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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.