With the Conservative ring-fencing of 40% plus of the welfare budget because it goes to a section of society which disproportionately votes Conservative (e.g. pensioners), it should come as no surprise to anyone that the forcing of all welfare cuts onto the remainder of recipients has hurt a lot of people.
Amongst those most badly effected are disabled people. Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (formerly known as incapacity benefit) has been time limited to one year. Disability Living Allowance is being replaced by Personal Independence Payments and will have been cut by 20% by 2015. Social care services are being cut by local councils as the money available from central government reduces. And many other services and forms of support have also been affected – such as the Independent Living Fund and the Social Fund.
Now each of these, on its own, doesn’t necessarily sound too bad. But, to use an analogy, if you take away a schoolchild’s textbook on its on then they could probably still learn from their teacher. Likewise if you were to take away their exercise book, or their desk, alone. But if you take away all of these together then the schoolchild would find it very hard to learn at all.
And this is the problem facing disabled people. If you’re disabled then you might need disability living allowance for transport so you can do things like go to the hairdresser or the social club and to get to your GP and hospital appointments. You might have a carer from social services to help you get dressed and washed each day because you can’t on your own. You might rely on housing benefit so you can afford to live somewhere close to family and friends who can help you with cooking meals when you can’t cope on your own.
Take away any of these on their own and you would struggle, but you could probably cope. Take away all of them together and you’ll end up hungry, isolated and trapped in your own home. And that is what I, and many others fear, is currently happening to vulnerable people who need support and don’t have anywhere to turn to.
When each of the cuts to services and support which disabled people use were made the government conducted impact assessments and, on the basis of these, parliament supported the cuts. But these assessments only looked at each cut in isolation. No one stopped to look at what the combined effect of them all would be.
That’s why I hope Lib Dem MPs will back the motion calling for a cumulative impact assessment of the impact of cuts on disabled people this Wednesday 10th of July at 4pm. This would enable us to properly understand the full combined impact of these changes and give us a better picture of what is happening.
It may be that the cumulative impact of these cuts on disabled people turns out to be something we’re happy with, or something that we can stomach at least. Or it could turn out to be something we consider absolutely unacceptable. But right now we don’t know one way or the other. That’s why we need a cumulative impact assessment – at least then we can look at the whole picture and come to a conclusion one way or another. But right now policy is being made with stabs in the dark. And that can never be wise.
* George Potter is the Secretary of Guildford Liberal Democrats, writing in a personal capacity.