Why more action is needed on cuts to disability benefits

A letter from leading charities criticising cuts to mobility allowance is a good starting point – bu

The cuts to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) are among the cruellest announced in last year's Spending Review, given the devastating impact they will have on the quality of life of an already marginalised group.

Let's just recap. DLA – a hard-won benefit – currently costs £12bn a year and faces cuts of 20 per cent. For the first time ever, medical examinations will be introduced in 2013-2014 to assess eligibility for the benefit. Charities including the Disability Alliance are sceptical about this, suggesting that its aim is to remove 380,000 claimants from the benefit, rather than "simplify" the system.

In addition to this, George Osborne announced plans to save £135m by abolishing the mobility component of DLA for the 80,000 severely disabled people resident in care homes. This is a weekly payment of up to £50 a week, used to pay for taxis, petrol for staff cars and powered wheelchairs, and to lease specially adapted cars. With severe mental or physical disabilities, most are unable to use public transport. The money allows them to have a social life and prevents them from becoming prisoners in their residential homes.

The Times (£) reports today that a group of 27 leading charities, including Mencap, Mind and RNIB, has written a letter to the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, and the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, urging them to reverse the decision.

"Removing this benefit will take us back to the Dark Ages, essentially stripping people of control over their lives and leaving them stuck in residential care homes," says Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap.

It is an important move, and one hopes it will highlight the issue. But more needs to be done to mobilise public opinion against this particular inhumane cut and to put pressure on the government. A leading disability lawyer, Mike Charles, told the BBC at the weekend that there could even be a legal basis to challenge it:

The Human Rights Act says individuals have a right to family life, have a right to a quality of life. The whole purpose of the DLA is to put them on an equal playing field with everyone else.

Any proposal that fails to appreciate those fundamental rights could find it is an infringement of the law. My view is even if it's not against the letter of the law, it is against the spirit of the law.

At the Netroots conference last Saturday, the difficulty with highlighting the budgetary assault on the disabled was raised repeatedly: it is not a "sexy" issue, and there are the obvious difficulties of mobilising large numbers of people for protest action. The key must lie in humanising the matter – people will be unable to get out of the house once a week to socialise, and there are others who, as we heard in a fringe session, are contemplating suicide because of their fear of losing their DLA.

This message must be publicised in an accessible way, with innovative protest action that brings it to people's attention.

As the (partial) reversal on school sports budgets shows, changes can be won. The consultation on DLA ends on 14 February. We have a duty to do as much as possible before then.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Theresa May's speech on the Westminster terror attack

"We will all move forward together. Never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart." 

I have just chaired a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee, COBRA, following the sick and depraved terrorist attack on the streets of our Capital this afternoon.  

The full details of exactly what happened are still emerging. But, having been updated by police and security officials, I can confirm that this appalling incident began when a single attacker drove his vehicle into pedestrians walking across Westminster Bridge, killing two people and injuring many more, including three police officers.   

This attacker, who was armed with a knife, then ran towards Parliament where he was confronted by the police officers who keep us – and our democratic institutions – safe.  

Tragically, one officer was killed. The terrorist was also shot dead.   The United Kingdom’s threat level has been set at severe for some time and this will not change. Acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley will give a further operational update later this evening.   Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who have been affected – to the victims themselves, and their family and friends who waved their loved ones off, but will not now be welcoming them home.

  For those of us who were in Parliament at the time of this attack, these events provide a particular reminder of the exceptional bravery of our police and security services who risk their lives to keep us safe.

Once again today, these exceptional men and women ran towards the danger even as they encouraged others to move the other way.   On behalf of the whole country, I want to pay tribute to them – and to all our emergency services – for the work they have been doing to reassure the public and bring security back to the streets of our Capital City.   That they have lost one of their own in today’s attack only makes their calmness and professionalism under pressure all the more remarkable.  

The location of this attack was no accident. The terrorists chose to strike at the heart of our Capital City, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.   These streets of Westminster – home to the world’s oldest Parliament – are engrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe. And the values our Parliament represents – democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law – command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere.   That is why it is a target for those who reject those values.   But let me make it clear today, as I have had cause to do before: any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure.

Tomorrow morning, Parliament will meet as normal. We will come together as normal.   And Londoners - and others from around the world who have come here to visit this great City - will get up and go about their day as normal.

They will board their trains, they will leave their hotels, they will walk these streets, they will live their lives.

And we will all move forward together. Never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.