Dominic Browne reports on the fightback by disabled campaigners to save key benefit payments which provide disabled people with a "lifeline".
Thousands of disabled people and their supporters are taking to the streets of Westminster today to fight against ‘savage’ and unprecedented cuts to their benefit payments.
Many disabled people described the support as a “lifeline”. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) received 5,500 responses to a consultation on the cuts and more than 1,750 people contacted Disability Alliance with 9 per cent of initial respondents suggested losing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) could “make life not worth living”.
However the government has so far ignored their pleas and their warnings over possible false economies and unintended consequences created by the knock-on effects to the NHS and other government services.
Disability Alliance director of policy, Neil Coyle said:
“The government must analyse the potential consequences of policies fully now – before the Welfare Reform Bill results in avoidable deaths, destitution or additional demand for other government services as a result of DWP failing to ensure proposals are accurately costed.”
“A third of disabled people already live in poverty in the UK but the government is ploughing ahead with an agenda which will result in severe hardship if not a whole new era of destitution for thousands of disabled people.”
Government plans of particular concern include:
• Over 400,000 disabled people to lose all out of work support through time-limiting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to one year. The Welfare Reform Bill impact assessment (pdf) outlines some of the people set to lose out. Disabled people who have paid national insurance contributions and are in the ESA Work Related Activity Group will lose all support if their partner earns about £150 per week or they have an occupational pension of just £90 per week.
These figures are well below the UK poverty threshold (£206 per week for a couple or £119 a week for single people with no dependents). Pathways to Work has been closed by the government. As only 13 per cent of disabled people supported by Pathways to Work entered work within a year, this leaves nine in ten disabled people at risk of losing all support.
• Abolition of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and introduction of ‘Personal Independence Payments’ (PIP) will affect over 750,000 disabled people. The government pledged to cut 20% of expenditure – but the policy affects working age disabled people only, resulting in closer to 30% of the support for this group being cut to meet the unexplained DWP target. These cuts are not defined by efficiency savings or fraudulent claims.
The DWP has never accounted for how a 20% figure was reached and it is believed this is purely cost-driven. Previous DWP statistics suggest just 0.5% of DLA expenditure is potentially fraudulent. This will cause significant financial hardship for disabled people across the UK – especially the 650,000 disabled people receiving low rate DLA care payments (£19.55 per week) which will be abolished under the PIP.
• Almost 80,000 disabled care home residents to lose mobility support. The government has publicly announced a ‘review’ of this policy but the Welfare Reform Bill will prevent disabled people living in care homes accessing support under government changes. Clause 83 will prevent any care home resident accessing DLA or PIP, ending mobility payments for 78,000 disabled people from March 2013.
The ‘review’ terms of reference, start and end date are not in the public domain with MPs and Peers to vote on the current abolition plans alone. However the DWP have confirmed their will be no public or parliamentary scrutiny of the review.
• Government cuts to council funds are causing restricted access to basic care service support at local level. Over 80 per cent of councils in England will only support disabled people with critical or substantial needs by the end of this financial year – and others are already doubling fees for essential support. This recent study details rising care charges and eligibility thresholds for support.
Thousands of disabled people have already pledged support online for the lobby – including those unable to attend the rally in person. Further information is available at: www.hardesthit.org.uk
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