Today the government will set out its plans to change disability living allowance, while Labour will set out the safeguards we’re determined to see put in place. Right now disabled people are being hit from all sides. On Monday ministers had to be summoned to the House of Commons to explain why they were shutting Remploy factories without any serious plan to get sacked workers into jobs. The Work Programme has proved a catastrophe for disabled people wanting work. It found jobs for just a thousand workers. Scope’s Richard Hawkes wasn’t wrong when he said: “These shocking figures indicate a system that is not working for disabled people.”
But there’s worse. The government’s new bedroom tax is threatening disabled people with big cuts in vital housing benefit. And a loophole in the law means a family caring for an adult child on DLA will be hit by the benefit cap. The government’s management of Atos is so inept that a quarter of Atos assessment centres don’t even have disability access. It’s enough to make you think this government cares very little for the livelihoods of our disabled neighbours.
That’s why we’ve got to be ultra-cautious about DLA reform, and it’s why we’ll absolutely insist vital safeguards are in place.
First, the government mustn’t take away DLA from anyone who will then be forced to give up a job. The government’s record of helping disabled people into work is frankly shocking. They mustn’t make a bad situation worse.
Second, the new test mustn’t push people into the NHS or social care system. Both are under unbearable pressure as it is. Last week the chairman of UK Statistics confirmed the NHS is facing a real cut in spending. And we know the social care system is being hammered by cuts in council spending.
Third, the reforms mustn’t have any knock-on effect to carers, who are already feeling the pressure. DLA helps disabled people to manage some of their own care needs; without this support, they could increasingly rely on family members. According to the Hardest Hit survey, three in 10 disabled people stated that without DLA their carer would not be able to work. Carers UK estimates that 10,000 people could lose carer’s allowance as a result of cuts to DLA. Without this vital care, disabled people could be forced to turn to overstretched social care services.
Unless the government guarantees these safeguards, disabled people will quite simply get pushed into poverty. We won’t stand by and watch that happen. Today half of households living in poverty are home to someone with a disability. We cannot let that one go.
One more thing. There must now be an assessment, in the round, of all the changes hitting disabled people: in the jargon of government, a cumulative impact assessment. Esther McVey, the disability minister, weakly said to the Commons that she wouldn’t order one because Labour never did one. How pathetic. Labour never inflicted the concerted attack we’re now seeing on disabled citizens. How on earth do we know whether taking 500,000 people off DLA won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for thousands and thousands of families? This has widespread public support. Pat Onion’s petition on the No 10 website, calling for the same idea, attracted more than 62,000 signatures with almost no publicity.
Labour supports the principle of a test for DLA. But the government’s way forward is going to cost £500m. For some families the cut will be the difference between a life of independence and a life of poverty. That’s not a price Britain should be prepared to pay.
By Liam Byrne
Courtesy of The Guardian