One year on from the Paralympics, the event’s legacy “hangs in the balance” as attitudes towards disabled people fail to improve, charities have warned. Disability charity Scope called the Games’ success a “breakthrough moment”.
But 81% of disabled people questioned in a new poll say attitudes have not improved.
Scope also said disabled people were suffering due to cuts, but the government said it was improving benefits and increasing spending.
Scope’s chairman Alice Maynard said the drive to change attitudes was at the heart of the Games’ legacy.
At its closing ceremony in September 2012, International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven said: “These Games have changed us forever”.
But Ms Maynard said “the jury is very much out” on whether disabled people’s lives have improved since the Games.
As well as many disabled people feeling attitudes towards them had not improved, 22% of the 1,014 people surveyed by Opinium for Scope said they had actually got worse.
Ms Maynard said any progress was being undermined by a “crisis in living standards” among disabled people, and the “divisive myth that most people on benefits are skivers”.
“If the government wants to make its legacy ambitions a reality – and make this country a better place for disabled people – it needs to tackle the crisis in social care, re-think its cuts to vital financial support and call a halt to benefits scrounger rhetoric,” she said.
Scope said the government had “stripped away £28.3bn of financial support for disabled people” and said 600,000 were set to lose Disability Living Allowance and a further 100,000 were being “pushed out of the social are system”, meaning they will no longer get day-to-day help.
The charity argues that current living standards, with many people turning to high-interest loans to pay for essentials, undermines involvement in sport and the community – a key part of the Games’ planned legacy.
“If you don’t have the support you need to get up, get washed and get out of the house; if you’re struggling to pay the bills – it’s a big ask to join a tennis club,” Ms Maynard said.
Ian Macrae, editor of Disability Now, said the Paralympics had created a “bubble of hyper reality” for disabled people and real life “was never going to be like that again”.
He added: “So now here we are with people under threat of losing their social housing homes, others left stranded on a work programme which doesn’t work for them, people dreading the all-too-real eventuality of losing a disability benefit.”
But gold medal winning Paralympian Richard Whitehead MBE said: “The 2012 Paralympics sent a powerful message that a disability shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals.
“We hopefully inspired disabled people. We hopefully made the public think differently about disability. For me it’s not about looking back. We need to look forward.”
Clare Pelham, chief executive of the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “We need every day inclusion and good behaviour, not just Olympic and Paralympic inclusion.”
A separate survey by the charity found that nearly a third of disabled people face intimidation or abuse due to their disability.
The survey of 1,014 disabled people also found that nearly 10% had been victims of crime in the last year.
Paralympic sprinter Ben Rushgrove, who won a bronze medal, said he felt attitudes to disabled people had improved since the Games, but he said it was “worrying” that disabled people continued to experience hostile behaviour.
The Department for Work and Pensions said the UK was a “world leader” in supporting disabled people, spending £50bn a year on disabled people and their services.
A spokeswoman said the Paralympics had “undoubtedly helped shift attitudes”, and the government was continuing work to improve the way disabled people are seen and treated.
On the benefit changes, she said the Personal Independence Payment, which is replacing the “outdated” Disability Living Allowance, would “better reflect today’s understanding of disability”.
The spokeswoman said overall spending in this area would increase from £12.5bn in 2009-10 to £13.8bn in 2015-16, and added that the number of people losing benefits would be 450,000 by 2018. The figure of 600,000 used by Scope included “notional losers who never get on the benefit in the first place”, she added.
She went on: “We very consciously do not use the language of ‘scroungers’ and ‘workshy’ as it’s clear that the system itself has trapped many people in a spiral of welfare dependency.
“That’s why this government is making such a radical overhaul of the benefits system to ensure that everyone who needs help and support receives it.”