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Let’s change the debate

June 8, 2012

Disabled people have traditionally been seen as a ‘drain’ on public resources. We are often portrayed in the media as ‘scroungers’, as adding nothing to the economy while we claim our benefits, staying at home. ‘festering’ (as Iain Duncan Smith said in May 2012 – It is possible to track this view of disability and disabled people right back in time, including to the Nazi eugenics movement, where disabled people were labelled as the ‘Useless Eaters’ ( 200,000 – 250,000 disabled people were killed in the concentration camps.

It is time to reframe this debate. There is already much work around Human Rights legislation, and on the need to treat everyone as equal. This work goes some way towards recognising us as equal citizens, entitled to the same things as everyone else – a place to live, a family life, work, income, etc.

However there is very little work in relation to disabled people and the money associated with disability and impairment. For example –

At the national level the Disability Industry (e.g. the big national charities) generates hundreds of millions of pounds, from a range of sources including public funding, charity fundraising, and independent grant sources. See previous blog for more on this. For example –

Scope has an annual income of about £100 million;

Leonard Cheshire Disability earns about £150 million per year;

Mencap earned over £190 million last year;


This money is spent on a range of social inclusion projects for disabled people across the country – at the national, regional and local levels;

On a regional and local level there are many hundreds of Disabled People’s User Led Organisations, generating income from various sources including national, regional and local government, independent grants and charity fundraising. This money is spent on a range of projects, many of which employ disabled people, and use disabled people as volunteers;

At the local level there is a range of resource implications from a statutory perspective, including Health and Social Care spending. This money is directed at the individual and service provision levels, and employs many thousands of people, disabled and (mostly) non-disabled; and

At the individual level, disabled people can receive a range of benefits, and other financial assistance, including Local Authority Direct Payments.

All these factors position disabled people as the controllers of many billions of pounds. This money can be controlled by the individual for a range of functions, all of which generate and produce money which is spent in the local economy. This money produces direct and indirect employment at the local level in a range of ways, including –

Local businesses (Small, Medium and Large Enterprises) directly serving the local disabled population, e.g. equipment providers, providers of specialist services, etc.

Local businesses which serve disabled people as well as the general public, e.g. food retailers, newsagents, etc.

Local Authorities, including Education Authorities, which provide services to increase inclusion for disabled people,

Micro-businesses e.g. disabled people who directly employ staff, including Personal Assistants,

Medical provision – there is a range of services targeted at disabled people, including rehabilitation, medical intervention and in- and out-patient services.

In short the amount of money circulating around, and generated by, disability and disabled people is huge. Without this money whole sectors of the economy, whole areas of the country, and whole professions, would not exist. It would be a relatively easy (though also relatively massive!) task to quantify this money, and to therefore demonstrate the massive, and valuable, contribution that disability and disabled people make to the UK economy.

Far from being a drain on resources, disability and disabled people keep many, many people in work and keep many parts of the community and economy flowing. In this way we can start to reframe the debate, to position disability and disabled people as making a positive contribution to the economy, to the skills and qualifications within the community, and to the notion of Society of which we are all a part.


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  1. Keith Armstrong permalink

    Your figures exclude all the unpaid voluntary work done by disabled people including working in charity shops, sitting on committees, giving advice, etc.

  2. couldn’t agree more but you need to go even further to the workhouse – industrialisation. the idea was to give everything a value. To give disabled people a value you had to institutionalise them so that others could make money out of them. Our passive incarceration meant positive profit for others. The biggest change as you say is we are now becoming the controllers – though not enough of us and not quickly enough. the media attacks feeds back into our passivity. Cultural change is too slow for the media and politicians to notice it yet.

  3. Keith Armstrong permalink

    This is all true, disabled people do allot of work its just that we often don’t get paid for the work we do. Many times disabled people give their precious time doing voluntarily work or make other contributions to society such as ‘work experience’. Perhaps the only way this Con/Lib Gov. will take any real notice of us is if one day we all went on strike. To be fair this will require a lot of organising.

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