We know that it costs more to live in our society if you're disabled but all too often the most vulnerable people are the ones hit hardest by the Government's spending cuts.
Disabled people are already struggling to make ends meet and are twice as likely to be living in poverty as non-disabled people. Yet at a time when living costs are spiralling for each and every one of us, we've seen drastic reductions to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and the expectation of cuts to Personal Independence Payment (PIP). We've seen cut backs in social care and speculation that responsibility for Attendance Allowance will be devolved to local councils, in a move that could see older disabled people face a post code lottery for support to remain in their own homes.
The reality is that rather than increasing life chances for disabled people, the Government is currently cutting the financial life lines that are designed to help them meet the extra costs they face.
Welfare benefits and social care are critical in supporting disabled people to live as active members of the community and short term savings are being favoured over the dignity and independence of up to 600,000 people with disabilities across the country.
At Sense, we are very worried about the justifications for these cuts and the long-term impact this will have on those people with sensory impairments and other disabilities.
As part of its justification for consulting on PIP, the Government says it wants to focus on supporting those with the 'greatest need', but this is a deviation from the original intention of this benefit, which exists to meet the extra costs of disability. How can 'greatest need' be used as a suitable proxy of financial costs? By refocusing on people's impairments, rather than on the cost implications of their disability, there is a real risk of disabled people being unable to afford to pay for the services and support that allows them to live an independent life.
PIP funding is supposed to recognise that daily life costs more if you're disabled, such as increased electricity bills as a result of needing to run medical equipment. ESA exists to help disabled people who are looking for work cover the extra costs of job seeking, such as needing to pay for assistance to get to an interview. Attendance Allowance is there to prevent older disabled people from being forced into residential care by helping them to afford the support they need to stay in their homes, such as a daily cleaner.
When these essential benefits are not protected, those who can least afford it are squeezed to cover costs they have no choice in.
We know that inadequate social care has a knock-on effect and often leads to additional health problems and demands on other services, such as the NHS, at a significant cost. Yet the people who are most likely to lose out from these cuts, are the very same group of people who are most likely to struggle to access a whole range of support and services.
Many disabled people will now struggle to access meaningful social care support until their condition has deteriorated drastically. At this point, it goes without saying that it will be more complicated and expensive to support an individual, potentially cancelling out any savings that have been made through cutting preventative welfare benefits.
It seems that the justifications for these reforms are driven more by a desire to make short-term savings than to implement effective long-term solutions that address the need for increased life chances for disabled people. Quick savings are trumping preventative measures, when we should be talking about the restrictions to independence and participation that disabled people face and non-disabled people take for granted.
The Government has started to redraw and redefine the boundaries between the deserving and undeserving. Worryingly, many disabled people are increasingly incorporated into the ranks of the latter. We are in danger of classifying those who need support as second class citizens and that's why the debate is not just about cutting benefits, it is about eroding people's independence, dignity and their place in society.
The Chancellor needs to seriously consider the impact of these recent changes to disability welfare. There is no room for further cuts and it is time for the Government to address how we can reduce barriers not benefits and increase chances for disabled people.