Memorandum from Skill: National Bureau
for Students with Disabilities (SS 24)
BRIEFING FOR EDUCATION AND SKILLS SELECT
COMMITTEE ON THE CROSS-DEPARTMENTAL REVIEW OF STUDENT SUPPORT
Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities
promotes opportunities to empower young people and adults with
any kind of disability to realise their potential in further,
continuing and higher education, training and employment throughout
the United Kingdom. Skill works by providing information and advice
to individuals, promoting good practice and influencing policy
in partnership with disabled people, service providers and policy
Disabled students are more vulnerable to financial
hardship than other students for a number of reasons. Financial
as a result of the inability of some
disabled students to undertake paid work during term time;
(1) because of the nature of their impairment
(eg fatigue of students with ME or MS);
(2) because of discrimination by employers
(especially small employers not covered by the Disability Discrimination
(3) because of lack of time: disabled
students often take longer to do things, including basic tasks
such as washing or eating (eg for students with restricted mobility)
or study-related tasks (eg a dyslexic student may take longer
to read and understand text);
because disabled students are more
likely to have to suspend their studies for a reason related to
their disability/illness and have their student loan suspended
while not being eligible for welfare benefits (eg income support)
for 28 weeks unless they leave their courses (further details
because some disabled students (eg
part-time students studying less than 50 per cent of the full
time equivalent, international students) are not eligible for
Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) to fund their study-related
additional support needs (eg specialist equipment, human support
worker, or cab fares);
because there is no specific funding
stream that recognises the extra living costs some disabled students
face that are not study-related, for example regular hospital
appointments (ie Disabled Students' allowances only fund disability-related
support costs that arise out of attendance on the course);
because those disabled students who
are eligible for DSAs often do not receive their award until several
months after their course has started; and
because some students with dyslexia
are faced with the cost of a diagnostic assessment (from £200)
in order to establish their eligibility for Disabled Students'
It should also be noted that student debt poses
a bigger burden to disabled students after graduation because
disabled graduates face more barriers in the employment market.
Skill is currently lobbying the Department for
Education and Skills on two specific issues relating to benefit
entitlement for students with disabilities. These are outlined
below. Any review of student finance should take into account
welfare benefit entitlement rules alongside funding provided by
local education authorities and institutions themselves.
Some disabled students are eligible for housing
benefit unless they live in university-owned accommodation. However,
many disabled students need to live on campus in university owned
halls of residence because the accommodation is generally nearer
to their lecture theatres, a safer environment and more likely
to be accessible/adapted. Most students cannot claim housing benefit
because the student loan is supposed to cover such living expenses.
However, disabled students can become eligible, if for example,
they are in receipt of disability living allowance. However, such
students are only entitled if they live in private accommodation,
not if they live in university-owned halls or houses. A survey
conducted by Skill found that university accommodation was generally
no cheaper than private accommodation.
Sara has diabetes and lives in hall so that she
can benefit from the extra security of the night warden. Her accommodation
costs £400 a term whereas some of her friends are paying
less for private sector housing. Sara knows that if she had lived
with them she would have been entitled to housing benefit. As
it is, she is not eligible and is struggling financially. She
is tempted to move in with her friends but does not want to jeopardise
her health (example drawn from several real cases).
Students with disabilities who have to leave
their course temporarily for a reason relating to illness/disability
are not entitled to benefits to support them during this time.
LEAs have discretion to continue student support funding but this
is not guaranteed. Such students are eligible to claim job seekers'
allowance if they become well enough, but they cannot claim income
support when they leave their course.
Keryn had a medical condition and was waiting
for an operation that would require her to miss three months of
college. Her college arranged for her to intercalate, but after
60 days her local education authority stopped her loan payments.
She was not able to do any paid work and so had to fall back on
family and friends to help her support herself (composite example).
The Government has indicated a willingness to
consider these benefit entitlement issues and are currently trying
to calculate estimated costings.
Many of these factors are likely to dissuade
disabled students from applying to higher education. Disabled
students are currently the most under-represented single group
in higher education in comparison to the number of disabled people
in the general population. This was confirmed by a recent National
Audit Office report. This fact is recognised by the sector. For
example, disabled people are one of the priority groups for widening
participation initiatives undertaken by the Higher Education Funding
Council for England (HEFCE). Institutions can also bid for funding
from HEFCE to undertake special disability projects.
Skill therefore recommends that student support
for disabled students is increased to take into account the higher
cost of living faced by many disabled people, and the fact that
many disabled students cannot combine work and study.
Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities