Opinion

Poverty is even harder if you're disabled and from the North East. Believe me, I'm both

It’s no coincidence maybe that the North East, with its high level of deprivation and disability, is also one of the most ignored by the Westminster government

Boarded up houses in Middlesbrough, England.

Boarded up houses in Middlesbrough, England. Image: Philip Mowbray

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation released their UK Poverty 2024 report this week, which showed that 14.4 million people were living in poverty. That’s 22% of the population.

But for disabled people and carers it’s even worse. In 2021/22, 31% of disabled people lived in poverty with this jumping to 38% of people with long-term mental health conditions.  

It’s common for disabled people to struggle more financially due to the additional costs we face such as needing more power for equipment and having to get taxis more. Scope estimates that extra costs for disabled people add up to more than £1,122 a month. Those who can work also struggle with finding accessible jobs. The backlog for the Access to Work support programme peaked at around two years for some jobs last year.  

It is estimated that 28% of informal carers (those who care for loved ones who are elderly and disabled) were also in poverty. Carers have limited ability to work due to their caring responsibilities, so have on average £5,000 less a year to live on.  

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Another interesting statistic from the report was that the North East, where I’m from and still live, is the second poorest region in the UK – matching London at 25% second to only the West Midlands at 27%.  

So basically if you’re disabled you’re more likely to be poor and if you live in my region you’re more likely to be poor, but what happens if you’re both like me? Well, a good amount are. The North East also has the highest portion of disabled people in the UK at 21.2%, while 7.8% of households in the North East have two or more disabled people in them, compared with 5.1% in London.  

It’s no coincidence maybe that the North East, with its high level of deprivation and disability, is also one of the most ignored by the Westminster government. South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck showed her disgust last year that her borough, South Tyneside, had missed out on Levelling Up funding it’d been promised, saying “Levelling Up is just an empty slogan.” In that round of funding the whole of the North East was awarded just £108.5 million while London alone received £151.3m. 

Being from the North East and being disabled are both things that have affected my life, for instance, I’m a freelance journalist because my disabilities mean I can’t work a full-time job, but there are also the contributing factors that most contracted jobs in national media still insist you spend time in the office and those offices are, you guessed it, in London.  

Disabled people are often used as the punching bag by a hate-filled government that want people to focus on how many people are on unemployed disability benefits vs how much the Tories funnel away to their mates, but in the North East we also have one of the highest unemployment rates, and just a lack of jobs in general. We’re a region that never recovered from the last time a Tory government ravaged the country and our resources so much, closing our main sources of income – the mines and shipyards, maybe it’s no coincidence we’re such staunch anti-Tory voters. 

And when you’re disabled in a region that already has less, you’re going to struggle even more. The local support just isn’t there when our councils are chronically underfunded and although the rents are cheaper compared to the south, they’re still steeply rising compared to what we’re used to. There’s also the fact that disabled people already have to spend less on heating and the North East is one of the coldest parts of the UK.  

I love living in the North East and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but there’s no denying how hard it is being both disabled and from the North East when the Conservative government look down their noses at anyone disabled poor and northern. It’s true what they say about the people from the North East, our community spirit is like no other, but maybe so much of that is because we have to depend on each other when we can’t depend on our government.  

Being disabled and from the North East has given me one good thing though – the ability to see just how little the Tories really care about the working class. And it’s a reason I would never vote for them. Hopefully, the tide is changing and they’ll be voted out, but when they’ve already set fire to the house, it’ll be the already ravaged regions who suffer the most, as always. 

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