Ever since the Conservatives announced £12 billion of intended cuts to welfare there has been speculation and anxiety amongst people affected by multiple sclerosis as to how it would impact their lives. Many people are still dealing with the impact of the last round of cuts and reforms to disability benefits that created financial hardship and uncertainty.
There were rumours that the new Government intended to tax disability benefits, so many people with MS will be relieved to see that this didn't come to pass in the Budget.
However, Chancellor George Osborne did deal a new blow for disabled jobseekers as he announced that in the future, people with disabilities who struggle to work will get almost £30 less a week.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who are part of the Work Related Activities Group (WRAG) will get the same rate as those on standard Job Seeker's Allowance from April 2017.
This decision ignores the reality of living with a disability and the barriers this presents to getting work, as well as the additional costs faced by people affected by MS. A study by Scope found that it costs on average an extra £200 a week to live with a neurological condition.
The MS community has also been waiting to hear what is planned to alleviate the problems they face within the NHS and what will be done to address the black hole in social care funding.
Osborne confirmed the long promised £8 billion of additional funding for the NHS would be provided by 2020. Whilst this is a welcome pledge, it is still only the absolute minimum of funding that the service needs to keep up with future demand. It will also be accompanied by efficiency savings of £22 billion.
Many services for people affected by MS are already overstretched - efforts to find efficiencies could put further pressure on these services. Access to specialists and information is crucial to people with MS to receive the right treatment at the right time. Services in the UK are already lagging behind; for every neurologist in the UK, Germany and Spain have six and Italy has eight. Further cuts to services will mean people with MS will not get the support and treatment they need.
Crucially, we saw no pledge from Government to address the gap in social care funding. We have long been calling on the Government to invest in the social care system as a whole in order to plug the £4.6billion black hole as identified by the LGA and ADASS. However, the issue seems to have disappeared off the political agenda, whilst the system moves closer to breaking point.
Overall, the budget will not inspire a great deal of hope. The benefits system is still facing challenges and this further reform will bring more difficulty for disabled people who find themselves struggling to work. The NHS will continue to be overstretched and social care underfunded. The MS Society will continue to campaign to ensure that the system works for people with disabilities.