Is This Government Fit For Work?

Over the last year the Government has introduced a huge number of damaging policies that target disabled people. These’ve seen spending on support for disabled people slashed, schemes and services abolished, hard won equalities thrown away, and disabled people vilified and subjected to poorly thought out and inhumane assessments.

It’s time for the focus of scrutiny to change and for the Government and its policies to be subjected to a rigorous assessment, rather than vulnerable people facing extremely difficult circumstances.

Today MPs will debate the collective effect of these policies, cuts and ‘tweaks’ to eligibility criteria. Many MPs are supporting the call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA), which would identify and assess the true impact of the whole raft of changes, and it’s expected there will be a vote on this tomorrow afternoon.

While the Government might make a cursory assessment of an individual policy, the true cumulative effect is unknown. Policies overlap each other, and many households are being hit time after time from different directions. It’s those impacts that a CIA would measure.

If you’re not familiar with what’s been lost or replaced in the last few years, here’s a brief, but by no means complete, summary:

Abolished
The Independent living Fund – A fund that helped the most severely disabled people to live independent lives. This fund bridged the gap between a local authority’s responsibility to meet a person’s basic care needs and the right that people have to a decent quality of life.
Legal aid for certain types of case including child contact, welfare benefits, employment, clinical negligence, and housing law (except in very limited circumstances). This means that people affected by these cuts have little chance of challenging their legality.

Changed and Replaced
• Incapacity Benefit, replaced with Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which has seen many sick and disabled people subjected to inhumane work capability assessments.
• Disability Living Allowance, replaced with Personal Independence Payment, which will ensure at least 500,000 disabled people completely lose the help they need to meet the additional costs of living with a disability. Hundreds of thousands more will have the amount they receive reduced.
Child benefit has been frozen.
Council Tax Benefit has been cut.
Tax Credits have been cut.

Introduced
Overall benefit cap, which means a limit will be put on the total amount of benefit that people can receive. The cap’s likely to mean the needs of people and families with more complex circumstances are no longer met.
Bedroom tax, new rules for people claiming Housing Benefit for their council or housing association homes. There’s now a limit on the number of bedrooms Housing Benefit will help pay for. This is a sly tax on the poorest people that fails to take into account the circumstances of families, disabled people or the quality of the housing stock.
Universal Credit squashes six benefits into one (Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit).

Wider Issues
• Cuts to Government grants for local authorities resulting in damage to services and social care
• The dismantling and privatisation by stealth of the NHS

So far the Government’s response to the call for a CIA has effectively been that it would be too difficult to do. In response to this, the think-tank Demos has attempted its own cumulative impact assessments, based on the combined effect of 15 disability-benefit-related cuts. The findings of this make alarming reading. They found that 3.7 million disabled people would face a reduction of income, totalling £28 billion, in the period up to 2017 when yet more cuts are likely to be announced.

Besides showing the overall impact, the Demos report shows how disproportionately some people would be affected. An estimated 120,000 disabled people will be hit by three separate cuts, and some people will be hit by up to six benefit cuts in one go.

The report concentrates on existing claimants: how many benefits they’ll lose, and how much these cuts will add up to. What is an even bigger unknown is how many people, either newly disabled or facing a change in their circumstances, will be left unsupported and at risk as a result of these policies.

I have personal experience of needing assistance that’s no longer there. The Independent Living Fund, to which the most severely disabled people could apply, closed to new applicants in December 2010 (with its complete closure to follow by 2015). When my needs increased in October 2011 (meaning I now need constant support) I would’ve been eligible to apply to the Independent Living Fund. But it no longer exists so every week I have to negotiate for 50 hours of unpaid care from my friends and family. However, this care comes at a cost, and that cost is my independence and the wellbeing of those who care for me.

Disability can happen to anyone at any time and an individual’s needs and circumstances can change at any point throughout their life. The current Government are dismantling vital support without considering or caring about the full impact – either in the short or long term.

In order to help resist this wanton destruction it’s absolutely crucial that a full and independent Cumulative Impact Assessment is undertaken and that its findings are acted on appropriately.

Please help make this happen by:

1. Writing to your MP and asking them to back the motion, attend the debate and speak on your behalf. Find and contact your MP here
2. Sign the WOW petition calling for a Cumulative Impact Assessment
3. Attend the ‘Paupers Picnic’ organised by Disabled People Against Cuts
4. Watch the debate live using this link
5. Share this post with your friends, family, work colleagues and the local media
6. Use social media to raise awareness of this debate. Use the hashtag – #CiaDisability on Twitter and Facebook

It’s essential to speak up now before the brutal impact of wave upon wave of benefit and spending cuts becomes all too visible as people lose their homes, their health, and their lives.

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