Saturday, September 8, 2012
Disabled people are being unfairly and disproportionately targeted in the government’s “austerity war”, according to a new report commissioned by a Norfolk campaign group.
Despite the government’s austerity mantra of “we’re all in it together”, the notion of collective responsibility for resolving the country’s financial crisis has been scorned by sceptics.
But one group in particular is claiming that the burden of the cuts to public services is being unfairly shouldered by some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP) has commissioned a report which says the poorest 20pc of the 2.7 million households receiving disability benefits will lose 16pc of their cash income, plus benefits-in-kind, during the four years up to 2015.
It estimates the percentage loss for the poorest fifth is four times larger than the loss for the richest fifth.
The survey, named The Austerity War and the Impoverishment of Disabled People, has been compiled by Chris Edwards, an economist and senior research associate at the University of East Anglia.
He has called on the government to carry out its own cumulative impact assessment to take into account all the changes brought in by the Welfare Reform Act, as well as reductions in funding for local councils and the NHS, cuts to cash benefits and caps on housing benefit. Meanwhile, he said disabled people and their families were being unreasonably targeted in the effort to fix an economic problem not of their making.
He said: “The major thing to start with is that the government has refused to do a cumulative impact assessment because they say it is too complex. That’s not true. I am just an economist and I have produced this, so imagine what a team of specialists from the Treasury or the Department for Work and Pensions could have done?
“There are two issues. First is the unfairness of it and second is the inefficiency of it. It is unfair because it is hitting the poorest hardest, and it is inefficient because it is hitting the disabled most, who are the poorest of the poor. And it is not even achieving the objectives set out to reduce the budget deficit.”
The reports say the estimated loss for the poorest fifth of households amounts to £2,600 during the four years – estimated as a 10pc drop in their cash income plus “benefits-in-kind” including cuts in health, education and council services.
Mark Harrison, chief executive of NCODP, said the “collateral damage” of the austerity battle would increase impoverishment and undermine the ability of disabled people to live independent, dignified lives.
“This is the comprehensive impact assessment the government should have carried out,” he said. “No wonder they have refused to do it as it shows just how regressive and discriminatory their policies are to disabled people.
“This report explodes the myth that we are all ‘in this together’. We knew that disabled people were being hit hardest but we needed the evidence to back it up.”
The report was launched on Thursday with a demonstration outside the offices of Atos Healthcare, in Duke Street, Norwich.
Atos carries out disability assess-ments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to assess an individual’s right to claim benefits including employment support allowance, disability living allowance, and industrial injuries disablement benefit. It does not decide entitlement, but provides reports to decision-makers at the DWP.
Mr Harrison said: “The reason we are outside Atos is they are the main agent of this government’s policies to get disabled people off benefits. But Atos are not the problem.
“The government is disqualifying people from benefits and it is causing misery. The sick joke is that the politicians who are the architects of disabled people’s poverty and misery are going to the Paralympics to gain reflected glory from the athletes’ achievements.”
Mr Harrison said the spectacle of the chancellor being booed by the crowd during a medal ceremony at the Paralympics proved his point.
“The spectators at the Paralympics gave their verdict on George Osborne,” he said. “The British public can see the injustice of attacking disabled people in this way.”
A DWP spokesman said: “This government is committed to supporting disabled people and continues to spend over £40bn a year on disabled people and their services. However, too many people have been systematically failed by the current benefits system.
“That is why we are driving forward our welfare reforms to simplify the system and offer more targeted support for disabled people to live independent lives.”
He said the DWP’s “transitional protection” system would ensure people would not receive less as a result of their move to Universal Credit, while those in receipt of disability living allowance – as well as those who could not work and got the highest level employment and support allowance – were also exempt from the benefit cap.
The full report can be seen at www.ncodp.org.uk