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Reflecting on disability and poverty

In this video, Eric Emerson describes the relationships between disability and poverty.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Reflecting on disability and poverty.
ERIC EMERSON: The connection between poverty and disability is quite complicated. We do know some things. I guess the first thing that we know is that the chances of acquiring an impairment or a health condition, which might be associated with disability, is generally much greater if you’re exposed to poverty. So exposure to poverty leads to increased risk of mental health problems, increased risk of accidents, increased risk of poor cognitive development. And there’s ample evidence that poverty increases the risk of acquiring an impairment and maintaining that impairment or health condition, which in certain contexts might lead to disability. We know that. We also know that under some conditions, acquiring a disability can lead to poverty.
So to the extent to which people with disabilities are excluded from the labour market, then that can lead to poverty. To the extent to which health care systems involve– well, could potentially involve catastrophic expenditures for people who become disabled, that can lead to poverty.
And we also know that there are other kind of background factors, which can lead to both disability and to poverty, independently. So for example, some conditions, kind of– impaired cognitive development– can lead to a family becoming poor and can increase the risk of a child having a disability as well. So there are kind of multiple pathways here and different things operating. One of things we’ve been trying to do is to figure out which is most important. And I think the answer to that is, it really depends at which stage in the life course you’re looking at. For children, what seems to be most important is the impact of poverty on disability.
But that’s true for certainly the UK. In different contexts, it might be different. But within the health care system that we have in the UK, catastrophic expenditure as a result of childhood disability really doesn’t exist. That’s not a problem. And when we look longtitudinally during childhood, we don’t find that having a disability leads to poverty, certainly in the UK. But that could be very different in other countries. If having a disabled child in the family involves very significant expenditure, which isn’t compensated by welfare benefits, then that could well happen. But certainly evidence that we have from the UK is that’s not really a driving force. The real driver is that poverty leads to disability.
In adulthood then it is going to be quite different. So acquiring a disability when you’re in working age could have very significant impacts on your chances of becoming poor and your chances of staying poor. If disability means that you are then excluded from the labour market and faced with significant health care expenditure, then you could very easily become poor, okay. So in adulthood– with the kind of acquisition of disabilities or impairments in adulthood– then it’s quite possible that disability leads to poverty. But of course, even during adulthood and in older age, poverty leads to increased risk of impairments.
The poorer you are, the more likely you are to acquire an impairment or a health condition that might be associated with disability. And that happens at every stage across the life course.

In this video, Eric Emerson summarises the relationship between disability and poverty, drawing from his own research. Eric extends Karen and Louisa’s discussion of the cycle of disability and poverty. He explains that while it is complicated, there are a number of things that we know quite clearly.

Firstly, Eric emphasises that we know that “the poorer you are, the more likely you are to acquire a disability” no matter where you are in the life course. In other words, being exposed to poverty increases your chances of acquiring an impairment — for many of the reasons we discussed in the previous step.

Secondly, Eric explains that having a disability can lead to poverty. However, he says that this is very dependent on where you live and where you are in the life course. For example, for a child living in the UK — where there is a publicly funded health care system — families of disabled children do not need to pay for all of the costs involved in supporting their children. This means that in the UK, childhood impairment is not likely to lead to poverty. This would, however, be very different for families living in countries where such health care was not available and not publicly funded.

While disability may not lead to poverty for children in the UK, for those who acquire an impairment later in life, there is greater risk that it could lead to poverty. This is both because of career interruption and because of disabling attitudes around employment.

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Disability and a Good Life: Thinking through Disability

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