THE BLOG

Disability in 2013: Fight the Cuts or Build on the Paralympics?

02/04/2013 22:52 BST | Updated 02/06/2013 10:12 BST

A national newspaper is asking what the future holds for disabled people.

Six months ago it was easy. In the after-glow of the Paralympics it was possible to map out a future where, as Lord Coe said, we would 'never look at disability in the same way'.

The Paralympics were a break-through moment - disability had never been so visible, so talked about.

Disabled people tell us that this is how you start changing attitudes. But you don't change attitudes in a fortnight, and it appeared the task for 2013 was clear: to build on this momentum.

But the highs of the Paralympics have been undermined by menacing rhetoric about welfare dependency and a growing divide between those considered deserving and undeserving of state help.

And this year any positivity is danger of being completely washed away under a crushing tide of cuts to financial assistance and a rationing of local support. In 2013 disabled people are telling us they're going to find it harder than ever to pay the bills and be part of the community.

Times are tough for everyone. But if you are disabled or have a disabled child in the family, the double-whammy of spiralling living costs and cuts to local support is felt more keenly. We know disabled people are turning to loans to pay for essentials such as food and heating.

The government appears to be unmoved, and will this year usher in a host of cuts to the financial support disabled people rely to cover the extra costs of living with disability.

We're only now starting to understand the impact of these changes.

Together with Demos, we've looked at cuts to thirteen different benefits that we know disabled people rely on.

The research showed that by 2018, disabled people are set to lose an astonishing £28.3billion worth of financial support. These changes are going to affect up to 3.7million disabled people in total, with some people being hit by six different cuts at once from 1 April.

For many disabled people welfare is not a temporary safety net, it is essential for everyday life. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) helps disabled people with the significant extra costs of disability. For many of our Paralympians, DLA was what enabled them to get out of the house and into sport in the first place, yet from April more than half a million disabled people will lose their entitlement.

But this is bigger than welfare.

The practical, basic support that disabled people receive from councils to get up, get washed, get dressed and go out is being rationed as councils grapple with a £1.2billion black hole in their finances.

There is a real danger we make it impossible for disabled people to be part of the community. The Paralympics effect was about making disabled people more visible. The crisis in social care for disabled people - to mis-use Lord Coe's quote - could mean we simply never see disabled people again.

It's time for a wider discussion about the Britain we want to create, about the future for disabled people.

Do we want a society where the growing population of disabled and older people can contribute as full and active citizens? Or one where we leave disabled people to shoulder the extra costs of living their life in an inaccessible world ; where we deny them choices that we take for granted, such as deciding to have a shower, get dressed or make a meal and do nothing about the obstacles they face getting a job, seeing friends and family and simply being themselves?

I think most people would agree that our treatment of disabled and older people is a litmus test of a progressive and successful society. At the moment we look on course to fail this test.

So what needs to change?

It means fresh new thinking on the role of welfare, it means taking action to plug the social care funding gap, and insisting on new, accessible infrastructure that will mean many existing, and many more future, citizens will be able to live independently and make a full contribution. It means closing the employment gap by re-thinking the way we support disabled and older people in work.

But we also need to realise these ambitions cannot be achieved with creative policy making alone. It means spending money. It feels like political-heresy to say it. But, that's what the future of disabled people in this country rests on. As the Comprehensive Spending Review looms politicians would do well to remember this.