People with intellectual disability are at much greater risk of experiencing poverty than other members of the population, due to lower levels of skill development and general capacity. This reduced capacity impacts on a person’s ability to participate in employment and social opportunities that could contribute to financial security.
In comparison to their peers without a disability, people with intellectual disability are much less likely to undertake tertiary education, and have significantly lower rates of workforce participation (AIHW, 2008). People with intellectual disability are also more likely to withdraw from employment earlier in life (in their 30s), which suggests significant difficulties in maintaining employment (AIHW, 2008) and reduced employment opportunities (O’Connor & Fowkes, 2000).
Alongside employment issues, the following factors are common contributors to poverty for many people with intellectual disability:
- Poor or inappropriate education
- Physical and mental health issues, which limit employment opportunities and drain individual and family resources
- Vulnerability to financial control or exploitation
- Difficulties with managing money and financial responsibilities
- Social isolation, which reduces opportunities for support in dealing with finances
- Risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system, either as victims of crime or offenders
- Growing up in inappropriate or unsafe accommodation.
Many of these factors alone are sufficient to place a person at risk of experiencing poverty. However, for many people with intellectual disability, a complex combination of factors are at play, and these can significantly increase vulnerability. Many of these contributors to poverty are also the consequences of poverty – and this can make poverty a cycle that is difficult to break. It is important for practitioners to be aware of the complex challenges that might be affecting their client. Day-to-day concerns about money, and the practical and emotional insecurities that this can generate, can impact significantly on a person’s ability to participate in counselling on any given day.