Welsh disabled face higher levels of inequality than England

Disabled people in Wales face higher levels of inequality than any English region, according to figures published today.

Research by the Office for National Statistics reveals that the disparity between the level of disability among those in the top professions and those in routine manual work is greater in Wales than any English region.

While 17.8% of women in the top social group had a disability, 36.6% in the lowest economic group had one – a gap of 18.8 percentage points.

There was a 16.4 point gap between the 16.2% disability rate for Welsh men who had jobs such doctors, lawyers and architects and the 32.6% level for those who worked in roles including lorry driving and labouring.

The findings have raised concerns that, according to the ONS, “severe disabilities may be restricting peoples’ access to top jobs and careers.”

Across Wales, the local authority areas with the top five worst equality scores for men according to the Slope Index of Inequality were Cardiff, Swansea, Bridgend, Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf.

For women, the worst performing areas were Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend.

Noting the high rates of inequality in the South Wales Valleys, the ONS researchers state: “These Welsh unitary authorities are from areas that traditionally had high proportions of men working in heavy industries such as coal mining. Such industries carry additional occupational hazards increasing the risk of developing health conditions which disable the sufferers.”

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said attitudes towards disabled people had been “quite paternalistic and welfare-orientated” so they were seen as “recipients of social services and benefits rather than as employees and managers”.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith said: “We know that parts of South Wales have high levels of disability associated with heavy industry, as well as the difficult economic and social legacy left by the decline of traditional industries in the 1980s. We need to do more to prevent ill-health and support those living with disabilities, yet unfortunately the current UK Government’s policies like the bedroom tax and scrapping of the Disability Living Allowance are making things harder for disabled people and their families.”

Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, said: “We are taking action to create a Wales where disabled people have access to the same opportunities as everybody else.

“Only through all parts of society working together will we be able to achieve this… Our Framework for Action on Independent Living outlines the steps the Welsh Government will take to make sure disabled people have the same access to services and opportunities as the rest of society. These plans include actions to support disabled people into training and employment, increasing the number of disabled people that are able to use the internet, improving access to public transport and providing specialist further education provision for disabled learners over 16.”