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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump