THE BLOG

A Disabling Budget for Disabled People

23/03/2016 11:07 GMT | Updated 23/03/2017 09:12 GMT

George Osborne find himself feeling his way blindly out of budget chaos, 'handicapped' by yet another series of blunders. Blinkered by Tory dogma to reduce the deficit at all costs, the Chancellor delivered a disabling budget on disabled people.

Iain Duncan-Smith's suggestion that we shouldn't "underestimate the determination of a quiet man" may well apply to influencing the future Tory leadership and the outcome of the European Referendum. However, the idea that one of the Government's strongest advocates for cutting disability benefits has suddenly found his voice in order to challenge such proposals can only be received with incredulity.

In truth, Iain Duncan-Smith wanted to slip through reforms under the radar during obscure parliamentary sessions, not in the full glare of a budget that was bound to spark reaction. They were apparently the proposals that he put forward and got support from both the Prime Minister and Chancellor. So Duncan-Smith making silent protests about his own reform reminds me of Frances Bacon's words:

"Silence is golden when you can't think of a good answer."

Just hours before Iain Duncan-Smith resigned, for the third time a Tribunal directed him to comply with a Freedom of Information request to reveal documents about how the Government introduced Universal Credits. Releasing the papers will have a 'chilling effect' in revealing Chaos within Government and the candid advice of officials. That may suggest an expeditious departure, not a principled one.

This ideological budget demonstrates an unhealthy control by the Treasury across Government. Undermining Ministers by rolling their programmes into an overarching dogma for austerity has the tendency to hack them off, turning whispers into a hell of a row. This time it was over disability benefits, next time the corrosive effects might reach education. How well connected was Nicky Morgan on the decision to turn all schools into academies? That announcement wasn't about economics, tackling failing schools or raising standards, but about another dogma to relinquish the state from the education of the 'next generation'.

Clearly this was a political budget, designed to deliver a surplus by 2020 without regard to the consequences to the most 'vulnerable' in society. That is undoubtedly true, but Labour mustn't allow itself to be drawn into the comfort zone of protecting people. Instead, Labour needs to cease this opportunity to reinforce a rights based approach to securing independent living for disabled people. Rooted in the social model of disability, policies need to enable Labour participation in society by improving access around our communities, provide opportunities to achieve in education and at work.

That presents a fundamental challenge, with Disabled people facing both an 'income penalty' due to employment barriers and 'cost of living penalty; due to the extra costs of living with an impairment or long-term health condition. In developing a comprehensive strategy to break the link between disability and poverty, policy responses need to tackle the causes, both the disabling barriers and consequences.

Whilst DLA/PIP is intended to meet the extra costs of disability, many people have to spend it on everyday costs because of the poverty they experience. That will get worse with cuts to Employment and Support Allowance. So despite the rhetoric, DLA/PIP doesn't truly meet the extra costs of disability for many people with significant impairments.

Moreover, inflexible DLA/PIP criteria means that many day-to-day activities are not met, including communication needs. That's why an additional third PIP component is needed to more comprehensively address the needs of disabled people. Instead of cutting DLA/PIP by £1.3BN affecting 370,000 claimants as it had proposed, the Government should be developing measures to empower people.

Cuts to local Government services are having a disproportionately negative impact on disabled people. Since 2010 £4.6BN has been lost to social care funding according to Independent Age. That will be exacerbated by the chancellor's budget plans to extend business rate relief to smaller business and shops, taking £7BN out of newly devolved funding to councils in England. This will undoubtedly have implications for disabled people's care needs.

There is a broad consensus to support people with the greatest needs. How that is achieved and with what resources is at the crux of the problem. The answer will determine who will ultimately get some support or none at all. For Tories that involves tax giveaways to high earners and wealthy pensioners.

For Labour it is about fairness, closing inequality gaps and enabling people to live independently.

Budgets are about setting priorities. George Osborne has consistently made the wrong choices, not least by locking disability benefits into the Government's austerity agenda. Applying reductions to Capital Gains and Corporation Tax to the cost of disability benefits is not only despicable, but charts Labour's alternative narrative for fairness and fiscal credibility.

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