while 70% were using heat and light less, 54% were eating less, 7% were missing payments and 31% were borrowing money. Some respondents reported being in restricted debt management plans while others owed money on credit cards or loans. Three quarters said they were worried about gas and electricity use this winter.

One person said they were “behind on rent, council tax paid late every month and other debt is under payment plan reviews”, while another said they had returned their motability vehicle as they could no longer afford to run it.

There are also concerns around social care, with 29% of survey respondents saying it was worse than two years ago and a quarter saying it did not meet their needs at all. Disabled people also said it was getting harder to recruit and train skilled staff who were good at their job as personal assistants.

The survey found worries about housing, with 43% saying their accommodation either did not meet their needs partially or at all. The proportion of people worried about housing has doubled in two years, and more than half of survey respondents said they feared having to move out of where they live if they could not get the right support.

The survey suggests the situation for many disabled people in Greater Manchester is worse now than it was in 2020. Photo: AdobeStock

Accessiblity is also an issue. Only one in four respondents said they were able to travel everywhere they wanted to go, with affordability, availabiity, Covid and a lack of joined-up transport system all highlighted. Services also remained inaccessible, with people reporting problems getting into GPs and dentists.

More than half of those who responded said they felt the government was neglecting or harming disabled people, an increase of 10 percentage points from the 2020 survey. Although fewer people felt that way about local authorities, there was still a rise from two years ago.

The disability benefits system was also heavily criticised. One person told the survey that applying for personal independence payment (PIP) “was a very stressful and deflating experience” which “left me in tears and caused extreme anxiety and low moods”, while another said: “I am always going to be disabled, yet I still have to fill in a form every few years which causes me stress and anxiety.”

What do disability organisations say needs to be done?

In the wake of the survey the GM Disabled People’s Panel have identified a number of key areas it wants to see action on. It described levels of poverty among disabled people as “shocking” and said incomes need to be increased rapidly. It wants to see local authorities and Greater Manchester politicians urgently lobbying the Government about benefits and social tariffs for energy suppliers.

It also says there is a lack of decent, affordable housing in Greater Manchester which the city-region’s authorities need to deal with, and disabled people’s human rights are not being fulfilled. The panel points out that disabled people are often not aware of their rights and lack access to advocacy and advice to ensure their needs are met. It also says disabled people need to have more influential voices in decision-making,

What has been said about the survey’s findings?

Rick Burgess from the GMCDP said: “Over a decade of austerity has permanently locked a lot of disabled people into poverty. Unless austerity ends immediately and massive cash injections are put into the poorest people’s pockets there are going to be far greater excess deaths over winter. There will be worse health outcomes and life prospects and greater inequality across the board.

“This whole section of society has been written off over the last decade, and this is absolutely by choice. This is a message to Rishi Sunak, we are trying to tell the government to make different choices. You cannot bring back austerity and then not know about the suffering it is going to cause.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “We know that living with a long-term illness or disability can impact on living costs, which is why we are supporting six million disabled people with an extra £150 payment to help with rising prices. This is part of the £37 billion package of support, which will see eight million low-income households receiving at least £1,200 in support this year, including £650 in direct Cost of Living payments and all households will also receive a £400 discount on their energy bills.”

“All disabled people deserve the same opportunities to start, stay and succeed in the workplace as everyone else. Over the past five years we have helped support 1.3 million more disabled people into work and we are committed to growing these numbers further, creating more inclusive and diverse workforces through schemes like Access to Work and Disability Confident.”