By Megan Cleaver
"Too often when countries undertake major consolidation it is the poorest – those who had least to do with the cause of the economic misfortunes – who are hit hardest. Perhaps that has been a mistake that our country has made in the past. This Coalition government will be different".
These were the welcome words from George Osborne in his emergency Budget of 2010, setting out their clear intention to avoid the tag of the 'nasty party'.
However while I am yet to find anyone who puts the blame for the global financial crash at their door, disabled people seem to be paying the price for austerity. Instead of the government's welfare reforms enabling them to have a decent standard of living and empowering them to lead fulfilling independent lives, what we have seen in the past few years has been the continual erosion of support for disabled people, who are already disproportionately likely to live in poverty.
For example, over 600,000 disabled people who currently receive disability living allowance (DLA) – who face significant barriers and costs in their daily life – will now have this support withdrawn as they are deemed ineligible for the new personal independence payments (PIP).
Recent research conducted by Demos and the disability charity Scope, has revealed that over £28 billion will be taken out of disabled people's pockets by 2018. But more importantly the study also shows how cuts to a host of benefits including disability living allowance (DLA), employment and support allowance (ESA), housing benefit and the 'bedroom tax' are hitting the same group of disabled people over and over again.
For example over 25,000 people will be subject to the triple whammy of losing their ESA (through changes that time limit it), DLA (through PIP reform), and having their ESA uprating capped at one per cent (before they lose it), a loss worth up to £23,000 over the five years.
And this loss of income is only half the story for disabled people in this country. As result of cuts to local authority budgets, more and more disabled people are being denied the ability to even play a role in our society.
Over 100,000 disabled people who need support to wash, get dressed, leave the house, go to work- the essentials of a dignified life, are now being denied this most basic of support as a result of the squeezing of social care budgets.
Research by leading disability charities on the social care crisis has found that 34% of working aged disabled people said that local authority cuts to their social care has prevented them from working or volunteering.
As Emma from London puts it: "Not getting the support I need has meant my life is on hold. I have no routine, I feel socially isolated, lonely and of no value to society. I'm only 24 but I feel 84."
But while the government reiterated yet again this week that they are on the side of 'hard working people', when it comes to reforming disability benefits, they are distinctly out of kilter with public opinion.
The most recent British social attitudes survey has found that 80% of people believe the government should be responsible for ensuring that the long-term sick or disabled have enough to live on – much higher than the proportion of people who believe the government should ensure people have enough money to live on in retirement or if they are unemployed.
A politically savvy chancellor with a view to winning the Tories a clear majority at the next general election should perhaps take note of such findings.
Megan Cleaver is a parliamentary officer at Scope.
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