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Briefing for MPs for Opposition Day Debate

Authors: Pat's Petition

Pat’s Petition started late 2011 as a team of 7 women from across the UK. We are now 6 after the death of one of our team. At that time we had never met face to face but our paths crossed using the internet. We had grave concerns about how some of the Coalition’s policies were falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families.

Over 62,000 people signed Pat's Petition and the WOW Petition currently stands at almost 49,000 signatories. These people will be pleased to hear the announcement of the debate, to be held on Wednesday July 10th 2013, titled 'The Effect of Government Policies on Disabled People'.

There are many changes to policy that need to be examined in this debate and the list is far too long for everything to get a complete consideration.

Issues that Pat's Petition would particularly like raised in the debate include:

Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA)

Pat's Petition, and many others, have continually asked for a Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) to study all the changes in policy that have a disproportionate impact on disabled people and carers. The government has always refused on the grounds that this is too difficult. At Pat's Petition we believe it is irresponsible to conduct any enormous experiment without attempting to predict or measure the effects. It wouldn't be allowed in any kind of building project, so why is it acceptable to experiment on disabled people without checking for safety? The kind of CIA that we are asking for is not simply the cumulative effect on government budgets. We look at the changes through the other end of the telescope and we want the cumulative effect on individual disabled people to be predicted and measured.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

This was one of the first Welfare Reforms to be introduced so the effects are now becoming clear on the ground. We would draw attention to the recent results for the Work Programme - "ESA claimants: providers averaged 5.3% against contracted levels of 16.5%"

We would like speakers in the debate to ask the government why, when so few disabled people who have been transferred from Incapacity Benefit to ESA have found work or indeed were ever expected to find work, the government are means testing this benefit so that 40% of people will lose their ESA after one year. If the intention was always effectively to turn Incapacity Benefit into a means tested benefit, disguised by one year’s grace in the WRAG, why was this not stated clearly as the aim?

Is it fair to means test this income which gives disabled people independence and security. Why is the means test set at such low levels when the means test for child tax credit is set so much higher? Disabled people lose ESA if their partner (who may also be a carer) earns as little as £7500. Disabled people lose ESA if they have meagre savings. Is it fair to make them use up these savings when they may be facing a diagnosis that means that they have a very small chance of ever replacing these savings?

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

By 2018, about 600,000 fewer people will be eligible for PIP. PIP is driven by the desire to save money. Targeting support on those with the greatest needs sounds good but if those with lesser needs no longer receive the support they need, their needs are likely to escalate. Many people's needs won't be properly accounted for in the restricted set of activities and descriptors under PIP. This includes people who need constant supervision and people whose impairments result in high equipment costs but who don't happen to have much difficulty with the specific PIP activities. For many sick or disabled people DLA has become the only benefit they can rely on, due to the problems getting ESA, and others have to use their DLA to make up the shortfall on their rent. So losing their entitlement under PIP will be disastrous.

Mobility Needs under PIP

People with significant mobility impairments may lose their enhanced rate mobility component because they can reliably walk more than 20 metres but less than 50 metres. 20 metres is too short a distance to do anything useful. Around half a million people with physical difficulties getting around will lose their entitlement to the enhanced mobility component (and therefore Motability). If people lose their independent mobility - whether their Motability car, wheelchair or scooter, or money for taxis etc - they are likely to experience greater isolation and be unable to get to work, get their children to school, get to the doctor's or hospital, go shopping, socialise etc. Their well-being will be compromised, their physical and mental health will deteriorate and they will need more support in the long run.

Social Care 

Investment in social care promotes good health and in many cases independence. Cuts to local authority budgets and the tightening of care criteria will mean that many disabled people will lose some or all of their social care. Coupled with the on going reform of the benefit system this will result in many disabled people reaching crisis stage sooner. This will place added stress on the lives of family carers too. We need urgent action to protect Social Care.

Mental Health

Another alarming recent result is that the suicide rate for people with mental health conditions is increasing at a time when it is falling for the rest of the population. Baroness Molly Meacher always argued in the House of Lords that trying to modify behaviour under ESA by threats and sanctions was dangerous for people with mental health conditions where failure to comply may always be due to the illness.

When people are discharged from hospital after an acute episode of mental illness they may move to extremely expensive supported accommodation. The aim is for them to move on to independent living, which saves money. Without secure financial support and peace of mind this isn’t possible and undermining financial support not only causes enormous distress but is a false economy if it destabilises people and sends them back through the ‘revolving door’. We would also like to emphasise the impact of all these changes on the mental health and well being for all disabled people and their carers. We ask what impact assessment has been taken so that appropriate mental health services, including crisis services, can be provided for these increased needs.

Bedroom Tax

It is estimated by the National Housing Federation that two thirds of the people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled people and disabled people have no exemption from this new tax (Disability Rights UK)

Carers

Carers are not some optional extra to be added on as an afterthought. Our society would not function without the care currently provided by unpaid carers. By not improving their lives there are ripple effects throughout Social Services and the NHS. Precious few people receive the actual support they need and so many carers are just not receiving vital services and support. 

The current welfare reforms failed to address the issue of Carers Allowance, the lowest of all benefits. Also because Middle and Higher rate DLA are both also passport benefits to enable family members to claim Carers Allowance, removing or reducing DLA will not only have an enormous financial impact on disabled people it will also impact on their carers – a double blow which will especially hit hard those families on the poverty line.

Please look at the reality of what these cuts and reforms are actually doing to them. (The State of Caring 2013 from CarersUK)

Independent Living Fund

Thousands of disabled people rely on funding from the Independent Living Fund to enable them to live independently with choice and control over their lives. ILF users have been left shocked and extremely anxious since it was announced in 2012 that it would be closed down by government in 2015. Already closed to new applicants since May 2010 this decision was taken with no evidence of an equality impact assessment having taken place nor any consultation carried out with current and potential beneficiaries of the fund. (DPAC)

We are all in this together

These are hard times and everyone has problems with housing, employment and cost of living. The government are keen to stress that we are all in this together. Pat’s Petition would like MPs to make the point that disabled people are not in this together. Very often they have far less options than fit people when times get difficult and they need consideration and support.

Cumulative Effect of all these Changes

There is a long list of changes taking place at the same time, each one impacting disproportionately on disabled people and carers. NHS redesign, Welfare Reform, Local Authority budgets, Legal Aid - these are all key services on which disabled people depend. We understand that there have to be changes to fit with the new austerity, but we urge MPs to emphasise that there must be some caution when all changes impact so heavily on one group of people.

It is unfair and unrealistic that all these services have been targeted for reform at the same time without any regard for the cumulative impact on disabled people. The government are introducing these changes and it is the government’s responsibility to provide impact assessment on individuals, monitoring and safety measures.

This debate could be the first step in making this happen.

Please vote to support the motion:

That this House believes that the Government should publish a cumulative impact assessment of the changes made by this Government that affect disabled people (to be published by October 2013).

Pat’s Petition team would like to thank the Opposition for holding this debate – and we would urge all MPs to support us in this debate.


The publisher is Pat's Petition.

Briefing for MPs for Opposition Debate © Pat's Petition 2013.

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