Does the U-turn on PIP make this a fair budget for disabled people?

The Government has made a spectacular (and welcome) U-turn on cuts to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) this week. However, there are still many issues with PIP. For example, my constituent, Jane, who has Cervical Spinal Stenosis, osteoarthritis, depression and is in constant pain, described how she was assessed by someone who knew absolutely nothing about her condition. Denise Hadden from Derby contacted me on Christmas Eve to say she had just received notice that following her PIP assessment, her motability car was to be taken away from her on 6th January. Denise has the genetic condition bilateral femoral focal dysplasia that has meant she reached her full height of 3 foot 8 inches and can’t walk further than 50m. She has a specially adapted car which has enable her to work in a school since she was 16 years old. Without it she doubts she will be able to work.

But what about the rest of the Budget and how it affects disabled people? On social security, by 2020 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and other income-related support, will have been cut by nearly £1.4bn (9%) affecting nearly half a million people [1] in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG); in spite of being found NOT fit for work, they will see their annual income fall by £1500 a year. As another constituent, Patricia who is registered disabled explains, a £30 a week cut would mean she wouldn’t be able to pay her household bills and food. She told me “it is a lot of money to be taken away from us and it is so wrong… I can assure you I cannot work and never will be able to so what am I going to end up doing when I can’t pay my bills. Am I meant to end up going out on the streets and beg so I can get by?”

Cuts to Local Housing Allowance which affect disabled people in supported accommodation remain in place with nearly £1bn (5%) to be lost by 2020.  Despite deferring this cut for a year, the effects of these changes, as many disability charities and their housing providers have said, is that not only will this mean supported accommodation programmes become unviable leaving disabled and older people potentially homeless, but that in spite of a growing demand, the supply of this specialised accommodation will shrink as it becomes unviable for developers and housing associations to build more of these homes.

People who become ill or disabled as a result of an accident or disease caused by work will see a drop of £100m (12%) in their industrial injuries support. While it is absolutely right and proper that employers take responsibility for any harm caused to their employees, the experience of mesothelioma sufferers trying to get former employers to recognise their complicity in exposing employees to hazardous asbestos and compensate them appropriately, does not bode well.

But looking more widely at the Budget as a whole, and the UK’s obligations as signatories of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), it is clear that disabled people are just an afterthought for this Government.

On health and social care, the Government has been exposed by the King’s Fund’s analysis of accounting manipulations which means instead of £10bn investment in the NHS, it’s only £4.5bn, and that much of this will be spent on offsetting the unprecedented debts the majority of NHS Trusts face.

So as Mencap revealed, instead of less than half of Trusts having a full-time specialist Learning Disabilities nurse, expect that to reduce even further. For people with mental health conditions, instead of the recommended early intervention of a few days, expect weeks or even months before you get the treatment you need. Expect even further delays for elective procedures (there are currently three and a half million people on the English waiting list) and an increase in disability and care needs. Last week, the Royal College of Ophthalmology reported that more than 20 people a week are suffering severe loss of vision as a result of delays in treatment. This is shocking. Not only is this disabling people and robbing them of so much, but it will affect their families, and other informal and statutory carers. But with half a million fewer disabled and older people receiving social care support in 2014 compared to 2010, individuals and families themselves will bear the brunt. And of course they will potentially require social security support. Where is the joined up Government thinking, let alone the compassion and humanity?

On support for business, where are the measures in the budget which help employers retain their employees who become sick or disabled? Ninety percent of disability is acquired and the Social Market Foundation has estimated that getting one million disabled people into work would boost the economy by £13bn a year. If the Government was serious about halving the disability employment gap they should be tackling this before cutting support to disabled people. To help disabled people get into work, what about discounted business rates for businesses employing disabled people? In addition to apprenticeships for disabled people, how can we make procurement processes inclusive? What specific support can we give to our disabled entrepreneurs?

After 42% cuts in access to transport funding since 2010, how are the Government’s proposed infra-structure developments going to ensure that disabled people don’t become prisoners in their own homes? In my own area the delayed electrification of the trans-Pennine railway was going to take place without any work to make Greenfield station accessible. Currently if you have mobility issues you can just about get to Manchester from Greenfield on the train, but on the return journey if you want to get out of Greenfield station, you have to go up one flight of stairs, over a bridge, and down another flight of stairs!

There are many other issues in this budget for disabled people: how will the prospect of academisation of schools affect the increasing difficulties in getting Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for disabled children or even assessments? How will disabled children be able to benefit from increasing sport in schools?

I welcome the new Work & Pensions Secretary’s call for more engagement with disabled people, their organisations and disability charities, on future policy but I won’t hold my breath. The Government’s response to my questions asking why there had been such inadequate consultation on the proposed PIP cuts was dismissive.

For me and for the Labour Party, the co-production of policy with disabled people is absolutely fundamental, and is why I launched the national disability equality roadshow last December. As they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! The Government may have stopped the cut to PIP, but by 2020 the cumulative cuts in social security support to disabled people will be nearly £30bn; they need to pause the implementation of the 2016 Welfare Reform Act until a full and comprehensive assessment of the impact on disabled people is undertaken. The Government need to show through action, not just words, that they are not rebuilding the economy on the backs of the poor and disabled. After all, the measure of a just society is how we treat our most vulnerable.

[1] 465,000 people in latest stats

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