No one representing disabled people or families on benefits was expecting good news today – to that extent the chancellor met their expectations. The uprating of most working age benefits by 1% for the next three years, rather than by the rate of inflation, had been widely trailed.
That comes on top of major changes to benefits due next year, including changes to housing benefit and a freeze on child benefit and aspects of working tax credits.
The chief executive of the Children’s Society Matthew Reed believes today’s measures “will pile even more pressure on families already struggling to make ends meet.”
And the anti-poverty think-tank, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, claims that snipping away at the safety net “consigns the poorest to a decade of destitution.”
In his statement, the chancellor said he aimed to support the vulnerable – therefore carer and disability benefits, including the disability elements of tax credits, would be increased in line with inflation.
Interestingly, though, Employment and Support Allowance, which is the replacement for Incapacity Benefit, is one of those payments restricted to a 1% rise. It is only given to someone whose illness or disability affects their ability to work.
The disability charity Scope wants the government to strike a different tone when it comes to welfare.
Its head, Richard Hawkes, says “The vast majority of disabled people need support. They aren’t feckless, they aren’t work-shy and they aren’t scroungers.”
He welcomes the protection of some disability benefits, but believes people with disabilities are still being hit harder than most, with the triple whammy of cuts to benefits, cuts to services and a rising cost of living.
Certainly it is people with disabilities, the elderly and struggling families who tend to rely heavily on services that are provided by local authorities. Those services, which can take many forms from help with care at home to early intervention services, are already being squeezed.
There are no additional cuts for councils next year , but the 2% reduction in funding the year after is already being described as unsustainable by local authorities.
BBC By Alison Holt