Where do disabled people fit into George Osborne's "aspiration nation"?

From 1 April, six different cuts to support started affecting disabled people. The result will be disabled people losing their independence, struggling to heat their homes and forced to withdraw from communities. What part can they play under such conditi

George Osborne has been talking about building an "aspiration nation". It’s left disabled people scratching their heads. They’re wondering where they fit in.

Life simply costs more if you’re disabled. But in 2013 disabled people are struggling to pay the bills. They’re feeling more keenly than most the effects of flat-lining incomes and spiralling living costs. We know many disabled people are turning to loans to pay for essentials.

What’s the Government’s response?  At the last count, cuts to thirteen different pieces of financial support that give disabled people the chance to do things everyone else takes for granted.

We asked the think-tank Demos to make sense of impact this will have on disabled people – many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet. We released the results; they paint a bleak picture.

Their research showed that by 2018, disabled people are set to lose an astonishing £28.3bn worth of financial support. These changes are going to affect up to 3.7 million disabled people in total.

What’s more, the research also showed that thousands of disabled people are being hit by different cuts to support over and over again.

For example, it’s very possible that someone could see their Disability Living Allowance taken away, see their Employment Support Allowance capped at one per cent and have to pay the bedroom tax.

We have spoken to disabled people who are going to struggle to pay their bills, heat their homes and buy food.

But that’s not all. There is a real danger we make it impossible for disabled people to be part of the community.

Councils – facing huge cuts – are rationing the basic, practical support they offer disabled people to get up, get washed, get dressed and go out.

Sue from London who has emphysema, asthma and is doubly incontinent told me that she’s being hit by care bills, the bedroom tax at £16 a week, bills for her incontinence pads and council tax at the same time.

She says “There’s no hope for me. I’m looking down a long dark tunnel with no light at the end. Unless they get rid of Cameron and revoke all of the cuts, I don’t think I’ll see this year out. I can’t afford to put my heating on. I don’t use my oven any more. I’m scared to run up any bills. By 7pm, I’m huddled up in bed with my dog. I have a halogen heater in there which goes on at night - I can’t afford to heat the whole house.”

The Government is writing this research off as scaremongering, arguing that some disabled people may be better off after the benefits changes.

But as Claudia Wood from Demos argues, how can the Government know? It has so far refused to do any cumulative impact assessment of the impact of welfare changes on disabled people. This is no longer acceptable.

But for Scope there’s also a broader point. This is about the kind of country we want to live in.

At the moment it’s not the done thing to say the state needs to spend money. But if we want to live in a country where disabled people can pay the bills, can live independently in the community, where they can work, have relationships and ultimately be visible then that’s exactly what needs to happen.

For instance, if disabled people are to live independently – and not be shunted away, out of sight and out of mind – we need properly funded social care.  However, the Government continues to insist that simply capping costs and introducing a new means testing threshold will solve the social are crisis. It won’t.

The Government needs to decide if it wants disabled people playing a part like everyone else, or side-lined, out of pocket and more or less invisible. I know which one I want.

Richard Hawkes is the Chief Executive of disability charity Scope 

The solution to the care crisis is not simply capping costs and introducing a new means testing threshold. Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of the disability charity Scope.

Photo: Getty
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On the important issues, Louise Casey all too often has little to say

Far from moving the debate on, this new report on integration adds little to the report I commissioned in 2001. 

For 15 years, “numerous government reports on community cohesion and integration have not been implemented with enough force or consistency” concludes Louise Casey’s review of  integration.  The government’s lukewarm response suggests their effort will be as “diluted and muddled” as all the rest.

There’s a deeper reason why governments shy away from the measures that are needed. The report's wealth of data sets out a stark if sometimes contestable picture of a divided society.  But no amount of data can really bring the lives of our fellow citizens to life. As the Brexit vote underlined, this is now a nation divided by class, geography, education, wealth, opportunity and race. Those divisions colour the way we live our lives, the way we see problems in society, the relations we have with others, and our political choices. The report, like many before it, stops short of setting out that reality. It’s easier to pretend that most of us pretty much agree on most things; but just few people don’t agree and they must be the problem. Predictably, much of the early coverage has focussed on the Muslim community and new migrants. If only it were so easy.

According to Casey “in this country, we take poverty, social exclusion, social justice and social mobility seriously” and we do it “across political divides”. Apparently “creating a fair, just society where everyone can prosper and get on” is a cornerstone of British values. Yet for page after page the report chronicles the serial failure of this benign consensus to tackle educational under-performance, and economic and racial disadvantage. If we all agree, how come we haven't done anything about it?

These problems are not certainly easy to solve, but more lip service is paid to tackling them than effort. The practical material issues documented here need addressing, but punches are pulled when hard answers are needed. Given the dramatic impact of mass migration on cohesion, is integration possible while current rates of immigration persist? Can we find the political will to tackle poverty and disadvantage when those who might benefit from the effort are divided against each other by suspicion, race, geography and values? After all, rather than progressive policies producing a cohesive society, social unity is the precondition for the introduction of progressive policies.

We don't actually actually agree on what our “fundamental values” mean in practice. We can all sign up to democracy and the rule of law, but as soon as those are put into practice – see the court case on Article 50 – we are divided. When judges are popularly seen as “enemies of the people” and a vote in an elected parliament as a threat to democracy, in what sense are law and democracy fundamental?

Casey usefully highlights how treating homeless families equally, irrespective of ethnicity and length of residence can create the perception that minorities are being favoured over long standing residents. Our differing views on what is “just” and how “fairness” are defined can tear us apart. Is it fair to favour the newcomer over the indigenous? Is it just to put length of time on the waiting list above housing need? We often don't even acknowledge the legitimacy of other points of view, let alone try to find common ground.

The continual invocation of Britain and British values lends an air of unreality to the report.  Most people in England include British in their identity, but Englishness and English interests are of growing importance. In a worrying development, some areas of England  may be polarising between a white Englishness and an ethnic minority Britishness. Integration won't happen without a shared national story that combines a unifying national identity with the acceptance that we all have more than one identity that matters to us. Ignoring the reality of complex and multiple identities closes off one essential way forward.

None of this means that the criticism of some reactionary and occasionally dangerous ideas and practices in the Muslim community should be ignored and not confronted. But in a country where the established church opposes homosexual relationships and praise for Vladimir Putin's Russia is now mainstream politics it is hard to believe that all our problems can be reduced to the behaviour of a minority of a minority community.

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University