The Hardest Hit

Disabled people, those with long-term conditions and their families are being hit hard by cuts to the benefits and services they need to live their lives. The Hardest Hit campaign, organised jointly by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and the UK Disabled People’s Council, and supported by BPACC, Unite the Union and Unison, brings together individuals and organisations to send a clear message to the Government: stop these cuts.

On Saturday 22 October 2011, this group called for nationwide events to take place to highlight those who are The Hardest Hit and BPACC campaigners held a public meeting at Bournemouth Central Library to discuss the impact that public spending cuts are having on some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Speakers included representatives from Bournemouth People First, BPACC, Unison and Unite the Union with a statement read out from PHAB (Physically Handicapped & Able Bodied).

Darren Brown, BPACC chair said: “Lots of evidence is beginning to emerge that those who are paying the highest price for the government’s spending cuts are those who are least able to afford it. People with long-term disabilities, pensioners, the unemployed and children are seeing their benefits and services under attack – when MPs and bankers still seem to be doing alright. It simply isn’t fair to ask those who are already struggling to pay the highest price.”

Here are some of the changes that have already taken place or are being proposed:

Employment Support Allowance (ESA)

There is to be an overhaul of Incapacity Benefit (now called the Employment Support Allowance). Everyone on IB/ESA will be reassessed through a questionnaire and a work capability assessment carried out by ATOS, who are seeing 11,000 people a week, starting with the long-term and severely disabled and ESA will only be paid for a maximum of 12 months

The plans to cut ESA after 12 months would particularly affect many of the 360,000 people who are to become ineligible for DLA due to the arbitrary 20 per cent reduction target, set by the govt and will deny them vital help with the additional costs of living with a disability.

Limiting of ESA to 12 months for those in the Work Related Activity Group seems particularly illogical as disabled people’s impairments are not likely to go away and may in fact deteriorate. It ignores the effects of chronic, fluctuating conditions such as MS, ME, inflammatory bowel diseases etc. It also fails to acknowledge the complex issues that disabled people face in preparing for and finding work.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

The Govt is planning to replace DLA with a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for those of working age from April 2013 and these changes will mean new assessment tests for claimants who would also need to have had a condition for six months. The Govt intends to cut the budget of DLA by 20 per cent and has also announced the removal of the mobility component of DLA from people living in state-funded residential care which will happen from October 2012.

Disability Alliance (DA) has issued a letter of claim to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) asking it to demonstrate that the impact of its proposals to reduce expenditure on DLA by 20 per cent has been properly analysed. DA is concerned that disabled people of working age will be hit disproportionately hard by proposals to cut support for an estimated 652,000 people with lower support needs and is also concerned at the lack of clarity over how the impact of removing the mobility component of DLA for an estimated 78,000 people in residential care will be mitigated.

Disability Now have said they have a strong case for legal action and said that if the Govt failed to provide adequate evidence that it had examined the impact of its proposals, they would seek a judicial review if this element of the Welfare Reform Bill was enacted.

Mobility Allowance

The proposed removal of the Mobility component of Disability Living Allowance from all residents of care homes will affect an estimated 60,000 people, resulting in a 66% fall in their individual incomes, leaving them with only £22 a week for all extra expenses and will cause genuine distress for many residents as well as in most cases removing from them a right to family life.

Many are concerned that cuts in spending by the Department for Transport, which could be as high as 40 per cent, would also lead to the loss of well-trained staff on the transport network who promote independent living by supporting disabled people to travel.

ATOS Work Capability Assessments

From 2010 the government will apply the Work Capability Assessment to all incapacity benefit claimants is an attempt to simply reduce the numbers claiming benefit through imposing a harder test of entitlement with a stated aim of reducing the number of claimants by 20% when the fraud rate for DLA is according to DWP figures only 0.5% and the social security advisory committee have said they can see no reason for the changes.

It is believed by many to be a system that has been deliberately designed to fail a significant proportion of clearly disabled people and assessment criteria that have already been identified as unacceptable by the independent assessor. Then that system, with its built-in failures, is handed over to the contractor ATOS Origin to operate, and they set out to deliberately overstress it in order to process as many people as possible, in as little time as possible, and at as low a cost as possible, all in the name of the profit; no matter the inadequacy of the process delivered, no matter the huge percentage of claims overturned at appeal, no matter a failure rate that would be unacceptable in any other industry.

