Disabled people fear further impoverishment as cuts begin to hit

Kaliya Franklin reports on the Papworth Trust survey of disabled people’s responses to the governments disability reforms and benefit cuts.

By Kaliya Franklin

Last year Scope conducted a survey showing that of the approximately £90 billion of proposed cuts, £9bn or 10 per cent will fall upon disabled people, making them ‘the hardest hit’.

A concern added to by today’s survey results from disability charity and registered social landlord The Papworth Trust who provide support to approximately 20,000 people a year through a variety of services such as employment, vocational rehabilitation, housing and personal support.

The Papworth Trust conducted a survey throughout August asking disabled people about the potential impacts the changes to Disability Living Allowance and the proposed Personal Independence Payment will have on their lives.

Two thousand, two hundred and eighty six responses were received to the survey, 80% of which were from current recipients of DLA, which aimed to discover what claimants currently use their DLA payments for, to test public opinion about the proposed PIP and to better understand which changes are causing disabled people the most anxiety and distress.

Four out of five feel the government’s target of cutting DLA by 20% was too arbitrary, feeling it indicated the government believed either costs associated with disability had fallen by 20% or the government assumed 20% of claimants were fraudulent – in stark contrast to the DWP’s own figures showing only a tiny 0.5% of DLA claims are fraudulent.

Many of the respondents were concerned the government is creating a catch 22 situation by the proposed reduction in eligibility. Removing the financial support relied upon for basic costs of living directly related to disability would significantly impact upon their ability to manage their health conditions meaning that in the longer term they would require vastly more expensive state support from the NHS and local authorities.

Seventy four per cent of those surveyed said they would not have enough money to meet basic living costs if their DLA were reduced or withdrawn and 63% said this reduction would make them more dependent. The three main areas people said they would have to reduce spending on were food, utility bills and specialist transport.

The Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, has stated that DLA is not intended to be spent on food or utility bills, which is at best disingenuous as the lowest rate of the care component of DLA is awarded to those deemed incapable of preparing a meal for themselves and intended to provide for the additional costs associated such as purchasing more expensive pre-prepared vegetables or ready meals.

Unlike older people there is no entitlement to winter fuel allowance for DLA recipients, many of whom have higher fuel costs directly related to their health conditions and impairments, for example needing to keep particularly warm during chemotherapy treatment.

The minister’s response will add to growing concerns from disabled people’s organisations and charities – not only do the government not understand the current purpose of DLA but the use of statistics to support the cuts to this benefit has been misleading.

The Papworth Trust found the primary concern about the proposed PIP reassessments was they would be unfair, in particular that reassessment would lead to lower awards.

Whilst the Papworth Trust felt clarification from the government on certain issues relating to who would be reassessed, how frequently, by whom, and in what manner would lead to support for the changes tipping in the government’s favour, this is likely to be greeted with outrage from disabled people and disabled people’s organisations and add to concerns that charities claiming to represent us cannot do so whilst still competing for lucrative government contracts.

The report also highlights the important issue of how the assessments for different benefits may interact with each other and calls upon the government to clarify this issue. Assessments for Employment Support Allowance relate directly to claimant’s ability to work whereas currently assessments for DLA relate to the much wider issues surrounding disabled and sick people’s ability to care for themselves and mobilise on a day to day basis.

Another major concern raised by respondents was the ‘passporting’ nature of DLA, where receipt of DLA at specific rates is used to judge eligibility for other schemes such as the blue badge or council tax benefits.

Narrowing the eligibility criteria for DLA and restricting access to other benefits solely to DLA recipients will significantly impact those whose disability or health condition is not considered severe enough to entitle them to DLA but still affects their ability to access transport or other services keeping them independent.

The survey highlighted the many concerns sick and disabled people have about the way PIP proposes to award points to those who can perform activities using aids and adaptations, for example some people may be able to shower independently using shower stools, grab rails and tele-care services to call for help in an emergency.

No guidance has yet been issued as to how PIP will consider this in relation to the number of points and therefore awards granted which has led to anxiety on the part of claimants that they will be assessed on the basis of theoretically available aids or adaptations.

The flawed assumption that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now Equalities Act) means that accessible transport, services, and workplace aids and adaptations are readily available was also highlighted by the Papworth Trust.

The propsed PIP is predicated on an assumption that access is now widespread – but as not even the assessment centres used by Atos, the company currently contracted to carry out benefit medicals, are regularly reported as being inaccessible, it is obvious this is not reflective of reality.

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