Poverty and DisabilityMany factors can contribute to poverty in China, including disability. Due to socioeconomic barriers and discrimination, people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty. With a high population rate, China has one of the largest numbers of disabled people living in poverty. Unemployment, lack of education and discrimination are just some of the many challenges this population faces in China.

9 Facts About Disability and Poverty in China

  1. High Disability Population: The total population of people living with disabilities in China reached 85 million in 2018, which is 6.5% of the total Chinese population. In 2006, men accounted for 51% of the disabled population while 49% were women. Many of these individuals often do not receive adequate support due to discrimination or “ableism,” meaning social prejudice against people with disabilities. In an article titled “Gender and Disability in Chinese Higher Education,” China is categorized as an ableist society with a number of injustices facing the disability community. As such, people with disabilities are “often seen as persons presenting inconvenience and burdens to society.” Ableism in China has also led to many children with disabilities being abandoned. Some statistics estimate around 98% of abandoned children in China may have disabilities. Thus, societal prejudices contribute significantly to the lack of support that individuals with disabilities in China receive.
  2. Lack of Education: The lack of quality education offered to people with disabilities in China has disadvantaged these individuals academically and economically. In China, the gap in education quality for disabled individuals is growing. Poverty remains a crucial obstacle in the empowerment of those living with disabilities. Due to this lower quality education, individuals aged 15 and above with disabilities have an illiteracy rate greater than 40%. This difference is staggering compared to the 3.3% illiteracy rate for the same age group without disabilities. Similarly, the lack of education provided to people with disabilities in China causes these individuals to experience challenges during the employment process. Jobs often require proficiency in language skills, leaving disabled individuals at a disadvantage.
  3. Lack of Monetary Support: Often, Chinese employers do not provide sufficient support to individuals with disabilities. Employment services for disabled people in China are at the initial stages, and they have proven to be inadequate to help unemployed, disabled persons obtain jobs. The quality of employment, including wage levels and conditions of work, have room for improvement. Because of the lack of proper services to economically empower people with disabilities, these individuals often live in poverty.
  4. High Disability Rate in Rural Areas: The disabled population in urban areas accounted for 20.71 million, or 20.96%, of the population. Meanwhile, the disabled population in rural areas is 62.25 million, or 75.04%. There are significantly more disabled people living in rural areas compared to urban areas. The employment difference is mainly due to this gap in the urban and rural populations. Initially, China had a very agricultural-based economy. However, with recent economic reforms, the country has industrialized, and most of the population now lives in urban areas. Many rural residents face obstacles in moving to urban areas, mainly because most only receive short-term contracts that do not entitle them to urban residency status. The lack of residency status prevents them from accessing proper healthcare services and other benefits. This gap is an even more significant barrier for people with disabilities, as a lack of appropriate care can be detrimental to their health.
  5. Discrimination Against Disabled Employees: China’s anti-discriminatory laws, especially in employment, are often not followed. China has laws that ensure protection and equal rights for disabled people. However, employers frequently ignore these laws. While the Chinese government installed a quote system in 2008 with penalties for failing to abide, many employers preferred to pay the fine than hire a worker with a disability. These discriminatory actions put workers with disabilities at a greater disadvantage for finding employment and gaining support from their government.
  6. High Mortality Rate: According to the U.N., in countries where “under-five mortality,” meaning the probability (per 1,000) that a newborn will die before reaching the age of 5, has decreased below 20%, the mortality rate for children with disabilities may be as high as 80%. In China, the 2019 mortality rate for children under five is 7.9%, which is less than 20%. This means that there is a high death rate for children with disabilities. Additionally, there is a lack of medical services available for families without health insurance to support a disabled child.
  7. Adult Opposition: Parental opposition and the lack of trained teachers represent further obstacles to quality education. Students with disabilities do not receive adequate learning because there is a lack of trained teachers who know how to create an inclusive environment at school. Research has shown that although 77% of teachers have experience teaching students with special needs, 60% of teachers have not received the proper training nor know how to teach them in an inclusive environment. This ineffective education system for students with disabilities sets the foundation for future disempowerment in China’s economic and social spheres.
  8. Disability Cycle: Disability and poverty are creating a cycle in which one reinforces the other. Low-income individuals often lack access to quality healthcare, and this healthcare disparity further aggravates the burdens of these groups. These healthcare programs expose individuals to diseases that can lead to long-term disabilities. Disability can then lead to decreased productivity, preventing these individuals from working, and thus resulting in unemployment. Ultimately, higher unemployment rates lead to higher poverty rates, creating a cycle of poverty and disability.
  9. Lack of Employment: Discrimination and bias hold back disabled individuals from employment and lead to higher poverty rates. People with disabilities in China face prejudice and discrimination and are often marginalized and “largely invisible” to others. Research studies exploring the discrimination that individuals with disabilities face reveal that birthing or raising a person with a disability was believed to bring shame and guilt to the family. Because of this widespread stigma, there is a belief that people with disabilities are incapable of working, which causes many barriers for them in accessing employment opportunities. As a result of less employment, there is an increase in poverty.

Looking Ahead

While poverty in China affects a significant portion of its population, it has disproportionately affected individuals with disabilities due to the unique economic and social disadvantages they face. From lack of employment opportunities, lower-quality education and poor healthcare access to the persisting stigma associated with disabilities and rampant discrimination, challenges for people with disabilities are numerous in this country. China can continue to support its disabled community through education initiatives, economic opportunities and protective legislative actions.

– Philip Tang
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