Re-testing of claimants regularly although their conditions will never change will be a further waste of public money and will merely add another test for disabled people to fear. Evaluation results of the new test of entitlement suggests that the rates of disallowance will increase by more than 10% which, if applied to the current population of 2.6million incapacity benefit claimants, could mean more than 250,000 people being denied benefit and forced onto jobseekers allowance instead. This is despite these people already having established their entitlement to incapacity benefit byway of the Personal Capability Assessment, which is recognised as being one of the most rigorous in all OECD countries.

Independent Living Fund (ILF)

The ILF is funded by the Department for work and Pensions (DWP) and its support enables disabled people to choose to live within their communities rather than in residential care. From May 2010 it was changed to only accept applications from people in work of at least 16 hours per week. However from June 2011, the ILF was permanently closed to all new applications. The ILF will continue to support its existing users for the duration of this parliament and a consultation on how ILF users should be supported beyond this will take place in the summer of 2011. The decision to restrict new applications for financial support to disabled people who work more than 16 hours a week undermines the government’s commitment to advancing equality.

A report from the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) has found that the coalition govt’s cuts to the welfare system and proposals to remove ILF could set independent living back 30 years. This summer, UKDPC asked 300 disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) for their views on how cuts to DLA, Housing Benefit and Incapacity Benefit could hit disabled people. The report found that 90 per cent of DPOs feared that cuts would have a negative impact on disabled people and could force many into poverty or residential care. It also found that DPOs feared that cuts would leave them without the funding to deal with an anticipated increase in demand for benefits advice; that people with hidden or fluctuating impairments will be assessed as ineligible for Incapacity Benefit because they can sit or stand for short periods – even though they are unable to stay awake for long; that the loss of DLA could leave disabled people unable to afford vital equipment or care and that disabled people will become homeless because they will be unable to afford accessible housing. They said: “Our findings show that regressive government policies seriously undermine the rights of disabled people and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People.”

Carers

It is estimated more than 10% of the adult population in the UK are carers. This means approximately six million adults are relied upon by others to save this country GBP £87 billion a year and many provide more than fifty-five hours’ care per week.

72% of carers with substantial caring responsibilities are worse-off as a result of caring, with over half forced into debt and three quarters struggle to pay basic household bills. Over 1 million people have given up work to care for ill, frail or disabled loved-ones, leaving them an average of £11,000 a year worse off and some are forced to cut down on their food to make ends meet.

In the Poole area alone there are approximately 16,600 people looking after someone who is frail, sick, disabled or suffering from dementia and Bournemouth has 42,000 carers. They are a largely ‘invisible’ population whose needs tend to be assessed and addressed within the ever-narrowing parameters of existing services. Many, perhaps even half, of the carers in Dorset are older people themselves and among the most disadvantaged people in Britain.

Families with a disabled child are estimated to be £50 a week worse-off than those without. Govt figures released in September show that its policy to halve disability benefit additions for low income and out of work families with disabled children will impact on up to 70,000 more families than it had originally estimated. This means Cuts to Child Disability Benefit will adversely affect up to 170,000 families.

Housing

Currently, social housing tenants are granted a “secure tenancy”, giving them considerable rights and the confidence that, providing they keep to the terms of their tenancy, their house is theirs to keep. However that security may be under threat with the Govt proposals to remove “secure tenancies”. Disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in social housing, so any changes would affect them disproportionately.

The homeless charity Crisis said that the govt’s own figures show almost one in five of the 62,500 people in UK affected by the proposals to extend the lower rate of Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) to claimants up to the age of 35 are disabled.

Government changes to housing benefit could see 11,000 young disabled people forced out of their flats, putting them at risk of homelessness.

Some facts

Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people.
Nearly half of disabled people have ‘no savings at all’, compared to just 12% of the general population.
Only 50% of disabled people of working age are in work, compared with 80% of non disabled people.
23% of disabled people have no qualifications compared to 9% of non disabled people.
Employment rates vary greatly according to the type of impairment a person has; only 20% of people with mental health problems are in employment.
The average gross hourly pay for disabled employees is £11.08 compared to £12.30 for non disabled employees.

Links

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
Where’s the Benefit?
Broken of Britain
The Hardest Hit
Black Triangle Campaign
Benefit Claimants Fight Back
MDC Trail Blazers
Carer Watch
Advocare – Caring for Carers
Disability Action
Disability Alliance
Disability Now

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