So now we all know!! The Chancellor has spoken and the axe is being wielded!! I guess we all accept that cuts are inevitable Britain faces serious financial difficulties and we are clearly overspending. My problem is I’m not sure about the fairness of some of the proposed cuts. Most analysts seem to agree that slashing benefits will hit the poorest hardest and among them of course are disabled people. Cuts in services and benefits paid to enable independence will have profound effects on those with the most severe impairments. For example someone who relies on support workers to get them up and get them to work. These benefits are paid for by the local authority or the independent living fund and the cuts mean these services are may be dramatically reduced. Employers are not likely to accept for very long poor or unreliable attendance that the withdrawal of such services will cause. Losing a job as result means one less taxpayer and the state having to pick up the bill. This week’s news therefore, as you might expect is full of concerns about the Chancellors proposals.
Government spending review: New benefit cuts spark anger
Hundreds of thousands of disabled people are set to lose their out-of-work disability benefits, as part of new government plans to cut another £7 billion a year from the welfare bill.
The announcement by the chancellor, George Osborne, in this week’s spending review sparked genuine anger from disabled people’s organisations.
Osborne said that disabled people receiving the “contributory” version of employment and support allowance (ESA) – those with a certain level of other income from partners or savings – will only be allowed to claim ESA of up to £91.40 a week for one year.
Although the measure will only affect those in the “work-related activity group” – rather than those in the “support group”, who have the highest barriers to work – it will cut an estimated £2 billion a year from disabled people’s income by 2014-15.
The £7 billion-a-year welfare cuts announced by Osborne are on top of the £11 billion-a-year cuts announced in June’s emergency budget, which included a 20 per cent reduction in spending on disability living allowance (DLA) by 2016 and cuts to housing benefit.
Osborne also confirmed measures announced at the Conservative party conference, including a weekly benefits cap for “workless households”, and reforms to the benefits system that will see the replacement of all working-age benefits and tax credits with a single “universal credit”.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), said the ESA announcement was “deeply worrying” and “risks increasing disability poverty”.
He said DA had calculated that a disabled person whose partner was earning just £160 a week before tax would not be able to claim any alternative benefit such as jobseeker’s allowance once they lost their ESA.
He said: “If your partner is on a low income it is either in their interest to lose you or lose their job, which will cause family breakdown, poverty and disincentive to work and increase welfare dependency.”
Coyle added: “Disabled people have every right to believe that fairness is not being hard-wired into the welfare and broad government agenda.
“The overall picture is bleak and the message that we are all in this together simply doesn’t stack up when an equivalent figure is being cut from ESA as is expected to be raised by the new bankers’ tax.”
He said the ESA measure would affect many of the 360,000 disabled people already set to lose their DLA, with some disabled people being “cut adrift from the entire welfare state”.
Inclusion London, the capital’s new Deaf and disabled people’s organisation, said the cuts were “absolutely draconian”, and accused the government of aiming “a dagger at the heart of the welfare state, certainly as far as disabled people are concerned”.
Anne Kane, Inclusion London’s policy manager, said the government appeared not to have thought through its deficit reduction plans, because the cuts would lead to disabled people losing their benefits, facing mass unemployment, losing their housing and being forced to sleep on the streets.
RADAR warned that “inadequate support, unwilling employers and a dearth of suitable jobs” could mean the one-year time limit would have a “negative and disproportionate impact on disabled people seeking work”.
And Ellen Clifford, interim director of the user-led Newham Coalition, said she was “angry and appalled” at the “depth and scale” of the government’s spending cuts, which “throw the notion of equality for disabled people out of the window”.
She said cutting ESA would not encourage disabled people into work because there were no jobs available and there was still discrimination in the workplace.
She added: “Removing benefits from disabled people is not going to magically transform the workplace but it will create misery and poverty for people who already endure daily barriers that the politicians responsible for these cuts could not even imagine.”
