The benefit cuts will be shocking: 90,000 motability cars and scooters will be repossessed. Photograph: Keith Morris/Alam


Powered by article titled “Celebrate Paralympians, but remember they needed state help to get there” was written by Polly Toynbee, for The Guardian on Thursday 23rd August 2012 20.30 Europe/London

The flames are lit, the torches are on the move. Next week an extraordinary spectacle unfolds, revealing super-fit, finely muscled Paralympians doing things few able-bodied people could ever achieve. But will it change public attitudes – and if so, for better or worse?

Polls show public views hardening against disabled people. Once deserving, now they are malingerers. A Glasgow University study of media reporting shows a sharp increase in the use of “scrounger”, “cheat” and “skiver” in relation to disability. TV shockumentaries have relished tales of roofers and marathon runners on sickness benefits. Official figures showing fraud at less than 1% don’t stick in the mind, but one good cheating anecdote lingers for years. Focus groups now often estimate disability fraud at a preposterous 70%. No surprise that more than half of disabled people say they are experiencing new hostility, aggression and violence from strangers. Cases reported to the police have soared, and Disability Rights UK says harassment is rarely reported.

The Treasury will take back around £2bn when disability living allowance (DLA) is replaced with personal independence payments (PIP) next year. Two-thirds of claimants will lose it, some severe cases will get a bit more, but official estimates say it will be lost by 280,000 in most need. The allowance pays the extra costs of disability, in or out of work, for personal help, taxis or cars. The cuts will be shocking: 90,000 motability cars and scooters will be repossessed. That’s an average of 140 per constituency. Are MPs ready for the outcry?

The Disability News Service has been interviewing next week’s Paralympians, asking how they would manage without DLA. Their answers were sharp: Aaron Phipps, the wheelchair rugby player, said “I’d be completely lost without it”, as his chair costs £1,700. David Clarke, captain of the blind football team, said: “If a minister found himself in the middle of a city with no one to help get a taxi, he would probably appreciate his DLA.” Table tennis star Sue Gilroy said she would be “devastated”, her life would be “impossible” without her motability car and wheelchair. Nigel Murray, winner of two golds at boccia, says DLA is essential, as does dressage rider Natasha Baker, who relies on it for her petrol costs. Gold medallist Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson made powerful speeches in the Lords against these cuts in debates on the welfare reform bill, to no avail. So when you watch and wonder at their performances, remember that they needed DLA to help them get there.

Disability Rights UK has an excellent new handbook, Doing Sport Differently, promoting everyday sport. But the Paralympics may present challenging imagery. Could the sight of vigorous and determined athletes overcoming all odds to compete send an insidious message that anyone in a wheelchair could do that, if only they tried harder? That is the underlying implication behind work capability assessments that currently find more than one-third of incapacity benefit claimants “fit for work”.

The appeals system is gridlocked with a one year backlog. Employment support allowance is cut while people wait, although 40% of appeals succeed, costing £44m. Atos, conducting the tests, is sponsoring the Games, which disabled campaigners regard as an even greater irony than Coca-Cola and McDonald’s sponsoring the Olympics.

But it suits Atos’s work: if these wheelchair users can do this, why can’t you? If paralysed Stephen Hawking can earn a good living, why can’t everyone else in his condition? Atos has just won the £400m contract for the new tests of everyone on DLA, transferring them to PIP. G4S was expected to win it as the firm conducted the early trials, but are thought to have been dropped hastily as ministers saw the looming Olympics fiasco. Atos’s chief executive had a 22% pay rise this year, which helps spur on the UK Uncut protesters, who from next Friday will be barricading the company’s London HQ in Triton Square during the Paralympics. But Atos are only fulfilling government orders.

