Michelle Daley did a presentation (with Eleanor Lisney who was not able to be there) at the London LGBTQ Learning Network event: Inclusion.
Here is her presentation:
Thank you for inviting Sister of Frida to speak at your London LGBTQ Learning Network event: Inclusion. We have been asked to present on the ‘impact of the welfare reforms particularly to disabled people’.
We want to begin by asking you what the word ‘reform’ means as we believe it will help to further our discussion. Reform simply means to change – with hope for the better. When in fact the Coalition Government has wrongly used the word ‘reforms’ as a disguise to mask their intended meaning to ‘cut’.
This is one of the biggest Welfare Reforms cut to take place since its inception in 1940’s after the Second World War. Before we continue we want to provide some context to the discussion by looking at how the Welfare System came into existence and purpose to its citizens.
It was The Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, known commonly as the 1942 Beveridge Report which has been heralded as an influential document. The recommendations from the report helped to shape and establish the Welfare system for the state to provide a comprehensive system covering every citizen regardless of income from cradle-to-grave. However over the years various Governments have made great promises before electorate over the Welfare system without delivering on their promises. The Coalition Government is a clear example as before coming into power they did not assert their intention to impose cuts. After coming into power they have withdrawn support in such a way that discriminates against the most disadvantage groups of people in society, the very people they should be protecting. These Welfare reforms are a far cry from the comprehensive system outlined in the 1942 Beveridge Report. To the contrary, we have a Government where the political process that is opposed to respecting the need for a universal Welfare system and thus has dismissed the recommendations identified in the 1942 Beveridge Report.
The government has said they want to cut public spending by £63.4 billion by 2015.
So what changes have been made and how will the disabled people be affected by them?
The Guardian online on Wednesday, 27th of March 2013 reported that “thousands of disabled people will be hit by up to six different welfare cuts, with the very worst off potentially losing up to £23,000 each over five years”. And as a result of the Welfare Cuts they estimate that by “2017-18 about 3.7 million disabled people will collectively lose £28bn as a result of the reforms. Individuals will be hit by one of seven combinations of welfare cuts and small numbers could lose more than £20,000 each.” (Patrick Butler et al, 2013, np).
We are already seeing Councils cutting vital services for disabled people such as drop-in centres, transport and advice centres are also being targeted by these cuts. Another subject included the Independent Living Fund (ILF) which was withdrawn it is now local authorities responsibility for supporting ILF users.
We looked at the Channel 4 News online website (Channel 4 News, 2013) to show the list of benefit changes and the effects of the welfare reforms. The benefit changes listed are:
- Since January 2013 Child Benefit was withdrawn from families where someone in a household has an income of more than £50,000.
Now in April 2013 we will experience:
- Council Tax Benefit being replaced by “localised support” through local councils. The change aims to reduce the annual Council Tax Benefit bill by 10 percent.
- Disability Living Allowance is to be replaced by the personal independence payment (PIP). PIP will involve the introduction of “objective assessments” to decide on the eligibility criteria. The government hopes PIP will reduce expenditure by 20 percent by 2017.
- Housing Benefit will be reduced for people living in social sector housing who have a spare room. Tenants must either downsize to smaller accommodation or make up the difference in their rent.
- by 14 per cent if they under-occupy by one bedroom
- by 25 per cent if they under-occupy by two or more bedrooms
- Crisis loans, which are given when waiting for benefit claims to be processed, are to be replaced by “payment on account” Other crisis loans/community care grants have been abolished.
- Tax Credits, when finalising tax credits, the threshold for deciphering the level to which a person’s income can increase by, has decreased by 50 percent from £10,000 £5,000
- Benefit Cap will limit benefits to:
- £350 per week for a single adult with no children
- £500 per week for a couple or lone parent, regardless of the number of children they have. (Both of these benefit caps will include housing and council tax benefit, and will require the individual/family to pay their landlord the housing benefit directly).
The launch of Universal Credit will be piloted within certain areas within North West of England. The Universal Credit will go live across the rest of the country later this year.
The Coalition Government instigated further changes to the National Health Services (NHS) as part of the austerity measures. Most of the NHS’s budget will be managed by Clinical Commissioning Groups they will have the responsibility to decide how to spend funds on local health services. One of the worries we have with local services managing budgets in this way it will result in inequalities and unfair practices and costly patients being turned away as we already see postcode lottery of treatment in the NHS.
A report produced by Dr Simon Duffy (2013) of The Centre for Welfare Reform on behalf of the Campaign for a Fair Society looked at how the cuts target disabled people. It found that disabled people are 9 times more likely to be burdened with poverty compared to the rest of the population. He also says that those with severe impairments are 19 times more likely to be burdened with poverty.
