Today, 3rd December, is International Day of Disabled People, a day on which we should celebrate our progress in achieving human rights and equality for disabled people. But this year there is little to celebrate, as we anticipate the implementation of a horrifying range of policies set to devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled Britons.
Most disabled people rely on benefits of one sort or another – to help meet the additional costs of disability and because many disabled and sick people are unable to do much, or any, paid work. So most disabled people will be badly affected by welfare ‘reform’ as the Government seeks to reduce the benefits bill.
To highlight just a few of the changes due to have a detrimental, and in many cases catastrophic effect on the lives of disabled and sick people: sick and disabled people are abused by the Work Capability Assessment that finds almost all are, or will be, able to work, regardless of the reality of their condition; the tribunal service is almost at a standstill due to the volume of appeals against these inept assessments; 84% of GP’s surveyed say the assessments have caused patients to acquire mental health difficulties when they previously had none; couples or siblings who can’t share a bedroom due to serious health conditions will be financially penalised from April – and many already have to choose whether to heat their homes or eat; Motability estimates that up to 100,000 disabled people will lose their cars or adapted vehicles by 2016 – some who lose their cars will also lose their jobs, most will be isolated and unable to travel to medical appointments…
If that isn’t enough, three other factors must be added to the mix. Firstly, starting next year, the livelihoods of most benefit claimants, including disabled people, will rely on the biggest ever Government IT system (for Universal Credit) working properly first time. Secondly, legal aid for most benefit cases is to be withdrawn just as these complex and untested changes are rolled out. Thirdly, local councils and the NHS are already struggling to meet the support needs of chronically sick, disabled and older people – since many of the benefit changes will create greater demand on health and social care services, this is a serious problem the Government does not appear to grasp.
The Government has made a political decision to roll out a combination of policies and reforms with serious implications for the lives of disabled and sick people. Ministers consider it acceptable for disabled and sick people to suffer the most under austerity and ignore both the evidence and well-informed consultation responses. David Cameron even suggests that equality impact assessments should be scrapped, rather than made more effective and realistic, as they need to be. Many believe the Government can get away with this because it has also been complicit in ensuring that the tabloid press, which has a powerful influence on public opinion, consistently portrays disabled and sick people as scroungers and shirkers.
Next year will see the noble aims of equality and independent living put on the back burner as the under-funded and hard-pressed voluntary sector must concentrate on trying to ensure disabled and sick people continue to have a home, food, heat and essential transport. Anything else will be an unaffordable luxury as progress towards equality is rolled back at least 30 years. And that’s an optimistic view; the pessimistic view is that charities and the ‘Big Society’ will be simply unable to cope with a tsunami of human need, the like of which we haven’t seen in Britain for many years. This is not a Britain any of us can be proud of.