This article titled “Disability groups fear further benefit cuts after miscalculation” was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Friday 21st October 2011 18.42 Europe/London
Disabled people face harsher cuts to their benefits than first envisaged after figures released by the government showed that savings generated by a proposed reduction in payments would be £1bn less than expected.
An analysis by disability campaigners mobilising for the Hardest Hit marches this weekend, protesting about cuts in welfare support, shows that the government will need to take an extra £1bn from social security to make up the shortfall.
Ministers have admitted that limiting the employment and support allowance will save not £5bn but £4bn over five years. Neil Coyle, director of policy at the Disability Alliance, said: “The Treasury has made it clear that they do not care where the axe falls – you simply have to deliver the savings. With the disabled already being targeted we will see more cash coming from the people least able to pay and in greatest need.”
One of the most significant, though little-heralded, changes of the government’s welfare reform bill, which is passing through the House of Lords, is that the welfare state should no longer be regarded as a savings bank. In the past the public were told that by paying into national insurance, they would be guaranteed benefits should they fall on hard times. Instead, the government will limit employment and support allowance to a year.
Coyle says that many of the allowance’s claimants, many of whom are disabled by terminal illness or severe injury, will lose £94.25 a week. “That’s £4,900 a year. This is unjust and wholly targets disadvantaged people and is much higher than the government’s quoted £36 a week.”
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council, an umbrella group for hundreds of local disabled people’s organisations, said: ” It is extremely worrying to see that they need to save a further billion pounds. Does this mean a further round of cuts to the support disabled people rely on? Disabled people can’t be squeezed any further, that is why so many of us will be joining the Hardest Hit protests in cities across the country and online.”
Although Labour leader Ed Miliband and David Cameron clashed over the issue earlier this summer – when the Labour leader said that 7,000 cancer sufferers could lose out – there has been no stepping back from the government. Steve Winyard, chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium campaign group, which represents 40 charities, said: “Disabled people are experiencing a perfect storm of escalating living costs and cuts to support and benefits. But daily life costs more if you have a disability, which means disabled people are hit disproportionately hard.
“Many are already living in fear of cuts to essential benefits, which is why so many people are taking part in Hardest Hit protests, despite the physical and financial difficulties of getting to an event. If the government announce an extra billion pounds of cuts to disability benefit the impact will be devastating. We cannot sit back and allow the cuts to go unchallenged.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said there were always “revisions to budgets and savings and these fluctuate with the economy”. It added: “This government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and we continue to spend more than £40bn a year on disabled people and their services. But the current benefit system is not always reaching those who need it most, which is why we are introducing the new personal independence payment to ensure people get the right levels of support.”
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