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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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