Disabled people are estimated to make up approximately 10% of any
population (WHO) and a higher proportion of those living in chronic
poverty. There has recently been a call for more information relating to
disability and chronic poverty. This is due to the realisation that
disabled people are disproportionately amongst the poorest of the poor
in all parts of the world, and that international development targets
are unlikely to be met without including disabled people. In the poorest
countries of the world, particularly where there is no benefit system,
being amongst the very poorest has more severe implications of life or
death than in richer countries. The basic cause of this poverty is
exclusion: exclusion from social, economic and political life. The
industrialised north is not exempt from this exclusion. In the UK, in
1998-1999 only one-third of disabled adults of working age were in
employment (Labour Force Survey - winter 1998-1999).
In 1996, the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation of
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreed seven international
development targets. These include the aim to halve the number of people
living in extreme poverty by 2015, together with targets towards
achieving gender equality, reducing infant and maternal mortality rates
and achieving universal primary education. It is unlikely that any of
these targets can be met without considering the needs of disabled
people. Indeed achieving universal primary education would be impossible
without including disabled people. However, whilst there has recently
been a shift by some NGOs, donors, and governments towards considering
the issues of disability rights in their rhetoric, disabled people in
many parts of the world, have seen little change in terms of concrete
Whilst the international development targets with their strong focus on
poverty reduction would seem a positive approach, there are several
dangers of the current strategy. The targets could result in focussing
on those it is easiest to bring out of poverty, not those in chronic
poverty, among whom disabled people are disproportionately represented.
A strategy based on economic growth and trade will not be widely
beneficial to disabled people who, through discriminatory processes, are
largely excluded from the labour market altogether. If current
strategies are continued, then in the unlikely event that any of the
targets are met, disabled people would become even more
disproportionately represented amongst those living in chronic poverty.
There is then a further danger that the remaining level poverty would
become accepted as an inevitable fact of life.
Disabled people are so severely excluded from all areas of society that
there is not even comparable or reliable data on incidence, distribution
and trends of disability, let alone the extent of disabled people's
poverty. What little research does exist has been done overwhelmingly by
European or North American non-disabled academics. There has been little
opportunity for influence of the agenda by any disabled people, let
alone those living in chronic poverty themselves.
Despite this lack of comparable data there is plenty of anecdotal and
more substantiated evidence to show that disabled people are generally
amongst the poorest of the poor. It is already known that: living in
poverty increases the likelihood of getting an impairment; disabled
people generally experience higher rates of poverty as a result of being
disabled; and that when people living in poverty become disabled they
are often more severely marginalised than are wealthier people.
Clare Short writes of the value of good statistics as a basis for
creating the will to reduce world poverty: 'Much work is needed to
improve the collection of reliable and comparative data and to
strengthen local statistical capacity' (DFID, 2000b). However it is
important that the focus of research is on practical benefits for
reducing the chronic poverty faced by disabled people, not just on
gathering data to prove something that is already well known. Depending
on how it is carried out, the process of gathering statistics may help
to motivate people, to assess progress and even to challenge the very
exclusion that causes chronic poverty.
Chronic Poverty and Disability, CPRC Working Paper No. 4, Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, ISBN 1-904049-03-6, 34 pp.
Chronic Poverty and Disability, CPRC Working Paper No. 4