Disability cuts: the big picture is terrifying

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Individual benefit changes seem minor, says the head of Scope. But taken together, they present a worrying vision of life for disabled people in Britain.

BY RICHARD HAWKES PUBLISHED 25 JANUARY 2013 10:56

 
An amputee learns to walk. Photo: Getty
An amputee learns to walk. Photo: Getty

 

Disability is set to explode into one of the political issues of 2013. It’s just a case of joining the dots.

This week alone has seen six parliamentary events in four days, each with disability at its heart. It kicked off with the vote on the Benefits Uprating Bill, which, contrary to the Government’s line, doesn’t protect disabled people

Also on Monday, the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey, was grilled on changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by the Work and Pensions Select Committee. DLA was then the subject of a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, while Lord Freud was put on the spot on the issue in the Lords on Thursday.

This week Lords also raised questions on social care, which we now know is very much a disability issue. While on Wednesday another Westminster Hall debate tackled disability, this time housing benefits and disabled people

Amid the hurly-burly of politics, each debate, meeting or question can fly under the radar. But take a step back and they reveal a bigger story than the individual impact of one or other change. Disabled people rely on a house of cards of support and it’s about to come tumbling down. 

Here’s a taste of what it’s like to be disabled in 2013.

If you need help with basics such as getting up, getting dressed, getting fed and getting out, in theory you are entitled to support from your council. But there’s a £1.2bn black hole in funding. As a result 40 per cent of disabled people say their social care doesn’t meet these needs – and the Government’s plans for social care reform, due to be published in spring, will see 100,000 people stop being eligible. 

Once you’ve got help to get up and out, you have to contend with the fact that life costs an awful lot more if you’re disabled. Disability Living Allowance – administered nationally and non-means tested – is designed to address this. It might pay for a taxi to work where there is no accessible transport. The Government is turning DLA into Personal Independence Payment, bringing in a new assessment from April. Worryingly for disabled people, before a single person has been assessed the Government is expecting more than half a million people to lose the payment.

Then if you are disabled and also happen to be one of the country’s 2.49m people out of work, you are entitled to some basic income support and help to find a job. Before you can access either you have to go through the Work Capability Assessment. Given the high levels of successful appeals, and the horror stories of people inappropriately found fit to work, disabled people are very anxious about taking this test.

If you do end up on the right level of support, you can look forward to below-inflation increases (according to Labour 3.4m disabled households will be worse off) and possibly a place on the Work Programme, which has so far struggled to help disabled people find work.

Much like this week’s debates, questions and committees, each of these moves can feel niche, technical, even justifiable on its own. But it’s only when you look at them together that you get a feeling for what it’s like to be disabled right now.

It’s time we started looking at the big picture. Cuts to DLA can’t be discussed without talking about the future of social care. Indeed, I spoke to a visually impaired man from the Midlands whose council tried to justify rationing his social care by telling him to top it up with DLA.

The ministers say: don’t be scared. The Government says it has to save money. But this goes beyond saving money. This is about the kind of society we want to live in. This is Britain in 2013. This is about drawing a line in the sand.

Do we want to live in a country where we shut disabled people away? Do we want to live in one where a disabled person is asked if they really need to have a wash every day? 

Or do we want to live in one in which we are willing to invest in making sure disabled people can get involved in everyday life?

I know what I want.

But what about politicians?  It’s hard to say. I’m waiting for someone – of either party – to come out and say ‘Some people need benefits. It doesn’t make them a scrounger, it doesn’t make them workshy and it doesn’t make them feckless.’

Instead we are fed ‘strivers not skivers’ or ‘training not claiming’. It is time both parties stopped benefits bashing. We spend more on disability benefits than US, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. We should be proud of that. Benefits mean disabled people can do things in day-to-day life that everyone else takes for granted.

Ultimately politicians think they are on safe ground with this one. But here’s one last stat: according to the British Social Attitudes survey, 84 per cent of people would like the state to support them if they became disabled. The public know what kind of society they want to live in too.

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of the disability charity Scope

 

 

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Comments
  • Sasson January 28, 2013 at 10:29 am

    I’ve spoken about my circumstances before, but it bears repeating.

    Yes, when my care assessor cut my care package, I was told to ‘top it up with DLA’, in other words pay out for further private care. As I told her though, despite having no assets and no savings, the council already claw back most of my DLA via my contribution, some £3000 per year.

    So, I’ve had to top it up with another £1500 per year from benefits. Add to this the bedroom tax, and that’s another £1000 per year. Since benefits are not going to rise with inflation, there’s another £750 per year I’ll have to find via rising energy and food costs.

    My activities budget was cut completely, including carer’s mileage, bus fares for the other carers, and taxi fares when I’m accompanied out. At least when I paid so much back, I was able to cover that with the activities budget. Now that I’m paying out much more and receiving less, I can rarely get out now. Just to go and see family is a £20 round trip, to go to town is a £15 round trip, to go and meet friends is a £12 round trip.

    So since last July I’ve hardly been out at all. I’m losing touch with family and friends, and I’m basically stuck at home all of the time. I’m getting used to it, but I feel very isolated. If it wasn’t for my internet access, I would go insane. But as it stands, if I don’t qualify for PIP, I might have to give up my phone and internet, and what do I do then? What if there’s an emergency and I need to call out carers since I fall regularly?

    I get no help with cleaning now either, and again I was told to pay for it out of DLA grrrrr!!!!! The house is thick with dust and I’m asthmatic on top of everything else. If I try to do it myself (I last all of about 2 minutes due to pain and fatigue), I’ll have a massive asthma attack. I’m becoming very disheartened as my home has always been kept reasonably clean. In desperation, I have tried to do a little myself, but I make myself very ill in doing so, and so I’ve given up.

    I know I’m not in as bad a situation as others but I’m being attacked from all sides: care cut; income cut; bedroom tax; increased care costs: I mean, how much does the government think that we have in spare income? Perhaps they think we have a large stash of it under the mattress in our spare room!

  • Robin Macfarlane January 28, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Hi, Let us first put all this “Saving MONEY” into the Market & get rid of a few Myths.(1) There is no shortage of money.All this “saving money” is Lies.What MPs get misled by is George wanting to CutSpending inorder to keep Taxes down.
    Myth(2)Taxes do NOT pay for Gov’t Spending. It may be useful for you to know these two facts.The Myths were created be Neoliberal Ideology
    So we have to do our best until we get Cameron out. which won’t be two years (I hope)
    If you hear an MP say “How do you pay for it” or “there is no money” or”we don’t want to pass DEBT to the next generation” you know they are ignorant & just repeating what George says.
    The LABOUR think tank THINK LEFT will tell you the same as me.
    Now this is not to say Gov.can spend anywhere. But provided they spend in Britain that is OK.There are one or two other rules but these are not impotant.
    Remember so long as the money from Gov. is spent in Britain,There is no LIMIT & Britain can never run out of Money

  • Humanity2012 January 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    It is a Matter of Humanity Namely that the Poor and Vulnerable are Cared For
    without Ignorant Media Demonisation

    Stop Wasting Billions upon the War in Afghanistan and the EU Atrocity

    People are Not Just Statistics

    No Increase in MPS Salary

  • NoOneIsListening January 28, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I heard this on the radio this morning: taxation is a subscription that I pay to live in a civilised society …..

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