Emily Brothers, president of the National Federation of the Blind of the UK, said she was “dismayed” by the “highly discriminatory one-year time limit”.
And she said the government’s package of spending cuts “cynically attacks working-age blind people wishing to find a job to do, whilst they experience a series of obstacles to progress”.
Government spending review: New DLA cuts are ‘threat to inclusion’
A disabled people’s organisation has described government plans to remove a benefit that supports inclusion in the community from disabled people in residential care as “really nasty” and “a blow against social inclusion”.
George Osborne, the chancellor, announced in this week’s spending review that disabled people living in residential homes – unless they self-fund their care – will no longer be able to claim the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from 2012-13.
Although people living in residential care – apart from self-funders – cannot currently claim the care element of DLA, they can claim the mobility component. And those receiving the higher rate mobility component can use it to obtain their own car through the Motability scheme.
The government said the cut would affect about 58,000 disabled people, who receive an average of £33.40 per week, and would save £135 million a year by 2014-15.
Together with planned cuts of 20 per cent to spending on DLA for working-age disabled people, announced in Osborne’s emergency budget in June, the new measure is likely to lead to a large reduction in the number of people able to benefit from the Motability scheme.
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the measure was “really nasty” and would affect disabled people “right across the age spectrum” and not just older people.
She said: “This will intensify the isolation of people who are in institutional care. It’s just really horrible. It’s a blow against social inclusion.”
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise, said it would remove disabled people’s independence and force them to become “passive people who are just told what to do”.
She said the government’s plans to cut spending on DLA could lead to a huge reduction in the number of people able to obtain a vehicle through the Motability scheme.
Dolphin added: “For a lot of people, having a Motability vehicle allows them to take part in education, [allows them to access] healthcare and gives them the opportunity to go to work.
“If people can’t get that vehicle, the chances of getting employment are reduced.”
RADAR said it also had “significant concerns” about the measure.
And Anne Pridmore, chair of Being the Boss, a user-led organisation which supports disabled people who employ personal assistants, said: “To cut the mobility component from people in residential care – I have not got words to express what I feel about that.
“I am fast coming to realise that the majority of non-disabled people and these MPs do not realise the implications of the decisions they are making, and if they do, they do not care.”
Government spending review: Equality watchdog looks set for huge cuts
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) looks set to face a cut to its budget of at least 40 per cent, according to government figures.
The Government Equalities Office (GEO) announced this week – as part of the government’s spending review – that its own spending would be cut from £76 million this year to £47.1 million in 2014-15, a reduction of 38 per cent.
As almost four-fifths of the GEO’s budget is spent on the EHRC – £62 million this year – it appears inevitable that cuts of about 40 per cent will also be made to the EHRC budget.
A GEO spokesman said the department was still deciding how its spending settlement would impact on the EHRC and its other work.
But he added: “Around 75 to 80 per cent of our budget at the moment goes to the EHRC so you can see where that is heading.”
The GEO is working on proposals for reforming the EHRC and handing some of its current functions to government departments, or even the private and voluntary sector.
The GEO spokesman said: “We want [them] to focus on their work as an equality and human rights regulator.”
But he added: “We do not want to speculate on what specific parts of their functions might go to other departments or to the GEO or the third sector or private organisations. We are still looking at that.”
An EHRC spokeswoman said: “They are going to put forward proposals. Those proposals will be subject to consultation and our board will consider them and respond to them.”
In a statement, the GEO said it would concentrate in the future on “promoting a fair and flexible labour market, changing culture and attitudes, promoting civic society and supporting equality through a streamlined legislative and policy framework”.
Government spending review: Social care looks set for further cuts
Councils look set to be forced to make further large cuts to their adult social care budgets, despite the government announcing an extra £2 billion a year to protect social care services.
Disability organisations said the extra money would be swallowed up by huge cuts in government funding to local authorities, leading to higher charges and further cuts to care and support for disabled people.
