Monday, 19 March 2012

The Government’s disability strategy out of touch with the reality of cuts

Earlier this month the Government ended its consultation period asking disabled people to help develop its disability strategy. Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, has said that: “The Government is committed to enabling disabled people to fulfil their potential and have the opportunity to play a full role in their community”. But in reality it is clear that the Government lacks any cohesive policy that will enable this to happen.

In the last three years 31 people have died while awaiting appeals against Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) medicals that had found them fit to work. At their most vulnerable, the sick and disabled were left worrying to the day they died about how they and their family would cope financially while their illness was slowly killing them. Society should be in uproar that people in dire need turned to the state for help and were failed by it, but instead media and Government debate focuses on disabled ‘scroungers’, further isolating the disabled from their communities.

Yet while it could be argued in the case of ESA that Government incompetence is forcing disabled people into hardship, the same cannot be said for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), the new benefit that is replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Under PIP eligibility rules, even if you cannot walk more than 50 metres and need a wheelchair to get about for any longer distances, a disabled person still won’t be eligible for higher rate mobility – which in short means they will most likely lose access to a car through the motability scheme and the freedom such a vehicle gives them that their body cannot.

By cold-hearted design, these ‘independence payments’ will in fact take independence away from severely disabled people and force them to remain in their homes. No wonder Lady Grey-Thompson, speaking to the Guardian last month, said: “I worry that it is going to become the way it was when I was young where you just didn’t see disabled people on the street because they were locked away.”

These aren’t the only cuts aimed at disabled people. The Department of Work and Pensions’ own analysis into the housing benefit reforms states that 450,000 disabled people will face cuts to their allowance under new rules. 78,000 disabled people who use legal aid to appeal against decisions to deny them benefit will lose this support under Ken Clarke’s reforms. The Independent Living Fund (ILF) has been entirely closed to new claimants and by 2015 payments to the 21,000 severely disabled people it helps will cease. Tax credits to help with the extra costs of raising a disabled child will be cut from a maximum of £54 a week to £27 a week under Ian Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit changes – cuts that the Children’s Society says will see some families with disabled offspring £1,400 worse off a year. According to a Government Select Committee on Health, nearly two thirds of local authorities in England have reduced their disabled and adult social care budgets. As such councils have drastically altered their criteria for providing care to disabled adults, leaving many people unable to wash and dress themselves properly isolated in their own filth as they are not disabled enough to qualify for care.

These cuts will severely curtail disabled people’s ability to “fulfil their potential”. PIP will actually remove independence from disabled people, the scrapping of ILF will see disabled people condemned to care homes, decisions to limit ESA to one year, leaving 7000 cancer patients without any financial support while they are still too unwell to work, will only help in moving disabled people into poverty, not into the workplace. Cuts to legal aid will take away their voice, housing benefit remove them from often supportive communities and homes that are specially adapted for their needs. Harsh reductions in social care budgets will see people stuck in hospital for longer periods of time as they cannot be discharged into communities because they lack provision for their basic care. Disabled people were already twice as likely to be living in poverty than others before these cuts were imposed: no wonder disabled people up and down the country are scared stiff of these ‘reforms’.

The Government’s consultation document, entitled ‘Fulfilling potential’, makes specific mention of “tackling discrimination” towards disabled people and “promoting positive attitudes”. Yet charities have directly linked a rise in disabled abuse with the increasing rhetoric from Government ministers that disabled people are scrounging off society.

So bad has the Government’s attitude become that disability groups are now questioning whether they can continue to work with it on shaping further welfare reforms.

By the end of this parliament, if all these cuts are implemented, far from disabled people fulfilling their potential, the Coalition would instead have successfully reversed twenty years of advances made in helping the disabled play a valued and active part in society. Shame on all MPs if that is their intention. And if it isn’t, then the Government must wake up to the impact of these cuts, ban negative ministerial rhetoric linking the disabled with ‘scroungers’ and honour its supposed desire to develop policies that give back respect and support to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Previously published on the blog nhsbuff (apologies for the slow cross posting - illness took my eye off the ball)

1 comment:

  1. Its worrying times for all sick and disabled people, and the fact 31 people died whilst awaiting appeals just about sums up the whole cuts policy - its not about saving money, its all about taking away the crutch of the weak and poor, forcing people into situations they can neither cope with or do anything about.

    Also, the idea that sick/disabled people are repeatedly seen as 'benefit scroungers' just sums up todays society, and the government seems only too pleased to pander to these peoples desire to see all scroungers erradicated. I'm surprised Cameron hasn't employed Jeremy Clarkson to round-up all the sick and disabled and have them shot! If there was some way of the Tories getting away it with it then they would already have done it by now.

    So, the only legal option to reduce the welfare bill is to declare that sick and disabled people have to do their bit for society and cannot just sit about all day, wasting away watching TV - I mean, how dare they! How dare they also have the nerve to try and eek out an independent living, either in rented or supported housing, at the tax-payers expense! And those that live with relatives can live off them, how dare they ask the state for help!

    If the Tories are hoping to help the sick/disabled to integrate into society, then they clearly don't know what they are doing. At a time when jobs are already scarse, what chance do sick/disabled people have of finding employment for starters, and then being able to keep it? Also, would sick and disabled people be capable of full-time work that would mean they could be self-sufficient and not need to claim some benefit or other? Doesn't take a genius to work out the answer! Anyway, the government would have to force employers to take on sick/disabled people instead of fully-fit people - and that clearly will never happen! When there are more jobs going than unemployed people, then you might be able to do something for those who can't easily work.

    The danger is that MOST sick/disabled people can all labelled as work-shy, simply because they could do a job of some kind - even if not very well, or may worsen in health as a result. There doesn't seem to be ANY concern for the well being of anyone kicked-off benefits, as if they will all somehow go away and find work and melt into society seamlessly.

    It makes you wonder what National Insurance is for anymore? I mean, whats the point in working hard and paying NI for years and then when you become sick/disabled you find you don't qualify! I mean, you'd be pretty annoyed if you paid into BUPA all our life and then became ill and they weren't interested in helping you. They may as well scrap NI and just raise income tax by the same amount!

    Society has little tolerance for sick/disabled people these days, and seems to be heading for a place where only 'perfect' people are accepted and valued - there will be no place for anyone else. Cameron and his cronies are steering us in that direction, and ramping up the speed.

    The government also does a good job at not telling everyone they are cutting what working disabled people can claim?

    Its clear sick/disabled people are set to have an increasingly harder time, and unfortunately I think things could become too much for many. Its hard for some to keep going as it is, without knowing that theres now a public and state vendetta.

    I guess raising our voices will only make us more of a target, but I'd rather die fighting than fading away quietly!

    If Cameron wants us to work he needs to turn his back on popularist politics, and start putting into place joined-up schemes to help sick/disabled people feel part of society (even if not able to work) - instead of feeling increasingly detached from it! Will it happen? No, and society won't let it happen anyway!