Another day, another story about welfare reform.
Last week, the BBC ran a story on the government’s flagship welfare policy, the Universal Credit. A report by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson revealed up to 450,000 disabled people and their families stood to lose out as a result of the reforms; today, Mark Hoban, the employment minister, warns jobseekers who repeatedly refuse to “play by the rules” could lose benefits for three years.
Is anyone listening? Amazingly, despite the almost dizzying release of case studies and statistics, welfare reform still appears to resonate as a news story.
The government thinks it is on to a good thing focusing on welfare. The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent announcement setting out plans for a further £10 billion cuts in the welfare budget, on top of the £18bn already being cut in this Parliament, shows the government’s intent.
But amidst all these announcements, on further cuts to come, on a zero tolerance approach to the ‘workshy’ and so on, it is increasingly unclear what the government means when it says we still have a ‘safety net’ to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The Hardest Hit coalition, which brings together more than 90 disabled people’s organisations and charities (including Sense, Mind, Mencap, Parkinson’s UK, the MS Society, The Stroke Association and RNIB), believes more needs to be done to raise awareness of the human and economic impacts of the cuts now underway.
After all, disabled people face a double penalty: extra costs and lower incomes. Our new research (pdf) shows nearly 9 in 10 (87 per cent) of disabled people say their everyday living costs are significantly higher because of their condition. We have recently surveyed more than 4,500 disabled people on changes to benefits. The verdict is in: disabled people and their families are struggling to make ends meet.
Yet in our view cuts to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and other vital benefits risk intensifying disability poverty. Nine in ten DLA claimants fear a loss of DLA income will lead to deterioration in their health. Yet the government plans on cutting the numbers receiving Disability Living Allowance by half a million people.
The Hardest Hit coalition’s new report, “The Tipping Point” (pdf), features the stories of disabled people facing tough choices on whether they can afford to heat their homes. Or whether they have enough money to buy pre-prepared food, which tends to be more expensive but many disabled people, such as those who cannot see, find it much easier to cook with.
As part of our research, disabled people told us they feel they are being targeted for cuts. Forty thousand people who paid into the system in good times but have now fallen on bad times lost £90 of Employment and Support Allowance in April 2012. Cuts averaging £52 a week for claimants receiving contributory ESA as a result of illness or an impairment will affect 400,000 disabled people by 2013/14. So where is the safety net?
Frustratingly, stories concerning disabled people facing tough choices tend to play second fiddle to DWP-press releases on the numbers of people being found ‘fit for work’. What’s different about the Hardest Hit coalition’s story? We want to use the coming week to explain, to focus Parliamentarians’ and the media’s minds on the real issues at the heart of the welfare debate.
Unless urgent changes are made to the assessment judging people’s fitness for work or indeed to Personal Independence Payment, disabled people’s slide into entrenched poverty and isolation will be the ultimate legacy of this government’s welfare reforms. Disabled people are at a tipping point but so too are politicians.
The government can press ahead with unfair cuts that our analysis suggests are a false economy or they can rule out targeting disabled people as part of the next spending review.
We need MPs to recognise disabled people are already the hardest hit by the cuts and must be protected in future decisions on benefit reform and deficit reduction. Use our online tool to send an email to your MP expressing your concerns and asking them to attend the launch event for our new report, “The Tipping Point”.