The attack on DLA is part of a wider assault on the disabled

by Julianne Marriott

23 people had left comments on Sally Bercow’s article about DLA by the time Uncut’s moderator went to bed last night. Far more than on any article on AV or even any of Dan Hodges’ controversial pronouncements. This is a real issue that will affect real people. Not other, far away people, but people sat right now at their computers (some using access technology) reading Uncut. People currently living with a disability, and the many more who will become disabled. And it’s an issue that Labour is totally ignoring.

Being disabled is an expensive business. Day in. Day out. Everyday tasks can cost money. Take the kinds of things that non-disabled people see as a minor chore: changing a light bulb, sorting out the junk mail from your bills and doing the shopping. Or, more fundamentally, getting dressed, washing yourself, feeding yourself. For many people with disabilities these are not tasks you can do without help. And often that help has to be paid for.

That’s what disability living allowance (DLA) is for: helping with the costs of being disabled. It certainly doesn’t meet all of the costs and, as Sally Bercow’s article states, it’s not means-tested, and you get it whether or not you work. There is no financial disincentive to work.

But the £1bn worth of attacks on DLA: deleting the lowest rate of the three care rates, reassessment for everyone (even when you have a condition that is not going to get better) taken with the u-turn on removing of the mobility component from people in care homes, are part of the wider landscape of attack on disabled people.

At the same time as disabled people’s independence is being eroded by losing DLA, councils across the UK will be passing on the government’s cuts. And the biggest losers will be disabled people. Services will be axed. The criteria for care and support are getting tougher, rehab workers are being made redundant and equipment is being withheld.

And other cost-saving measures will impact disabled people too. Not repairing pavements or turning off the streetlights will disproportionately impact wheelchair users and people with sight loss.

But one of the other big changes will affect people who are yet to become disabled. These are the changes to employment and support allowance (ESA). Even getting the benefit will become an impossible task for some due to changes to the assessment. And then, if you get it, it could be for just 12 months before it becomes means-tested. And that means you, if you’ve worked all your life, your partner is in work, you have been paying your taxes and saving a bit of money.

The assessment is a points-based system but with a new eligibility criteria. Which means some groups are written out of the assessment before they even start. For example, being able to navigate around a familiar environment is weighed far more heavily than getting about in an unfamiliar area. If, for example, a blind person is able to make their way to their nearest bus stop, post office and GP, they wouldn’t get enough points. Even though they wouldn’t be able to make an unfamiliar journey without assistance. And everyone at some point has to make an unfamiliar journey. Especially people in and looking for work.

It is widely accepted that being in work is good for you. The Tory mantra is “work must always pay”. But there are some people whose disability means they cannot work. And there are far more who cannot get work. Their choice of work is much more limited (if you’re blind, for example, you cannot drive for a living) because most employers cannot or will not employ you.

Try to imagine some of what might happen to you if you became disabled. Each person will have a different experience. There is the very individual emotional side that nobody could anticipate. The shock, anger, frustration and loss and likelihood of becoming depressed. The changed relationships with friends and family.

There are all the practicalities. You are likely to lose your job or your contracts, especially if you’ve been spending a lot of time at hospital appointments. You may not be able to live in your own home.  You will need rehabilitation whether it’s to learn to walk or gain strength, or how to make a cup of tea or dress yourself.

And then you have a race to get back into work within 12 months. It’s likely you will have to decide on another career. How many people can retrain in 12 months, let alone do it with a disability, at the same time as adjusting to that disability?

Perhaps some people can manage to do this. They have adjusted to their disability enough to be ready “work ready”. But someone has to give you a job. Someone who has an open mind and an open office, one without steps or other barriers. An admittedly outdated, but unlikely to be much changed, 2004 DWP report found that nine out of ten employers said blind and partially sighted people would be either “difficult” or “impossible” to employ.

Get a job. In 12 months? That’s what is impossible.

We cannot be surprised that this comes from a Tory-led government. But what we should be surprised about is Labour’s role. Or lack of role. Is it standing up for the rights of the most vulnerable people in our society? No. It is doing very little. Labour eventually decided to make a bit of fuss about people in care homes not receiving the mobility component. Quite right. It is an outrage. And it worked. The government is, as on many other issues when faced with real opposition, backing down.

Liam Byrne announced at an IPPR event last week that Labour would support a 24 month time limit for ESA. Very generous. Not only is it a contributory benefit but two years is still an arbitrary time limit. It does not reflect how long it actually takes people who have become disabled, which as Sally Bercow said, is not a lifesyle decision, to get back into work.

Labour needs to be seen to standing up for fairness. And there can be no better example than standing up for disabled people.

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2 Responses to “The attack on DLA is part of a wider assault on the disabled”

  1. Douglas says:

    Thank you for this article, and all other articles on the nasty cuts we sick/disabled people face. My claim will be up for renewal later this year and I am absolutely frightened of the future.

  2. mark Cooper says:

    Hi I’m Mark Cooper recently elected to be the Young Labour Disability Officer. Great article. I believe we as a party should go further than just standing up for disabled people on the issues surrounding benefits and promote disability issues as a whole for and be seen to be doing so. I spoke to a considerable number of disabled people in my role as a PPC at the last general election who all said all politicians care about is benefits and taking it away from me.

    As a disabled person I would like to see the party campaign on issues like disabled access to social spaces such as pubs. I started a campaign on that very issue which resulted in a change in the law in Scotland. see here The campaign was backed by the labour party. By campaigning on issues such as this we as a party will show how we can support people in their every day lives and to show that we know that there is more to being on benefits

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