Tuesday, 17 July 2012
Worcestershire county council has just announced its proposal to shut away disabled people in care homes for the rest of their lives – openly admitting that it is a policy based on finances not necessarily on the individual’s health or care needs.
Called the Maximum Expenditure Policy, the council has stated home care will be capped at the level of what it would cost for that person to live in a residential care unit. The disabled person would then be forced to live in a care home, or find private funding for his or her additional care needs.
The council’s consultation on this proposal fails to declare how many people this might effect, what the financial cap might be or if private funding or charitable support is at all feasible for the people it will effect.
However a new report, Past Caring, published by the research team at the WeareSpartacus campaign group, has estimated that people who need over six hours care a day, or three hours from two carers simultaneously, will be faced with spending the rest of their lives shut away, isolated from families, friends and with the prospect of employment extremely low.
If this were to happen, there couldn’t be a clearer confirmation that disabled people are now seen as second class citizens, so irrelevant to society that local communities no longer have need for them.
With the number of disabled hate crimes reported to the police up by 14 per cent since 2010, it seems that the constant cry of “scroungers” and “benefit cheats” has now permanently affected the public’s view of disabled people. Before we are even able to have a fair discussion on what should be cut and by how much, campaigners have a battle to convince people that the genuinely disabled neighbour, work colleague or distant family member they know is not an aberration but the norm. Stats published by the Department of Work and pensions show that the combined fraud level for both Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance is just 0.8 per cent, yet the battle is almost lost – disabled people are regarded with suspicion, viewed with sceptical eyes as to whether their illness really is as bad as they say. And so the cuts keep coming – the politicians recognising an easy target when they see one.
Charity after charity has implored the Government to rethink the cumulative effects of its cuts, showing that they fall disproportionately on disabled people, pushing a group, a third of which already live in poverty, into dire financial circumstances and social isolation. But the Government refuses to listen.
Back in February the House of Lords passed several amendments to the Welfare Bill which included increasing the time people are allowed to claim contributory-based Employment and Support Allowance (the new Incapacity Benefit) from one year to two. But the Government used an archaic parliamentary process called Financial Privilege to overturn these changes, sticking stubbornly to its agenda by declaring they couldn’t afford to fund the amendments.
However, by May money was suddenly found by Osborne to alleviate the impact of a Child Benefit cut for higher rate tax payers – pushing back the earning threshold from £43,000 to £60,000 before this benefit is removed completely. And only last week in Prime Minister’s Questions Cameron reiterated his commitment to not means testing free bus passes and winter heating allowances for pensioners. Apparently this is a Government that will appease its core electorate even at the cost of what is fair.
As a country we cannot ignore this ethical crisis any longer. Bar bringing in euthanasia, these cuts to the disabled will be felt on the public purse. The cost of appeals alone against incorrect Employment and allowance benefit decisions are estimated to be running at £80 million and rising. The NHS is already seeing the effect of a crisis in community care as 66 per cent of NHS managers polled report a rise in demand for health services as a result of local authority funding cuts.
And what of the moral implications? Much has been said recently of rebalancing society away from the greed of chasing money at any cost. We cannot rebuild a fairer Britain, with a sense of what is decent at the heart of our communities, if we willingly allow some of the most vulnerable people to be pummelled by politicians with policies that turn the clock back thirty years and cleanse our streets of disabled people. These are normal, decent people – it is you and your family if misfortune came your way.
Instead of outlawing this local council’s suggested moves, the Cabinet actually approved plans for the council to consult on this appalling proposal. No wonder the Government quietly announced a delay on the publication of its disability strategy, as clearly all its practical policies fly in the face of its apparent desire to allow disabled people to live “fulfilling” lives. If Worcestershire council gets away with this then a precedent will be set: as other councils look to manage their budget they will have received a clear signal that disabled people are not on anyone’s political agenda – do with them what you will.