The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), supported by the Australian Government, released in a public forum on Monday, December 3, the findings of the “Cost of Raising Children with Disabilities in the Philippines” study, the first such undertaking in the country to understand how much it costs families to raise children with disabilities.
The study revealed that households with children with disabilities incur extra costs at 40% to 80% higher than households with children without disabilities depending on the severity of the disability. The extra costs, when factored into poverty rates or the percentage of poor, imply that children with disabilities are likely to experience poverty rates at 50% higher than other children.
Alongside the steep costs of raising children with disabilities are systemic problems, such as the inadequacy of services for children, that lead to failure to enroll in school, forgone health treatment and consultations, and lack of assistive devices – severely limiting the development and participation of these children.
Citing the findings of the study, DSWD Secretary Erwin Tulfo emphasized the importance of alleviating poverty for the most vulnerable populations.
“The DSWD has been intervening, has been helping families with children with disabilities, however, we have to do some more, have to add more. Because I feel and I believe it is not enough. We will help families with children with disability to lighten the burden of expenses. It is really expensive, particularly the maintenance, if you have a child or member of a family who has a disability,” the Secretary said.
The nationally representative survey covered 240 cities/municipalities across all 17 regions and 69 provinces in Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and the National Capital Region. A total of 2,753 interviews were conducted with two groups: households with children with disabilities who have a disability card and households with children without disabilities who live in the same areas.
Overall, the study found that families with children with disabilities incur a higher cost of living expenses. Health expenditure accounts for the largest source of extra costs (fees for consultations and therapies, medicines, and assistive devices and their maintenance), followed by transportation and education.
Health expenditure represents 10.7% of all consumption expenditure for households with a disability card and only 3.7% for those without a disability card.
For education, the share of expenditure is also higher among households with a child with a disability card compared with other households, but the difference is relatively small at 5% compared to 4.2%. Although the difference in education expenses is small, the study noted that 31% of those children with a disability card were not enrolled compared with 6% of households with other children.
“The situation of children with disabilities has long challenged the way we approach inclusiveness in development and nation-building. This study comes at a time when we are recovering from a pandemic that has exacerbated pre-existing difficulties for vulnerable children. UNICEF calls on government and development partners, NGOs, and CSOs to make public policy work for children with disabilities and ensure that their voice is heard in legislation,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said.
The study recommends providing various support to families living with disabilities, such as a disability allowance, to help them overcome financial barriers and attain comparable living standards as households without disabilities. It adds that the government should include the extra costs of disability in establishing eligibility requirements for social protection programs and determining poverty rates.
Supported by the Australian Government and UNICEF Philippines, the study was conducted by Oxford Policy Management with guidance from technical experts from DSWD and UNICEF and oversight from a Special Research Advisory Committee composed of experts from different government agencies.
The Australian Embassy’s Counsellor for Development Mr. Thanh Le PSM said, “Australia’s development programs prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable groups, including children with disabilities. And this is reflected in our partnership with the Philippines and our support for inclusive social protection. This study is significant as it provides evidence and strategic directions on how children with disabilities from low-income households can have better access to quality programs and services. When we look after the needs of children with disabilities, we are helping them maximize their potential, increase their participation in society and move out of poverty.”