Select Committee on Education and Skills Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities (SS 24)



  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 makers.


  Disabled students are more vulnerable to financial hardship than other students for a number of reasons. Financial hardship arises:

    —  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 Act); or

      (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 below);

    —  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' Allowances.

  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

May 2002

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