"Stress and autism are words you can't define in Urdu or Punjabi"

Asian communities are being disproportionately affected by new rules on disability benefits and support.

Life is a never-ending struggle for Roxanna, who looks after disabled son Ahmed. Ahmed, 26, has been at home since his college course ended last year and he is not eligible for a day care centre.

"I have been left to care for my son, no one cares about him," says Roxanna, from Birmingham. "People think Ahmed is mad and that I am cursed. I am not able to work because I can’t leave Ahmed on his own. I only get carers' allowance, Ahmed’s DLA has been cut and he is now on the low rate.

“I am struggling to make ends meet."

This is the situation faced by many families in Britain. Campaign groups say the Asian community is being affected more by the controversial welfare cuts due to the language barrier, mainstream support services not reaching out to them, services not being culturally tailored, and the stigma that remains about disability.

And it could get worse. From October, thousands of disabled people who need to be reassessed for the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) could have their benefits slashed.

Saghir Alam is a disabilities commissioner for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He says that many Asian families who look after a disabled child are suffering due to a lack of awareness about the help available: “Ethnic minority communities are disproportionately more affected by these cuts because they weren’t accessing these services before and some of these services don’t exist anymore. Sometimes they are not faith wise or culturally sensitive and don’t have the resources to do outreach work. A lot of organisations have got no funding as the budget from the local authority has gone down for project funding.

“I know of a parents group for disabled children in Yorkshire which started two years ago - it took nearly two years to get people on board. After one year they lost their funding.

“We need to sit down with community organisations, carers, parents, and ask them rather than [assume] that services are good.”

Other Asian groups that have lost their funding include EKTA Project, a group for the elderly in London that was created 26 years ago.

Alam’s role involves providing advice to councils and support services on how to engage with different communities. He believes that despite the success of last year’s Paralympic Games in London, it has not had a lasting legacy of changing attitudes towards disabilities: “In the mainstream, disabled people still face barriers. If you have multiple identities like race or faith, you face multiple disadvantages.

“There are still attitudes which are Victorian in the Asian community, so a social model has never been promoted. People don’t want to admit they have children with a disability because in society there is still a negative association with disability.”

Alam adds that some families are losing their benefits after going through assessments due to a language or cultural barrier.

The Work Capability Assessments sparked uproar last year as around 40 per cent of people successfully appealed the decision to deem them fit to work. The coalition government agreed for the Atos firm to carry out the assessments to cut £600 million in overpayments to people who no longer qualify for Employment Support Allowance.

Alam explains: “People may not come to town hall or council offices so you need to use community organisations. Families are too busy caring [for disabled relatives] to do that. I know one or two people who have mental health issues, and they lost their benefits and went to appeal. Stress and autism are words you can't define in Urdu or Punjabi. A lot of terms used in assessments sometimes do not translate.”

Another campaigner critical of mainstream services is Mandy Sanghera, a human rights activist and government adviser. "Many families are continuing to care for their family members because most services do not meet their child's needs, they are not specialised," she says. "Many carers are unaware of what services are out there for their child once they leave school we need better transition into adult services. Due to the cuts, we are pushing desperate families into crisis point. “ 

One disabled person that Sanghera has supported is Jeeta, who has multiple sclerosis and is in a wheelchair. Jeeta, 30, who lives with her parents in an area with no suitable ground floor housing, says: “I want my independence and I don’t want my mum to care for me, she is over protective because of my disability. [But] I don't know where to go for help.”

The extent of the crisis is echoed by Sabina Iqbal, chair and founder of Deaf Parenting UK:There is a higher prevalence of disability within the Asian Community due to inter-relational marriage within the family. Most of those families are unaware of the impact of the welfare changes due to [the] language barrier and do not have direct access to information through the media. Reaching out to those Asian families is not easy and is often [done] by the local worker who shares information via word of mouth.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said Job Centre Plus and councils arrange to meet directly with people affected by going to their homes or arranging a meeting.

On PIP, he said messages are delivered via charities, councils and other stakeholders.

The 'Hardest Hit' march on May 11, 2011 in London, where thousands of disabled people marched against government cuts to benefits, disability living allowances and local services. Image: Getty
Getty
Show Hide image

BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.