One of the more concerning headlines from the 2016 budget was the announcement of the 4.4bn cuts to disability services and PIP (Personal Independence Payment) - or the attempt to pass it, as it has since been announced that the cuts may not go ahead following George Osbourne's recent comment defending his budget stating he may "rethink" the cuts.
Naturally the announcement caused an uproar in government and ultimately resulted in the resignation of the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith. It appears the public, including myself, is overwhelmingly against this decision so it begs the question, why would you make budget cuts to the most vulnerable in our society? And what effects would this have on the long-term mental and physical health of those affected? It's these effects I want to bring to your attention today - some of which have recently been scientifically backed - and the charities that work within our community to support individuals and families living with a disability.
And what makes me qualified to give my opinion on this?
My experience as a holiday co-ordinator for disabled and visually impaired people means I have seen first hand the positive long-term effects a break can can have on an individual and their families, by cutting budgets in this area it ultimately results in a deficit of funding and a severe lack of services readily available, leaving charities to pick up the shortfall of whom which are already feeling the strain.
In particular I want to draw attention to charities like Family Fund, the 3H Fund, The Calvert Trust and the Family Holiday Association that provide disabled people with funding to go on holidays, short breaks and experience one in a lifetime opportunities which all contribute to the mental and physical well being of those less able.
Disability Grants, a not-for-profit online resource for people who need access to funding, recently wrote that
"...many Government and Local Authority grants are under review and may be changed or withdrawn altogether", which will make "finding grants to pay for the ever increasing cost of disability even harder...".
This will put further strain on the charities and organisations that attempt to help and provide disabled people with experiences and services they otherwise could not have access to like the charities mentioned above. So I would ask, should the government be allowed to further limit the experiences of disabled people and their carers?
Psychology Today recently discussed the health benefits of taking holidays, highlighting their importance in reducing stress - they point out that
"...chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body's ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury"
"...stress can make you ill, impact your arteries, disrupt your sleep and even alter your genetic material. However holidays allow us to "break into the stress cycle" because "we gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines..."
I think we can all agree with these statements. Remember how much we all as individuals celebrate and look forward to a break in our 9-5 routines. You might even be counting the days now to your summer holiday.
Some research suggests an even greater importance - Scott McCabe, an academic from the University of Nottingham, has partnered with the Family Holiday Association (a charity that helps provide breaks for UK families struggling with issues such as disability, severe and sudden illness, mental health issues and domestic violence) to study the benefits of social tourism. McCabe's research has lead him to suggest that the health and psychological benefits of holidays are so great that families should be given financial assistance if they are unable to afford holidays on their own.
This becomes even more relevant when you consider numerous studies point to higher levels of stress amongst disabled people and the parents of disabled children. A recent investigation by The Independent also suggested the government's reforms to disability benefits are "causing a huge amount of stress and anxiety" to thousands of vulnerable and disabled people.
In addition to reducing stress, holidays can be particularly beneficial for people with disabilities as they offer opportunities and independence some thought they would never experience. This can have a lasting impact that should not be understated.
On the Disability Grants website, one user writes about how a trip to Disneyland Paris, their last family holiday "years ago", helped her son who has autism:
"Our last family holiday was when the children were young and we went to Disneyland Paris during term time and the change in my autistic son was huge. He started using words and queueing for short periods."
These are not simply holidays and brief opportunities to have fun and relax, but experiences that can truly help improve a entire families quality of life, and in some cases can have a positive effect on disabilities.
This is something I know well from my work at Seable. Giving people the opportunity to experience something they previously thought to be out of their reach can do wonders for self-confidence as many of our Seable Holiday reviews show. Stephen Campbell, who lives with a visual impairment, went on one of our Sicily holidays and had this to say about his experience:
"Has Seable helped me achieve well-being? I believe it has as I've now been put into a new sport that I now love, and I know that will help me increase my confidence and help me meet new people.
Even though I am blind, they've enabled me to either do more or the same amount of things as a sighted person does."
Seable also sometimes works with charities and groups to help organise residential and international trips for groups of disabled, blind and visually impaired holidaymakers. One of our previous trips was with VICTA, a charity that works with blind and partially sighted children. The testimonials from the children, include comments such as "the activities were things I thought I could never do", or the trip gave them "an opportunity where I could be myself" and "get to know other young visually impaired people", show just how important these experiences can be for confidence in important formative years.
So with the evidence suggesting that a cut to benefits will be at the detriment of the mental and physical health of the most vulnerable in our society, I ask you, can we really afford to hinder the chances of new experiences paid for by benefits like PIP? And isn't it time for the government to realise what an amazing job our charities do for the livelihood of disabled people?