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Living Below the Line: Cause or Consequence of Disability?

By: Matthew Maclure – Programmes and Advocacy Intern


15% of the world’s population, or over 1 billion people, are disabled and crucially 80% of all disabled people live in developing countries (WHO, 2011). It is therefore not surprising that the World Health Organisation then estimates that 575 million disabled people live below the poverty line. It is now widely evidenced that there is a link between poverty and disability; however it has only been since the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 that there has really been specific research projects centred on investigating this link. Seven years on, the link between poverty and disability is neither ground-breaking nor new. However this year, the global community is reframing discussion about equal rights and development through the formation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will come into effect in September 2015 and are expected to run until 2030. It is integral therefore that the link between poverty and disability is raised again at a time of such pronounced importance.

The link between poverty and disability is neither one-way, nor simple. Poverty is both a cause and consequence of disability. Having a disability can have severe implications on access to education, employment opportunities and increased expenditure on services. This doesn’t even begin to take into account the emotional impact from the social stigma often found in developing countries. All of these factors contribute to disabled people experiencing higher rates of poverty than those without disabilities (ACPF, 2014).

However the biggest and most catastrophic impacts these barriers have, are upon children and youth. Within many developing countries inclusive education is either not being adequately transferred from policy into practice, or in many it is non-existent (ACPF, 2014). Disabled children are also much less likely to have access to essential healthcare, and even if healthcare is available, barriers such as transport can still prevent them from reaching these services. Disabled children are not only limited by the circumstances they live in, but they can also sometimes be perceived as a burden by families or communities and this can lead dire consequences for the health and safety of the child. AbleChildAfrica is one of the leading organisations working to get disabled children out of poverty and advocating for equal rights within an inclusive society.

Disability is not simply a cause of poverty though. The process is cyclical as opposed to linear and poverty has been shown to increase the risk of disability (UNICEF, 2007). As this model produced by DFID (2000) demonstrates (see below), those who are living below the line find themselves increasingly segregated from mainstream society and thus their civil and political rights consequently sidelined. This segregation from society in practical terms means living in relatively poor sanitary conditions (for example: lack of access to clean water or being exposed to hazardous waste) and seriously increases risks of becoming disabled through illness and infection. Not only that, but as disabled people are already on the periphery of society due to their decline into poverty, their access to adequate healthcare will again be limited. Impairment-causing factors are highest during prenatal and postnatal stages and critically they are easily preventable provided sufficient care is given to pregnant women and infants (ACPF, 2014). If a person becomes ill and develops an impairment the cycle begins to repeat itself. An impairment means increased health costs, limited employment opportunities and continued marginalisation from society.


disability and poverty


Caption: This diagram represents in a circular way the negative cycle linking disability, poverty and vulnerability. 
Source: DFID, Poverty, Disability and Development
, p.4.


Not only is it incredibly hard to escape this cycle if someone is either born with an impairment or develops one at an early age, but there are also a multitude of reasons why someone, or whole families, could tragically fall into poverty and get pulled into this devastating cycle. Disabled people must be recognised, acknowledged and empowered through the formation of an accessible society and provision of equal rights. This year, through the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, we have that exact opportunity to create these targets and to break this cycle. If you have never paid attention to global politics before, then the time to do so is now. Change comes from people forming one voice, and this is our time to unite and demand that those in power address the injustice that disabled people suffer by living in an unequal society.

In two weeks time, AbleChildAfrica is  taking part in Live Below the Line, a global campaign to raise awareness of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty. Join us in this campaign to make our voices heard:

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