Disabled people face societal and financial challenges because of the bedroom tax and PIP. Photo: Flickr/Dominik Golenia
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Benefit payment delays and the bedroom tax impact terribly on disabled people's lives

The impact of the bedroom tax and outstanding PIP claims not only affect disabled people financially, but can lead them to feeling excluded from the community.

This year has been an extremely challenging year for many disabled people and today is a perfect example of just some of those challenges. Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that thousands of people are still waiting to be assessed for Personal Independence Payments and are struggling to access this vital benefit. Alongside this, an opposition debate on the bedroom tax is a reference to yet another policy that has had a hugely negative impact on disabled people.

The latest figures on PIP show that nearly half of claims (excluding those made by someone with a terminal illness) are still outstanding. Currently there are 245,000 new claimants and 46,600 DLA reassessment claimants still waiting for a decision on whether they will receive their benefit.

DLA played a huge role in covering the extra costs that can come with being disabled and supporting people to live full and active lives. It is vital that PIP now takes on this role.

Being assessed or reassessed for benefits is an extremely stressful process. A long wait for a decision can leave disabled people in limbo, unsure if they will get the support they need. For the deafblind people Sense supports the worry of assessors not understanding their disability and being unable to provide them with a fair assessment is also very real. Sensory impairments are complex and require specialist knowledge of the impact on a person’s day to day life. Over the past 18 months we have heard examples of people who are deafblind not being provided with the appropriate communication support or of assessors being unable to understand the impact of having both a sight and hearing impairment.

Similarly the bedroom tax has posed a huge challenge for many disabled people, who find themselves forced to pay extra for a "spare room" they need because of their disability. Space for extra equipment related to their disability or a room for an occasional overnight carer are both reasons that a disabled person might legitimately need an extra bedroom for and should not be forced to pay extra for.

The irony of the bedroom tax for some people who are deafblind is that in order to live independently they may need extensive mobility training so they can navigate around their home safely. Forcing them to downsize to a smaller property will then result in a person needing further mobility training and potentially a live-in carer to support them during the process. This is not a cost-effective measure and is an extremely stressful prospect for someone with little or no sight and hearing. It is wrong that these needs are not automatically exempt from the bedroom tax. Of course people can appeal, and in some cases an individual's needs will be taken in to account. But again, this is a very stressful and not a situation that disabled people should have to face.

Disability benefits such as PIP aren’t just about the basics like food and heating that we often associate with welfare. They are about ensuring a good quality of life for disabled people. When we talk about PIP delays or the impact on the bedroom tax we aren’t just looking at the financial cost, it’s so much more than that. It’s about people being able to be part of their community and not feeling excluded because of their disability. These issues with benefits are also set against a backdrop of huge cuts to who is eligible for social care, leaving many disabled people struggling to get by. It is vital that these issues are prioritised in 2015.

Richard Kramer is deputy CEO of deafblind charity Sense

Richard Kramer is Deputy Chief Executive of deafblind charity Sense.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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