Inclusion Now 67

Building the capacity of the Disability Movement to campaign on ending poverty for Disabled children, Young people and their families

By Iyiola Olafimihan, ALLFIE’s Capacity Building Development Officer

Photograph of ALLFIE's Iyiola Olafimiham, Author

Our dearly beloved departed trustee and former chair, Joe Whittaker, often said, the debate about inclusive education as a right is already won. We believe this, despite the system and opponents of inclusive education doing all they can to keep the special provision industry thriving, thereby leading to continual institutionalisation and segregation of Disabled children and Young people.

What is also not in dispute is the causal link between segregation in education and the outcome of poverty for Disabled children and Young people, which was confirmed by a Joseph Rowntree research report in 2016. But we also know that poverty intersects with a range of other issues and affects the most marginalised people with different identities and experiences.

This is the reality in the country, compounded by the cost-of-living crisis that many people have been experiencing for over a year now. However, if you are a Disabled person, child or Young person or a family with Disabled members, the cost-of-living and rates of poverty increase considerably.

Accessing free meals for children of families in schools have often helped many throughout the cost-of-living crisis. Although the free meals scheme is one of the indicators of poverty, it can also allow families to put aside retain some income that can be spent in other areas.

Unfortunately, the free meal scheme does marginalise some Disabled children and their families because of systemic barriers embedded in its delivery model.

Research conducted by the national family support charity, ‘Contact’, shows that a third of eligible Disabled children are missing out on their free school meal, losing almost £600 a year of financial help.

Of this 33% of eligible families:

  • 60% can’t eat school meals due to dietary requirements or sensory processing difficulties.
  • 22% are off school due to a long-term illness or medical condition.
  • 18% have EOTAS (Education Otherwise than at School), similar to home education, or are off school waiting for a suitable school place.

They surveyed 1,500 families with Disabled children eligible for free school meals. Almost half (49%) are paying £20 a week providing meals or packed lunches to replace the meals their child is entitled to. 85% of families said that missing out on school meals have increased pressure on their weekly budgets.

This data demonstrates that Disabled children and their families, even when accessing free school meals, experience greater discrimination than their non-disabled peers.

At our Stronger Voices Steering Group meeting in September, DPOs at the meeting discussed similar issues, highlighting in a report that Disabled people they engage with are experiencing disadvantage in schools.

For example, some after school clubs and activities are not inclusive and provisions by external partners are often not affordable. Discussions also touched on school uniforms that are not adapted and the extra cost that families pay to make them adaptable. There was acknowledgement that some high street brands now offer adapted school uniforms, Kingston Centre for Independent living (Steering group member) is currently working with a group on school uniform vouchers so that parents of Disabled children have access to school uniform vouchers.

Often, parents receiving benefits cannot afford summer activities and DPOs have had to fundraise to organise these activities.

The Stronger Voices Steering Group (SG) members, however, recognised that these issues are better tackled collectively. ALLFIE and DPOs on the Stronger Voices Steering group must mobilise the movement with one voice to represent families of Disabled children and Young people. Campaigns must be developed, and the fight must be taken to Parliament.

SG members also agreed to explore tools that will help to reach the most marginalised Disabled people address and challenge poverty, understand what we are doing that is working well and design strategies that we can incorporate into our intersectional practice.

ALLFIE, as part of our capacity building, will collate all the information, and ALLFIE’s Policy and Research Officer will put it into a document to become a research tool. People will then be able to add to the resource.

To reduce poverty amongst Disabled people, the Disability Movement needs to campaign and influence Local Authorities to acknowledge that educational segregation is a major contributor to poverty for Disabled people, and they should design local strategies to promote inclusive education, to ultimately ensure Disabled children’s right to inclusive education is unequivocally incorporated into UK education law, as per article 24 of the UNCRPD.