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