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Disabled people reach ‘tipping point’
Monday 29 October 2012
Disabled people take action as a new report says the government is failing to protect them from welfare cuts
Protest marches, question time events and a light vigil were among events held by disability campaigners to recognise the effects of the government's welfare reforms on disabled people.
They formed part of the Hardest Hit Week of Action (22-28 October), which brought together disabled people, their carers, friends and families, from across the UK. It was organised by the Hardest Hit campaign group – a coalition of over 90 disabled people’s organisations, including Mencap. Campaigners joined the TUC Future That Works march and rally on Saturday 20 October in London (pictured left). There was also a march and lobby in Newcastle, a light vigil in Sunderland, a discussion event at Essex County Council and an MP question time event in Birmingham.
The Birmingham event (pictured below) was well-attended and saw disabled people, their families and carers from across the West Midlands put their cut-related questions to a panel including Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington; councillor Ian Ward, deputy of Birmingham City Council, and Martin Gallagher, chair of Midland Mencap.
Higher living costs
The local events follow the publication of a new Hardest Hit report on Monday 22 October, which exposes how the government’s cuts are hitting disabled people hardest. According to ‘The Tipping Point’, nearly 9 in 10 disabled people’s everyday living costs are significantly higher because of their condition. Furthermore, 85% claim losing their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) would drive them into isolation, while 95% fear that losing DLA would be detrimental to their health.
The report brings together a survey of over 4,500 disabled people, a poll of more than 350 independent welfare advisers and more than 50 in-depth interviews with disabled people.
More than three quarters of disabled people said their health got worse as a result of stress caused by their work capability assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Two thirds felt that ESA assessors did not understand their condition. And nearly 9 in 10 welfare advisors said the constant re-assessments for benefits are damaging people’s health.
The report highlights that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty, and even a small loss of income can tip people into greater dependence on health and social care services or friends and family. Further cuts to the welfare budget, the replacement of DLA with the Personal Independence Payment and the new Universal Credit system threaten to make things worse.The Hardest Hit coalition is calling on the government to learn from the mistakes it made with WCA and ensure the assessment for PIP is as fair and as clear as possible, and to get Universal Credit right.
“The chancellor has just announced a further £10 billion cut to the welfare budget,” says Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) and co-chair of the Hardest Hit campaign. “With £9 billion having already been removed from disability benefits and services in this parliament, disabled people are already at a tipping point. The government has some urgent choices to make, but must rule out targeting disabled people for further spending cuts in the next Budget and comprehensive spending review.”
On Monday 29 October, representatives from the Hardest Hit coalition presented the key findings from the 'Tipping Point' report to a joint meeting of the all party parliamentary groups on disability, learning disability, autism, MS, Parkinson's, mental health, motor neurone disease, eye care and visual impairment. It was attended by over 50 stakeholders and MPs and peers from across all parties. It was chaired by Conservative MP Robert Buckland.
Mencap spokesperson Richard Lawrence gave a powerful account of going through the work capability assessment and how he got a job at Mencap. The new disabilities minister, Esther McVey, described how the government will listen to disabled people and organisations like Mencap in order to make sure that PIP is humane and works to support disabled people.
In Northern Ireland, on 31 October, Mencap and Disability Action gave evidence to the Assembly’s Committee for Social Development on the effect that the Welfare Reform Bill will have on people with a disability. “The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that people in Northern Ireland will lose more income than any other UK region outside of London when the changes to the welfare system come in to effect next year,” said Jenny Ruddy, Mencap in Northern Ireland’s campaign’s officer. “The Department of Social Development’s own figures estimate that households with a disabled person will lose £39 in benefits a week, compared to £24 a week in households without a disabled person.
“It is important that the effects of the proposed changes on people with a learning disability, their family or carers are minimised and that active steps are taken to protect vulnerable people.”