THE BLOG

The Bedroom Tax Will Lead to the Further Impoverishment of Vision Impaired People

17/04/2013 11:59 BST | Updated 16/06/2013 10:12 BST

Last weekend, hundreds of campaigners took to the streets to battle against the government's Bedroom Tax and benefit cuts. Activists from lobbying group UK Uncut covered the pavement outside the Highgate home of the minister for welfare reform Baron David Freud. They held aloft a banner that read "Who wants to evict a millionaire?"

At the same time, 20 disabled people staged a protest outside the country home of the government's work and pension secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Their actions reinforced what we know many are feeling in light of the changes to the welfare system - anger, fear and desperation.

There is a real dread among those who are being affected by the cuts, and it isn't difficult to understand why. The government is rushing ahead with these changes without putting in place the measures that are necessary to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

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A massive 420,000 disabled people will be hit by the Bedroom Tax - that's two thirds of the total number of people who will be affected by the reform. A prime concern to myself and my colleagues at the Royal London Society for Blind People, along with those who work in our sector, is the impact these cuts will have on the blind and partially sighted people that we serve.

Impact on vision impaired people

New research by national sight loss charity RNIB has revealed that 17,000 vision impaired people of working age look set to be displaced from their homes as a result of the Bedroom Tax. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, they will have to choose between relocating or losing a portion of their benefits (which will be on average £14 a week; a sizeable sum when you are already struggling to make ends meet).

The reforms could put a strain on the resources of local authorities, who will have to relocate people to new accommodation.

And as campaigners point out, the upheaval of moving home will require blind and partially sighted people into the situation where they have to relearn new routes so that they can safely navigate their homes and local area. This can be a long process and we know that some people can find it hard to form connections. Some fear they will be left living in isolation due to unfamiliarity with their new surroundings and having to move away from the local networks that are so often their lifeline.

The young people we work with are aspirational like any other young people. They want to enjoy being part of their local community and a wider part of society. The cuts are making it harder for them to do this.

The implementation of the bedroom tax, changes to the Disability Living Allowance and the privatisation of employment assessments all add up to one end - the further impoverishment of those who are already struggling.

Three quarters of blind and partially sighted people already live on or below the poverty line, primarily because they already find it difficult to gain employment. In fact 90% of those who lose their sight in youth will not work for more than six months in their lives and two thirds of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age are not in employment.

This additional loss of income resulting from the benefit reforms will prove to be a real blow for many people. It is clear that this situation is fast becoming an economic and social emergency and something needs to be done with haste.

Relief fund

But who will solve the problem arising today? Despite our pleas and protests, it is not going to be the government. They have decided to protect certain aid programmes while the lives of vision impaired and other disabled people become blighted by ever deepening poverty.

I'm now calling on the Mayor of London Boris Johnson to face up to the hardship these cuts are causing to the most vulnerable inhabitants of his city and do all he can to protect them. After all he has been elected on the basis that he would help all Londoners, not just the rich and the powerful.

It is time he use his position to establish a relief fund, backed by his office and the capital's big businesses, for those in need as a result of the cuts.

This fund will secure essential support and services for vision impaired and other young citizens of the capital. It will help to ensure that an entire generation of vulnerable young people are not sacrificed on the altar of financial austerity.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Should the commercial sector and the London mayor get involved? Let us know your thoughts.