By K W Warburton, The Reluctant Spoonie

I first learned that I had been living in poverty, years later sitting in a classroom at grad school. As I wrote done the definition of poverty in my notebook, it dawned on my that I had been living in poverty for my first two years as a disabled person.

Read about my POTS journey here

At the time, it did not register to me as ‘poverty’. I just knew that money was tight and I needed to scrimp to pay the bills. If there was ever an additional cost, such as a birthday present, I would take it out of the food budget. Every purchase was stressful, even if it was only £20. I monitored the amount of water I used (I was on a water meter) and limited the amount of times I used my washing machine to once a week. My kitchen cupboards were sparse and usually contained a week’s worth of own-brand value products. I could not afford fresh fruit and vegetables.

That poverty mindset is still with me today. I don’t turn the heating on unless it’s absolutely necessary. Preferring to shiver to the point of physical discomfort over switching on the central heating. Similarly, I still think that I cannot afford branded food items or fresh foods. I haven’t bought ‘new’ clothes in almost five years. Most of my clothes are secondhand or borrowed from family. I still stress over non-essential purchases.

Living in poverty is a type of trauma that very few people speak about.

Definition of Poverty

disabled people and poverty money pic

To get a full understanding of poverty, we must first look at it’s definition:

A household income of less than 60% of the median income in that country.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

There are many definitions of poverty, but this definition is the one most commonly used in European countries. The median UK income in 2019 was £29,600 (Office for National Statistics, March 2020). Therefore, if your household income is currently less than £17,760 per annum or £342* per week, by definition you are living in poverty. Please note that the salaries shown are before tax.

disabled people and poverty
Photo by Lukas from Pexels

For comparison, the UK national living wage is currently set at £8.72 per hour (for those over the age of 25) which gives a weekly salary of £322.64* for full-time employment ( This is below the poverty threshold! The real living wage used by some employers is £9.30 per hour which gives a weekly salary of £344.10 which is just above the poverty line and is designed to cover the basic costs of living.

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Cost of Living for Disabled People

disabled people and poverty black and white wheelchair photo
Photo by Patrick De Boeck from Pexels

Disabled people often have a higher cost of living than non-disabled people. The average extra costs per month for a disabled person are £583 or £145.75 per week (Scope Disability Price Tag Report, 2019). Deducting these costs from a national living wage salary leaves only £176.89* per week to live off which is well below the poverty line. With these extra costs to account for, it is easy to see how disabled people are forced to live in poverty.

What about disability benefits?

disabled people and poverty filling out form
Photo by Cytonn Photography from Pexels

In the UK, the main disability benefit is called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which is supposed to cover the additional costs of living with a disability.

Read about Georgina’s PIP Application experience here

However, it is very difficult to obtain this benefit. Additionally, the amount that you will receive ranges from just £59.70 to a maximum of £151.40 if you get the enhanced living and mobility payment (Citizen’s Advice).

How can we reduce the number of disabled people living in poverty?

disabled people and poverty
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Scope has outlined a number of ways to alleviate the disability price tag to help disabled people out of poverty including:

  • Benefit reform for PIP and Universal Credit
  • Warm home discount for disabled people to help combat fuel poverty

Final Thoughts

Living in poverty or on a ‘low income’ as government reports like to call it, can sometimes feel like a personal failing. I want you to know that it’s not. You may feel as if you’re fighting the system a lot of the time. This is because the system has not been designed to help, it has been designed to hinder and give out the least amount of money.

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The only social model that will alleviate widespread poverty is Universal Basic Income. Unfortunately, this is not a model that has been seriously considered by any government.

*All calculations are approximate.

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