Here is a shocking figure revealed after a Mirror freedom of information request: 1,100 disabled people died last year after they were found “fit for work”. Weighing up society’s values, is the risk of 1% cheating worse than the state wrongly harrassing so many of the genuinely sick? For as long as there is sin, there will always be cheats, always some families abusing a motability car: eternal vigilance is a necessary part of any welfare system. But ministers at the Department for Works and Pensions bear a heavy responsibility for this unbalanced obsession, as they harden public opinion for next April when the great disability benefit cull accelerates. Sometimes their words are punitive, sometimes unctuous. Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling are about as enticing as the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang child-catcher when they pretend their main mission is to help those left stranded in dependency into a happier life in work. No doubt some are helped, but the great majority feel cut without any realistic chance of a job: the number in work on access to work grants fell by 16% last year.

Disability Rights UK says there’s a curious catch-22 in the new PIP tests: anyone who can move themselves 50 metres unaided will lose the payment, if they don’t earn other points. That means anyone in an electric wheelchair can lose it, because they can move unaided – but when they lose the payment they lose the wheelchair too. (People are warning one another to turn up at the test in a manual wheelchair.) Here’s another curiosity: an estimated 25,000 people will have to give up work when they lose DLA and become immobile. Their DLA was worth around £90m, but on average pay, they contribute £146.7m to the Treasury. Out of work, they will get another £127.7m in benefits. Did no one do the sums?

Housing benefit (HB) cuts for the disabled will cost the state extra too. Needing bigger space for wheelchairs, the National Housing Federation estimates 108,000 will be judged to “under-occupy” their “too-big” homes. Forced to move, they will leave behind expensive adaptations and need the council to fit new ones in their new homes. The money set aside to help doesn’t cover half these cases. The state will save £50m on their HB, but waste £500m on existing adaptations, with more to spend on new fixtures – though as there is no more in the disabled facility grant for adaptations, they will have to do without.

Celebrate the Paralympians – but remember what they say they needed from the state to get them there. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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3 thoughts on “

  1. rogr says:

    I can remember all too well the cases where a disabled person who normally cannot walk unaided has made the supreme effort to carry a flame or walk out onto a sports arena, knowing full well that they will pay for it with days if not weeks of pain and confinement to bed only to have some scum from the watchers report them as ‘fit’ and lose their DLA. A question I don’t remember anyone asking is “What is going to happen if this occurs to one or more of our athletes after they compete?”
    Quite obviously they have been training for these games, often to the exclusion of everything else in their lives. Many started out as highly fit soldiers who have paid a terrible price for their service but just yesterday, against the promises made by our Dave, one was stripped of his paltry benefits because having lost just one leg didn’t make him disabled enough for some jobsworth.
    What more for the double or triple amputees, the victims of cerebral palsy or the learning disabled who have by themselves or with help got things together so as to be able to do their one event well enough to compete with others in the same situation from around the world?
    I would bet that their benefits are not instantly stopped but that their is an insidious and creeping trend for ‘reassessments’ once the glare of publicity has moved on. The same will apply to the soldiers once this current war has passed. One by one they will find out just how much the promises of politicians are worth as some unctuous bastard claims that they should not be left to ‘fester’ without help or, in plain English, without having the little that they get taken away either because they try hard to keep going or because their discharge payment is classed as savings that put them over some hastily designed limit.
    While we applaud our athletes lets not lose sight of who the organiser is and their intent to see us all gone!

  2. Joanna Terry says:

    I’ve been trying to attract peoples attention about the new PIP awards for ages and just been getting funny comments back as if I didn’t know what I had been reading I am really annoyed about it because I have tried hard to alert people for ages. Medication is a prime example of this stupidity. If you can take and monitor your own meds you score nought, nil, zilch. There is nothing in the provision as far as I can see that allows for the affect that the said meds may have on your ability to function. I have a mobility scooter, it gives me alot of freedom as I can no longer safely drive because of my med.s, yet I will score the grand total of 8 points on the mobility question when I need at least 12 to keep it. Without it I am housebound as I am unable to wheel a chair myself but have to wait for assisstence, this is an absolute travesty, WHO THOUGHT UP THIS NONSENSE.
    As far as I can understand from reading the descriptors, you will need to be brain dead to get this benefit at all. Most of us will not PASS this assessment and especially if you have a learning difficulty or mental health problem. These people need taking to court before it is rolled out not after and if anyone out there is willing to come forward I am willing to donate into a fund to fight this.

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