Savage cuts to social benefits have shredded the welfare “safety net” and left many disabled families in a “struggle for survival”, according to a detailed study of the impact of the government’s austerity programme.
It calculates that disabled people and their carers have seen their income collectively cut by £500m in the past two years, leaving many increasingly financially impoverished, socially isolated, and at risk of declining mental health.
Many disabled people’s quality of life will continue to deteriorate over the next three years, warns the study, as a further £9bn of predicted cuts to disability support are rolled out and local authority social care budgets shrink further.
“Although nearly everyone faces tough times in this current economic climate, disabled people are hit particularly hard as a result of lower income, higher costs, fewer support services and unpredictable health conditions,” the report, published by the thinktank Demos and Scope, the disability charity.
The study has followed the fortunes of six households, including two families with disabled children, since June 2010. It combined regular interviews with a study of the impact on each household of benefit changes, pension reforms, social care cuts and fuel price increases.
Total income losses between April 2011 and June 2012 for each the households ranged from £269.45 for Carla, a single disabled woman, to £2,066.67 for Albert, a disabled man cared for by his wife, who has moderate disabilities herself.
Some of the families were forced to rely on the help of charities and family to make ends meet because of the absence of state support. These were “short term fixes rather than sustainable solutions,” the report says.
It says media stories attacking “benefit scroungers” have contributed to an increase in reports of disability-related abuse and crime in recent months. One of the case studies, Carla reported that she had been abused.
The report says “financial uncertainty and concern at home – combined with a hostile political and media environment – have left our six disabled households, and no doubt many like them, feeling unfairly treated, persecuted even, and struggling to cope financially and emotionally.“
Coalition ministers are criticised for pursuing a “paranoia-based media narrative” of welfare reform, choosing to “build popular support by encouraging public anger over workshy fraudsters” rather than engage constructively with disabled people.
Claudia Wood, deputy director of Demos and author of the report, said: “The safety net has well and truly gone. Two decades of progress in disabled people’s living standards is being unravelled as disabled people’s quality of life is being narrowed.
She said disabled people were “struggling with a toxic combination of lower income, higher living costs and fewer services to support them. The cumulative impact of this at household level has seen carers stretched to breaking point and people telling us they have gone from ‘getting on with living’ to ‘struggling to survive'”
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said: “Disabled people are facing spiralling living costs at the same time their financial support and local social services are falling away. Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are further cuts looming.
“We recognise the need for deficit reduction but decisions are being made without any real understanding of the cumulative impact cuts to welfare support and local services are having on people’s lives.
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