The very intention of the Welfare system was to provide citizens with a comprehensive system for everyone. For many disabled people the changes in our lives have been brought about through the improvements of the welfare state especially when we compare it to the Poor Law. The Fair Society report (Dr Simon Duffy, 2013) states “social care ensures people can carry on as independent and contributing citizens” (p.26) and points out how Social Care can prevent:
- Social isolation, abuse, exclusion and the inability of individuals to fully contribute to society.
- Reduces hospital admissions and the length of stay in hospital.
- Institutionalisation, including the use of private institutions like Winterbourne View.
- Family breakdowns, prison costs and abuse.
Source: The Fair Society report (Dr Simon Duffy, 2013).
The Government would like us to believe that there is a shift in power and that control has been given to disabled people to choose how their needs will be met. However the reality is that cuts have severely reduced disabled peoples’ choice and control to achieve real independence. The Government may use the rhetoric but their political processes and practices are at odds and often fail disabled people.
We would like to share two cases with you just to illustrate the effects of these cuts on disabled people already. Case A is of an individual that was in receipt of 22 hours of social care paid in the form of a Direct Payments. Following a review it was withdrawn and the individual was told that their needs could be met through equipment. In Case B the individual was in receipt of a 24 hour support package. They employed a team of personal assistants and again following a review it was felt that their needs were too costly and alternative ways had to be looked at to reduce that package, this included placing them in a residential home. What you will find with these two cases is that the individual’s needs had not improved or changed in any way but the criteria’s have become more rigid making it more difficult for people to access services.
As we have just shown welfare cuts are implemented to segregate many disabled people in a way which is disgraceful, not only making them dependent and unproductive but also subjecting them to scrutiny and horrendous conditions. Many disabled people will not be able to meet their basic human needs and are forced to make tough decisions such as whether to heat their home or go without food. And for many disabled people having to compromise in this way has the ongoing potential to result in serious health problems.
Various reports have shown that there have been an increase in food banks but for many disabled people however they are not able to access these vital services for various reasons. Such food does not always meet dietary needs and there is often a lack of personal assistant support to enable them to access these services and/or places.
For a vast majority of people these cuts and changes are happening too fast and sudden. On Saturday, 6th of April 2013 Aljazeera News reported that the Coalition Government claim the Welfare Reforms are “just getting back to basics and those that can work should work and that a life on benefits most not be an attractive option…” Speaking in the same report George Osborne the Chancellor of the Exchequer said “the benefit system is broke… and the British people badly want it fixed and we agree and those who don’t are on the wrong side of the British Public”. In fact people and organisations have joined to criticise against the Governments plans but they have continued to ignore the outcry by the people about the harm and damage of these cuts most notably the Churches have spoken out against the Governments Welfare Reforms describing them as “unjust”. As we mentioned earlier the government have not implemented reforms they are cuts, they are immoral, unethical and inhumane, hitting the already struggling people that are trying to “make ends meet”. This is not a Welfare Reform for the better as the Government would like the people to believe, it’s about cuts. These cuts are disproportionately unfair to disabled people and other disadvantaged groups in our society and will further exclude groups from the mainstream of society. With these cuts we are most likely to see an increase in disabled people moving from their homes into segregated institutions and with the increase in mortality and homelessness, there will be a dependency on charities, handouts and/or the goodwill of others. The Fair Society report (Dr Simon Duffy, 2013) states that “poverty will deepen for many, and overall income inequality will increase” (p.31). Also that there will be a “lack of care and support for people with moderate needs which will increase the number of crisis and the cost of support for the smaller number of people eligible for support” (p.31).
The practices of these cuts resemble that of the Poor Law whereby people that needed assistance from the state had to go into a workhouse to get it. Today we may not have Workhouses but the rules and conditions, of the reforms mirrors the practices of the Poor Law. Like with the Welfare Reforms its aim is to reduce the Government’s expenditure. This was the exact intention of the Poor Law to reduce spending on Poor people. Clearly this failed to solve the state problems!
History has taught society that by reducing the income of disabled people and other disadvantage groups will create further problems and will not solve the current economic crisis.
It is not acceptable that austerity measures are targeted at disabled people, disadvantaged groups and vital services which these groups depend upon, in order to solve the States problems. And for many disabled people to have any kind of opportunity, justice and rights, it is the responsibility of the State to recognise and acknowledge a Welfare System as a human right for everyone as it was originally intended – from cradle-to-grave!
- Dr Simon Duffy (2013) A fair society? How the cuts target disabled people. The Centre for Welfare Reform, London