The Coalition is pressing on with its reforms to the UK benefits system – and among those affected are disabled people.
Last week Warwickshire group Disabled People Against Cuts protested against the Welfare Reform Bill outside the office of Warwick and Leamington MP Chris White, who nonetheless voted in favour of the Bill.
Reporter Sundari Sankar spoke to two of Mr White’s disabled constituents, and asked Mr White to explain his decision.
Seventy-year-old Vaughan Rees, of Sherbourne, lost his sight in a car accident in 1996.
The former BBC engineer carried on working for four years but then took the decision to retire as he and his wife – on whom he depends to drive him everywhere – could no longer cope.
Mr Rees currently receives the ‘lower mobility component’ of the non-means-tested benefit, disability living allowance (DLA), which is due to be replaced by the personal independence payments (PIPs) in April 2014.
He said: “People who are physically disabled receive the ‘higher mobility’ component, in addition to funds for care.
“A blind person can walk, but once you go out your front door, you are in extreme danger of walking into the path of a car, a hole in the road or into overhanging branches or running into wheelie bins and bicycles left on the pavement.”
Mr Rees believes the Government is “morally bankrupt” for what he sees as targeting the more vulnerable in society.
He said: “Successive governments have seen blindness as an inconvenience rather than a disability, but Gordon Brown’s Government finally recognised it as a disability.”
“That entitled me to the higher mobility component. I was going to receive the higher mobility component from April 2011, but suddenly the Government moved the goalposts so I have not been able to receive it because I am of pension age.”
“Anyone who has a physical disability continues to receive this benefit into retirement. So if I had lost a leg instead of my sight, I would receive the higher mobility component, which would have provided me with £2,000 extra per year.”
The benefit would have also entitled Mr Rees to a motorbility car so that his wife would be able to drive him around.
He said: “We have a Disability Discrimination Act, yet this is direct discrimination by the Government ….
“I am no less blind than I was before April 2011, but now, if I want to travel independently, I am virtually stuffed. I do have a guide dog, but dogs have to be trained to go places.
“Because of local authority cuts to transport services, it means I cannot go out after 6.30pm or on Sundays because there are no buses. My independent mobility has been taken away from me.”
Mr Rees pointed out that the DLA is designed to reimburse the disabled for extra costs related to their disability, for example to pay for computer software and mobile phones which are specially adapted.
He said: “I am struggling to pay for things like that.
“The Government considers people who are spending more than ten per cent of their income on fuel to be in ‘fuel poverty’. We are spending 9.4 per cent of ours on fuel, so we are on the border line. I was a national serviceman and I paid national insurance contributions for 44 years. Now that I need a bit of help, the Government is turning its back on me.”
PENNY Bould, Warwickshire county councillor and vice-chairman of the council’s Labour group, has a severe form of myalgic encephalopathy (ME) and is wheelchair-bound. She is a member of Disabled People Against Cuts, regional equality forum member of the GMB union and is a self-employed psychotherapist, life coach and trainer.
The first wheelchair-user to be elected to the council, Cllr Bould, who lives in Warwick, had to have a special space cut into the council chamber at Shire Hall in Warwick so that she could attend meetings.
She said: “One of the clauses of the new personal independence payments is that they will be stopped if you go into hospital.
“I don’t know if that means for a year, two years or five minutes. It isn’t clear. But it is incredibly short-sighted.
“If someone is buying a hoist to enable them to get on and off the bed or the toilet and they are getting that with a loan, what is going to happen – is the hoist going to be repossessed?”
Cllr Bould pointed out that if a disabled person is deprived of such aids, they will then need more help with getting around.
“Hospitals’ manual wheelchairs are not always appropriate to each person’s needs.
“If you live alone and you have no family, who is going to wash your clothes when you’re in hospital? Nursing staff don’t have the time to do that – or to even unpack your stuff.
“This is just one clause of the bill which is incredibly short-sighted. It’s absolutely bonkers.”
Last week MPs overturned a series of defeats inflicted on the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords…
The Coalition, which wants the bill to become law by the end of this parliamentary session in May, won seven key votes in the Commons, rejecting amendments made by peers and reinstating their original proposals into the legislation.
Among the backbenchers to vote in favour of the bill was Warwick and Leamington MP Chris White.
He said: “I want to be clear that I voted in favour of the Bill because I believe that it was in the interests of all my constituents, including those with disabilities.
“We need to create a more sustainable welfare system, and that is why the disability living allowance is being replaced with personal independence payments.
“These payments will be better tailored to the needs of claimants as they will have regular assessments and this will ensure that we deliver the right level of support, particularly where circumstances have changed and we treat claimants as individuals with individual needs.
I do believe that any system which enables welfare to be more flexible will be more appropriate to claimants.”