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Why the economic crisis is terrible news for disabled children, and how to help

Families with children with additional needs have already seen services delayed, reduced or closed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The current economic climate is only going to continue this downward spiral.

Photo: [link]Nathan Dumlao[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

The media is in meltdown reporting on the economic crisis that has hit the United Kingdom following the Government’s mini-budget on Friday 23rd September.

Economic experts are queueing up to explain why this is a disaster, and the financial markets are reacting with big drops in the London stock market and the value of the UK Pound. But what has any of this to do with children and young people with additional needs or disabilities, and their families? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit.


Government funding and spending

The mini-budget will require massive extra Government borrowing, at a time when borrowing is already at a high. Reuters reports that the additional cost of this borrowing in this financial year alone will be £72 billion.

Interest on Government borrowing has increased from around 1% earlier this year to nearly 5% now, and could yet go higher, massively increasing the interest payments required to service this huge debt. Analysis by Reuters found that the jump in UK bond borrowing rates this month was greater than any monthly move in the Bank of England’s comparative records for 10-year UK government debt in data going back to 1957.

The Pound has crashed on the international market, almost reaching parity with the US Dollar and the Euro, making the cost of international borrowing, and international trade, much higher.

Think tank ‘Resolution Foundation’ has examined the latest figures and commented that UK households will be poorer as a direct result of the government’s loss of credibility in financial markets following the mini-budget statement last Friday, according to calculations published by Bloomberg UK. The collapse of the pound against the dollar and surge in market interest rates triggered by the mini-budget will worsen the cost of living crisis and add hundreds of pounds to the typical mortgage, the think tank said.

All of this will also inevitably massively squeeze Government spending in areas like the NHS, social care, children’s services, education and more. Families with children with additional needs and disabilities have already seen services delayed, reduced or closed as a result of the COVID pandemic, and the impact on areas such as diagnoses, therapies, mental health services and more have been catastrophic. The current economic climate is only going to continue this downward spiral in services.

Ongoing research from the Disabled Children’s Partnership has revealed that over 4 in 10 families with disabled children are waiting over a year for basic services like therapies, respite care and appointments with education psychologists. Time matters for these children and these delays can be devastating to them and their families.

Additional needs and household poverty

We know from studies done just a few years ago that additional needs and poverty can be closely linked. A study in 2017 by the Times Educational Supplement showed that ‘children from poor families are ‘twice as likely’ to have special needs’, and this is supported by research from the Joseph Rowntree Trust that shows that 40% of households that include a disabled child are living in poverty, double the number of households with non-disabled children. And these figures were from research before the current financial crisis.

With increasing fuel and food bills, interest rate hikes putting up the cost of mortgages, landlords deciding to sell rental properties before there is a property crash, and much more, all of this is putting huge financial pressures on already struggling families who are still trying to bridge the financial gap to pay privately for services, equipment etc. for their children that Local Authorities can no longer afford. Disability charity Scope estimated that disabled people (including children) in the UK face extra costs of £583 per month, on average.

Just last week, The Guardian reported that children’s doctors are being given advice on how to help families in poverty, amid concerns that families will be forced to choose between feeding their children and turning on the heating. Meanwhile, Dr Julie-Ann Maney, a consultant in paediatric emergency medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast, told the recent ‘Crushed by the Cost of Living’ event in Northern Ireland that children’s brains and lungs are not developing properly due to poverty induced living conditions. Dr Maney said that in her work she “sees the affects of poverty every single day”, adding that it “directly affects children’s health”.


What we can do to help

Families are struggling massively, and there is no ‘magic wand’ that can make it all go away, but there is help out there that we can signpost families towards, giving them some hope in the midst of this seemingly overwhelming financial hardship. Here are some examples in the UK:

- Christians Against Poverty (website)

"Poverty just loves to destroy lives. It breaks families apart, isolates people from friends and family, shatters confidence and drives many to think that suicide is the only way out. UK poverty is real, with millions locked in its miserable grip. We’re not prepared to sit back and let it wreak havoc across our nation. That’s why CAP is on a mission. To restore hope for those who are lost and hurting. In partnership with incredible local churches across the UK, we’re bringing life-changing freedom and good news to people in desperate need".

Citizens Advice: Benefits (website)

"It’s important to make sure that you get all the help that you’re entitled to. These pages give you information on benefits and tax credits if you are working or unemployed, sick or disabled, a parent, a young person, an older person or a veteran. There is also information about council tax and housing costs, national insurance, payment of benefits and problems with benefits. Invaluable if you are supporting a family in this area".

The Trussell Trust (foodbanks) website

"We support a nationwide network of food banks and together we provide emergency food and support to people locked in poverty, and campaign for change to end the need for food banks in the UK. There are more than 1,200 food bank centres in our network, about two thirds of the food banks in the UK. We support these food banks to provide a minimum of three days’ nutritionally-balanced emergency food to people who have been referred in crisis (for instance by advice agencies, GPs, social services and schools), as well as support to help people resolve the crises they face".

As individuals, organisations, churches, whatever our connections, we can help families that are in financial crisis, or are rapidly approaching it, as a consequence of the current chaos and turmoil afflicting the UK economy.

There is help out there that can make a difference, the examples above are just some of many, do share others that you are aware of in your own country, in the comments to this post. Let’s do all that we can to ride out this storm together.

Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.




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