In this week’s spending review, George Osborne, the chancellor, announced an extra £1 billion a year for social care through grants to local authorities by 2015, with another £1 billion a year from the NHS to support joint working with councils.
Up to £300m of the NHS money will be for “re-ablement” – rehabilitation after a spell in hospital – while the rest will be used to support other social care services.
The government said it would also ensure that existing social care grants to local authorities rise in line with inflation to £1.4 billion by 2014-15.
But none of the new funding will be “ring-fenced” and Osborne announced cuts in total government funding of local councils of 26 per cent over the next four years.
In a letter to directors of social services, David Behan, the government’s director general of social care, said the extra social care funding would “make it possible to protect people’s access to care, without tightening eligibility”.
He said councils would still need to make “significant efficiency savings”, for example by helping people to stay independent, through assistive technology, “driving forward” personalisation and maximising spending on “frontline services”.
But Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said many councils were already consulting on tightening eligibility criteria for care and increasing charges.
He said: “Cuts to councils’ budgets will mean disabled people lose some social services or pay more to receive essential support.”
And he said that disabled people needed more support from public services than non-disabled people, and would therefore be affected by spending cuts across the public sector. Cuts to police spending, for example, could harm efforts to address disability hate crime.
Ellen Clifford, interim director of the London user-led organisation Newham Coalition, warned that social services departments were “not yet equipped to cope” with moves towards personalisation of social care, and that this policy would fail without more investment.
She added: “Without this, self-directed support will fail, but more than that the lives of disabled people are being put at real risk.”
Clifford also warned that disabled people would be disproportionately affected by government cuts to funding for social housing.
Osborne also announced that “priority” would be given to “protecting” disabled facilities grants (DFG) – which fund improvements such as installing a downstairs bathroom or a ramp in disabled people’s homes.
But this DFG money will not be ring-fenced, so there is no guarantee that it will be used for this purpose by cash-strapped councils.
Government spending on DFG will rise from £168.8 million to £180 million in 2011-12, and to £185 million a year by 2014-15.
The Department of Health also said it was expanding access to “talking therapies” for people with mental health conditions – a move welcomed by mental health charities such as Mind and Rethink – but was scrapping the commitment by the previous government to expand free prescriptions to people with long-term conditions.
Activists plan ‘medication strike’ over spending cuts
Mental health service-users are holding a one-day national “medication strike” this week to protest about government cuts to spending on benefits for disabled people.
The action will take place on Tuesday 26 October and is being coordinated by the campaigning network Mad Pride.
Mad Pride hopes service-users across the country will refuse to take their medication or engage with mental health services on that day as a protest against the cuts.
Mark Roberts, a founder member of Mad Pride, said the action was “a shot across the bows” of the government, with further medication strikes being discussed.
But he said organisers do not believe a 24-hour strike will be harmful to those taking part.
The action will take place on the same day that activists gather at Speakers’ Corner in London, in another protest organised by Mad Pride against the coalition government’s “savage” welfare cuts.
The protests will particularly focus on planned cuts to spending on disability living allowance (DLA), incapacity benefits and housing benefit.
Mad Pride believes the benefits cuts will disproportionately affect people with mental health conditions and drive them into “dire poverty”.
It says the government wants the public to think that “people with depression, anxiety disorders and other ‘mental illnesses’ are malingerers and scroungers – when in fact most of us find it a terrible day to day struggle just to get by”.
Campaigners fear that the stress caused by the threat of benefits cuts will lead to a “huge increase” in suicides among people with mental health conditions.
They will distribute information at the protest aimed at supporting people to cope with the impact of the welfare cuts and telling them where they can find help and advice.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Department for Work and Pensions said: “Encouraging people to stop their medication is extremely irresponsible and can have serious consequences. No one should do so without seeking professional advice.
“Our benefit reforms will ensure that support goes to those who need it the most and can be sustained into the future.”
The protest will take place at Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, on Tuesday 26 October, from 1pm.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com