Monday, 13 December 2010

The Life Opportunities Survey and how it relates to cuts to benefits and services

Last week the Office for National Statistics released interim results of a Life Opportunities Survey, looking at the social barriers faced by people with impairments, in comparison with non-disabled people. (They refer to "people with impairments", rather than "disabled people", because they are specifically looking at the barriers that cause impaired people to become disabled by society - a social model definition of disability.) It can be found here, with EasyRead and audio versions available. The Guardian has already interpreted this survey as showing that "disabled people are twice as likely to miss out on careers, courses and holidays". More than that, though, it provides evidence of the major disadvantages that disabled people face in our society, showing exactly why we are so in need of the benefits and services that we're fighting to protect.

There are some interesting results in this survey. A recurring issue comes up in the area of paid work. 56% of people with impairments experience barriers to doing paid work, compared with 26% of people without impairments. This could be interesting evidence for campaigning groups to present to the government over welfare reform. It's easy for the government to say we should just get back to work, but this is evidence of what we already knew: if we face twice the barriers to working that non-disabled people do, on top of a general shortage of jobs in this economy, then it's really not that simple.

Related to that is my favourite finding from the survey: 93% of people who are off work due to sickness are officially impaired. This may seem obvious to us, but with government and media trying to persuade us that we're all scroungers, it's really interesting to note that this survey makes it seem unlikely. People on Incapacity Benefit, ESA and other disability-related benefits really are disabled, based on this survey. That's HUGE, as evidence in our favour, and we need to use it in our campaigns.

The biggest thing that unemployed impaired people say would help them get back into work is "modified hours, or days, or reduced hours" (p.68), i.e. flexible working. That goes for non-disabled people too. This costs workplaces very little to implement and would be a simple way of ensuring more disabled people could work - so why are workplaces not doing this? Related to this, it's interesting to see that disabled people volunteer more than non-disabled people, despite all the barriers we face - we're active in the community, even if we're not being paid. Economic activity is not the only social activity.

Money is another general theme here. Cost is consistently cited as a barrier to participation in society. For example, 11% of impaired people say that tax credits help them go back to work. That's another way of saying that we need extra money to stay in/go back to work. Take note, government: we need DLA and other benefits to keep working. Similarly, 12% of impaired people say they can't afford to heat their houses - twice the number of non-disabled people (p.75). That's another bit of serious evidence in favour of not cutting DLA. We need it to stay well and alive. There's lots more evidence of disability poverty and the need for DLA on page 75 of the survey.

The government and its services don't do well here, either. 32% of impaired people have difficulty using the benefits and pensions services, i.e. the DWP, while 28% have difficulties using the NHS, and 27% find it hard to use social services. We knew a lot of this anecdotally, but it's very useful indeed to see these numbers in research. Government cuts to all these services are going to make this situation worse.

There's significant evidence of multiple oppression in society. People with impairments who are black or Asian face far more barriers than white disabled people (see pages 31 and 43). For me, this suggests we need more services and support targeted at people from minority ethnic backgrounds who are disabled. Another interesting point is that impaired people who are single or divorced face many more barriers than married people. Again, this looks like a money issue to me, although it's probably about (unpaid) care support too. We need to campaign for social care and carers' allowances to be protected from cuts, especially when the survey also shows that 80% of people with impairments rely on family members for assistance and only 12% get paid support inside the home (p.167).

There's lots more evidence here of the major barriers that disabled people face in society, which undermines much of what the government is saying at the moment. People with impairments are shown to face barriers in all areas of life, including community involvement, leisure, education, access to transport, access to hospitals, and even access to rooms within their own homes.

The biggest problem with this survey, though, is the very mixed ways it looks at disability. It claims to be looking at social barriers, using the social model, and on the whole it does that. However, it regularly asks people whether their condition itself is a barrier to participation in society, and people often say that it is. If you have people responding to the survey who don't (yet) grasp how social disability is, you're going to get a lot of people saying they are more disabled by, for example, their arthritis than by lack of access to buildings. Yet many of the barriers they interpret as being all about their conditions may not be just about that. If you can't get to the bathroom in your house, it may seem as though that's because you're in pain. But it may be easily improved by better access to mobility aids, government-funded social care and support, and access adaptations to your house. Many people aren't aware that these services exist, and many more don't receive them because of government cuts. While the government continues to remove services and support from disabled people, it will seem more and more as though we are the problem. But we're not - it's society, beginning with the government, that's the problem. That's why we need to keep campaigning on everything from DLA 'reform' to cuts in social care. With the right access, support and services, we become less disabled. Cuts to services, and draconian approaches that don't take account of barriers, will only make us more disabled.

By lilwatchergirl, with assistance from gavroche2000. Shortly to be cross-posted to Uncovering the Roof, where I'll also try to write some more about how this survey was produced and what its limitations might be.

1 comment:

  1. Good article, and a good point that many people are still pre-programmed to blame their impairment for disabling them when it's actually society and/or the environment getting in their way. Which of course means every answer is probably underestimating the scale of the issue.