Wales

RNIB Cymru report: More action needed to stop blind poverty call

More must be done to help visually impaired people in poverty, a report for Royal National Institute for the Blind Cymru says.

The research by think-tank The Bevan Foundation found at least 33,000 blind or partially sighted people live below the breadline.

Its report said they faced difficulties in finding work, discrimination from employers and reliance on benefits.

The Welsh government said tackling all forms of poverty was a priority.

The Out of Sight report said that disabled people in Wales, including those with a visual impairment, face a below-average employment rate and an above-average unemployment rate.

Barriers to finding work include the fact that people with a visual impairment are less likely to hold educational qualifications, while they also face discrimination by employers, and a lack of awareness of help available.

It also found they are particularly reliant on welfare benefits. However, a considerable number of people with a visual impairment do not claim all the benefits to which they are entitled.

Ceri Jackson, director of Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) Cymru, said the charity "regularly comes into contact with blind and partially sighted people living in abject poverty".

"People living without heating because they cannot afford to pay the bills, people not leaving their homes because they cannot afford transport, people whose homes are becoming unsafe to live in because they cannot afford basic repairs," she said.

"As a society, we cannot turn our backs on those most in need of our help."

The report calls for more action from the Welsh government to address the specific needs of people with visual impairments.

It urged ministers to:

  • Recognise that people with a visual impairment will need specialist help to find work and that discrimination must be stamped out.
  • Understand that welfare benefits will continue to be essential to the well-being of people with a visual impairment.
  • Ensure that essential services to enable people with a visual impairment to lead active and fulfilling lives, whatever their financial situation, are in place.

The report's recommendations have also been endorsed by the older people's commissioner for Wales and Citizen's Advice Cymru.

'Vulnerable situations'

Sarah Rochira, older people's commissioner for Wales, said the report highlighted a "strong link" between sight loss and poverty.

She said she was concerned as "one in five people aged 75 or over, and half of people aged 90 or over, are living with sight loss".

"Poverty often leads to older people becoming isolated and finding themselves in vulnerable situations, which quite simply has a devastating impact on their health, wellbeing and independence," she added.

A Welsh government spokesman said tackling poverty in all its forms was a top priority.

"We have made a commitment to tackling preventable sight loss in Wales and have made it a public health priority. This will be a key component of our new Eye Health Care Plan for Wales," he said.

"Wales has excellent eye health care services and there has been significant progress over the years.

"We are working with all our key stakeholders, including RNIB Cymru to ensure we build on this good work and provide the best quality care and support for the people of Wales."

Another spokesperson added: "The Welsh government recognises how vital welfare benefits are to the well-being of people with a visual impairment and others and has set up a ministerial task and finish group to consider and address the impact and implications of the welfare reform changes proposed by the UK government."

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