"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
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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.