"Cruel" and "callous" are among the terms that have been used to describe the government's plans to reform Disability Living Allowance (DLA), a reform that will inevitably leave thousands of disabled people without the vital money they need to live their daily lives. It is thought that among the 80,000 people in receipt of DLA, the majority will end up around £2500 a year worse off.
Last month the coalition released a consultation document outlining its plans to replace DLA with a new streamlined benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which the government say will be more efficient, simpler to understand and will replace a current system that is confusing, complex and unsustainable. Claimants between the ages of 16 and 65 will undergo reassessment and, by 2013/14 everybody eligible will be on the new benefit. Consultations are generally allowed to run for three months, however this one was released in December and given only two months to run with the fortnight's Christmas break in the middle.
The purpose of DLA has been to enable disabled people to be in control of their own lives and to live as independently as possible. DLA, and in recent years Direct Payments, had enabled disabled people to buy in the services they need to live on. This gives the autonomy to the individual to buy in the services they require rather than having a prescriptive support system that was both restrictive and disabling. PIP will have a mobility component to it, although the government have already stated that those living in care homes will not be entitled to the mobility component and will be expected to rely on any transport that their care provider is either able or willing to make available. Further more, ministers responsible have stated that those able to get around by use of a wheelchair will not qualify for the mobility component of the new benefit.
If anything, the new benefit will take away the independence of thousands of disabled people and instead make them rely on the good will of others for getting around. Why should somebody in a care home have to rely on the goodwill of his or her service provider to get around? Care homes already have their resources stretched and they will be under no obligation to provide transport to enable residents to access goods and services. A wheelchair user may not be entitled to benefits and left to get around in their chair. However, when many shops, venues and forms of public transport are still not accessible, how can we expect a wheelchair user not to incur great costs and need taxis and assistance to get around?
These are two examples of many of the hidden costs of being disabled and the extra money that is needed to enable disabled people to live independently. Disabled people often face extra costs that they incur by just going about their everyday business. For example, heating bills can be much higher for someone with impaired mobility, or laundry costs can be greater if someone have difficulty eating or experiences any sort of incontinence. To the outsider, as long as disabled people can get around, that is the end of the matter. However, the costs of being disabled can be much higher than most people anticipate.
Since the announcement of the new benefit, disability charity Leonard Cheshire has been inundated with calls from disabled people worried about whether or not they are going to have enough money to live on. It is unlikely that we will see mass demonstrations in protest to the government's proposals. It would be nearly impossible to mobilise 50,000 disabled people onto the street of London this making the disabled community a soft target for the government.
The real tragedy is that the actual savings that the coalition are going to make by these changes amounts to less that 1% of the actual welfare cuts. By denying people vital money, less that £50 a week, disabled people will inevitable become prisoners in their own home unable to make regular trips to shops, services, or to see family.
The government are putting tens of thousands of disabled people through unnecessary suffering and anxiety by casting such uncertainty about whether or not they will be able to continue to live independently and have the vital resources that they need. All of this for, what adds up to be, a drop in the ocean of the country's deficit.