Amanda Foster, Community Activist with Poverty Alliance, argues that by introducing a Minimum Income Guarantee, the Scottish Government could ensure that disabled people like her have what they need to live full and dignified lives.
This article was originally published in The Herald.
In our society, we all believe that everyone should be able to live a decent, dignified life. But few people realise that the way we have designed our social security system means that disabled people like me are very likely to live in poverty.
There are urgent changes the UK Government needs to make to fix social security, but the Scottish Government also has huge opportunities it can seize to create a truly just and compassionate society.
Today marks day two of Challenge Poverty Week and the theme is social security.
Having been blind since birth, at the age of four I was sent to a specialist boarding school 100 miles away from my parents because none of the local schools said they could teach me. The early trauma of being away from my parents was indicative of other barriers society would throw at me as a disabled person. As an adult I tried to find work but it was impossible. Since then social security payments have allowed me to tread water.
But the value of social security has fallen over the last decade so it’s barely enough to make ends meet. I have friends who’ve fallen behind on household bills just to put food on the table. I’ve often found it hard to afford healthy fresh food myself.
Being disabled comes with additional costs. I rely on assistive technology to use a microwave, a phone and a computer. When I’ve had to go without that in the past because I couldn’t afford it, I found it really hard to find support, contact people or take part in social activities. It really affected my confidence to get involved in things.
After a long time of very difficult saving I was able to buy the assistive technology I need to lead what anyone would call a decent life, where I can take part in society and communicate with people.
Having technology that means I can send emails, use the internet and make calls really allowed me to live a full life. It even allowed me to meet my husband, Richard, through an online forum for fans of the The Archers. It’s terrible to think I would have missed out on meeting him without assistive technology. This technology is essential for visually impaired people, but they need financial support to be able to afford it.
Like our NHS, we created our social security system so it would be there for us all in our times of need. And yet, it simply isn’t providing people with enough money to live a decent life.
The UK Government can put this right by increasing the value of payments people receive, by ending the five-week wait for first payments and scrapping the harmful Benefit Cap, two child limit and punitive sanctions regime. But the Scottish Government also has powers it can use. Over the next few years, Disability Assistance will be devolved to Scotland. The Scottish Government has already committed to rectifying some of the mistakes in the UK system, for example, reforming the way assessments are carried out. But it should go further and commit to creating a system that allows disabled people to fully realise their rights. It should also commit to providing enough income for people to live with dignity. And this shouldn’t only apply to disabled people. I would like to see the Scottish Government commit to a Minimum Income Guarantee to ensure no one is plunged into poverty. This is slightly different from Universal Basic Income in that it would only be available for people’s whose income was below a certain level, but by restricting it to those who need it the value of payments could be increased so people genuinely have enough to live.
My income has improved since I married Richard two years ago, so for the first time in my life I am living without the burden of poverty. I can see so clearly the choice and freedom that comes from having just that little bit more money and I don’t want to stop fighting for what is right. My disabled friends who still live in poverty have particularly suffered during lockdown, which has made many aspects of life more challenging for disabled people, particularly those who have to worry about money. It’s stressful enough having to rely on the goodwill of others for everyday tasks like buying food without worrying about how you’ll pay for it.
In a just and compassionate society, we should all be able to live a dignified life. Disabled people are all different, we all need different support and our experience of work will be different. People living on low incomes are all different too. But there are a few things that everyone I meet who’s had similar experiences to me agrees on. We need to redesign our social security system so we all have enough to live on.