Liberal Democrat MPs fight for blind people hit by welfare changes

The Independent reports that Liberal Democrat MPs are trying to change the new assessment process for the Personal Independence Payments  which will replace Disability Living Allowance. They believe that they may lead to blind people being denied the help that they need. This is a measure introduced by the Welfare Reform Act. The MPs are concerned that the new assessment process focuses on mobility  and does not sufficiently take into account the ways in which being blind or partially sighted can affect everyday life.

People who have sight loss need the extra help to, for example, help with cleaning, ironing or transport costs. They often need to pay for transport. If the place where they live has no buses after 6pm, then they may well have to rely on taxis in order to be able to enjoy a reasonable quality of life or to get to and from work at unsocial hours.  The money they currently receive under DLA is a lifeline.

The Independent article is written in the terms of rebellion and U-turns. However, if you look at the details, it seems to me like the sort of businesslike advocacy we would expect from our MPs. They can see that there is a problem and they are contacting the minister responsible and asking him to look again at this before the system is implemented next April. There is time to change it.

Especially interesting is that it’s not just the “Awkward Squad” who are involved. The concerned MPs range from Jo Swinson, Nick Clegg’s PPS, to Jenny Willott in the Whip’s Office to the usual suspects like Bob Russell and Mike Hancock.

The Parliamentary Party appears to be united in its desire to have this issue sorted. For blind and partially sighted people across the whole country, it’s very important that they succeed.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Excuse me but the LIb Dems VOTED for the welfare reforms despite being told what would result. Remember the Lib Dems on the front bench baying with the Tories. Disability groups have been saying for a long time exactly what was going to happen. Starting to realise what you have done? Too late. Not only blind people are being adversely affected by your actions but many sick and disabled people will soon be in poverty.

  • It does make me sick to see rank hypocrisy such as this.

    As the poster above has pointed out, Liberal Democrat MP’s and Peers voted for these welfare reform changes.

    Now, when reality bites and we start to see who is going to actually be effected by these changes, including the Blind, War Wounded, Limbless, and those with mental health issues . liberal democrats want to say they are opposed to these policies.

    What an absolute farce.

    You voted and are implementing these policies. And you will be judged and punished by the electorate for it come next election, whenever that may be.

    Sooner the Better

  • Richard Dean 16th May '12 - 1:37pm

    This is not hypocrisy. It is humanity. It is humanity because it is human to assist blind people. It is humanity because people make mistakes, And it is humanity because right-thinking people correct mistakes once they are found.

  • John Richardson 16th May '12 - 1:49pm

    It’s also not hypocrisy because Liberal Democrats have not actually voted for these criteria. They are still in draft and subject to change. It says so right at the top: “The regulations remain a working draft and amendments will be made at a later stage. All regulations, when finalised, will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny in the normal way.”. The DWP have proposed them and now Lib Dem parliamentarians (amongst others) are working to improve them.

  • Perhaps if some decent per-legislative scrutiny had been carried out, or those who were shouting their concerns from the rooftops had been listened to, this problem would not have arisen. As to whether this is hypocrisy or not, that will depend on whether the MP’s concerned admit they have made mistakes, apologise and try to make up for them, or try to make out no mistake was made.

    If the former I applaud their integrity and wish them well. Although when the other impacts of welfare changes, many so ably highlighted on this site (George Potter’s contributions come to mind), come to light they may be very busy seeking further changes. I have said before on this site that the impact of the changes to Welfare and those of the NHS Bill will prove to be electoral problems long after the Tuition fees scandal has died in memory….

  • Simon Bamonte 16th May '12 - 4:46pm

    Disability charities and campaigners warned us this would happen when the WRB was passed. It isn’t just the blind this will seriously affect. Injured servicemen could lose their support. Seriously mentally ill people could lose their support as well. Cancer patients are already losing their support up and down the country. It’s already happening with the ESA assessments, where people with terminal illnesses are being found “fit for work” by the inhumane, tick-box, medically dubious assessments ATOS carries out (and makes a tidy profit on).

    Sadly, we were warned, but very few people listened. We were told these reforms had to go through for the good of the coalition. Those who warned about these drastic reforms were often accused of being disloyal or even called “Labour trolls”. George Potter fought tirelessly for the rights of the sick/disabled. Our party passed a motion at conference condemning these reforms. Yet our MPs and peers ignored this & voted them through.

    We will be blamed for every sick person denied vital support, for every blind person told to “get a job” and every injured soldier who loses their benefits. Many of us did indeed warn this would happen and we were ignored and insulted.

    Why didn’t anybody listen in the first place?

  • @Simon Bamonte
    ‘Why didn’t anybody listen in the first place?’
    I have this horrible feeling that it was something to do with self advancement and Career Politician Disease.

  • Where have we heard this before?

    The Tories propose some heinous cuts to the most vulnerable people in our society, the weak, the sick and disabled. A few Liberal Democrat MPs make some negative noises leading up to the vote, but when push comes to shove, all the Lib Dem MPs and Lords vote the Tory policies through.

    Jenny Tonge is the only principled Lib Dem out there, consistently voting against the Welfare Reform Bill. As a former doctor, she seems to be the only Lib Dem with compassion for the sick, disabled and weak in society.

  • “It’s also not hypocrisy because Liberal Democrats have not actually voted for these criteria. They are still in draft and subject to change.”

    Well, if they _aren’t_ changed, I don’t think “Liberal Democrats have not actually voted for these criteria” will cut much ice on the doorstep. Actually.

  • well if the lib Dem’s make some belated stand then that’s better than doing nothing, But a lot of the initial problems stem from a very ill conceived emergency budget that seems to unravel every few months. There also, be fair, a few Tories and few now former Tories who are not comfortable with the disability reforms.

  • ” it is humanity because right-thinking people correct mistakes once they are found.”

    That is the biggest joke of all.

    If mistakes where corrected, then the welfare reform bill would be reversed, The NHS bill would be reversed and the cuts to legal aid would be reversed, along with the changes to employment laws.

    Finally, if the biggest mistake of all was corrected then Liberal Democrats would get out of this coalition and stop the assault on this country and it’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

  • As a blind person who WILL be affected by these changes and probably lose most of my benefit I say GOOD.

    Saying ‘it is human to assist blind people’ is bizarre, so Richard, let me correct you on this ‘it is human to assist people’. The blind and partially sighted get a very good deal. We are registered meaning we only have to prove our disability once, whereas most disabled people have to prove it again and again, we also are generally assumed to be in high need whether we are or not (for instance automatically receiving higher rate mobility allowance – what the heck, we get free or reduced travel almost everywhere and I usually walk anyway!). I think there are blind people out there with very high care needs and I hope they will be met, I also hope that the state will continue to provide some support for the rest of us, but quite frankly the benefits system has always treated blind and partially sighted people as a class apart and I think fairness demands that this stop. If Lib Dem MPs really are fighting some rear guard action to maintain the privileges of the blind and visually impaired in the benefits system I think they are doing the wrong thing and should instead be doing more to help those with the most severe and complex impairments who usually have the hardest time getting the help and support they need. At the bare minimum disabled people need to be treated equally, personally I would just rather we treat people equally but that may be some way off.

  • Following Simon’s comment that “we only have to prove our disability once”. This is NOT how the RNIB saw these new measures. They considered that the new legislation could mean having your situation reassessed at intervals.

    Perhaps the RNIB could have been clearer in their comments, but they will certainly have prompted some MPs to a greater understanding of the apparent implications of some of the wording in the proposals.

    I believe the RNIB comments may have helped in a review of these proposals and a realisation that the drafting could be improved to avoid unintended detriment to one particular group.

    If only it was true that all MPs had the time and ability to assess legislation from all possible perspectives without help and expertise from outside interests…….

    I cannot remember those mocking an apparent Lib Dem delay in identifying these issues actually speaking up earlier on the precise terms that are needed to improve the legislation. But then their intention is not to improve the legislation on behalf of the blind but simply to knock Lib Dems.

    I am glad Lib Dems are now trying to rectify possible anomalies.

  • Richard Dean 17th May '12 - 11:22am

    @Simon. Sorry you felt my comment was bizarre. All people need help in understanding others’ needs, and it is helpful to learn that there are many other complications, thank you. It sounds like you have much to say, and here on LDV is certainly a place where people listen.

  • I think it is worth adding the issue of VAT on Guide Dog food to the debate. Apparently it costs the RNIB £300,000 per year. Going on the basis that VAT should not be charged on necessities is this not something that should be looked at for goodwill at (in Government terms) a low cost ????

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18084228

  • The REAL Ian Duncan Smith overall attack on the disabled, which will see a ‘chunk’ of the savings passed on to ATOS for multiple assessments, and the subsequent 40% overturning after costly tribunals, was supported by LibDem MPs. Clegg actually praised IDS, who blamed fraud and ‘cheats,’ when official figures show the exact opposite.

    Trying to claim a victory after such an unfeeling betrayal of what, I at leas,t thought were our core values is sickening.

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