With the 2015 election fast approaching, we take a look back at the coalition government, the cuts, and what both have done to disabled people – in Jasmine Harris’s view, 7 terrible things.
We all knew that when the coalition government was elected in 2010 it had the rather monumental task of reducing the budget deficit of £167billion. Its main strategy for this has been to reduce government spending, though only in certain areas – the NHS and state pensions have both been protected.
This has meant that the knife has fallen harder on other areas, such as welfare and local governments. These cuts, along with other reforms, have hit certain groups much harder than other – disabled people being a prime example.
Below is a list of 7 terrible things that the coalition has done to disabled people (although there are arguably a lot more).
1. Employment Support Allowance
I’m sure that everyone can probably remember the problems that this caused. ESA (which replaced Incapacity Benefit, Income Support and Severe Disablement Allowance) only became a real problem in 2011 when it started to cover existing claims. Each of these claimants had to be reassessed (in itself a tiring and stressful process), the result of which was that many previous claimants were deemed ‘fit to work’, including some that quite obviously weren’t, like coma patients and people with severe Multiple Sclerosis. Sadly, this ineptitude is not the only problem. The company running the assessments (for existing and new applicants), Atos Healthcare, stated the assessment period should only last 13 weeks. It often lasted significantly longer – my own application took just under a year.
2. Housing benefit cuts, especially the ‘bedroom tax’
This reduction in benefits affects anyone living in social housing who has one or more ‘spare’ bedrooms (up to 14% reduction for one room, 25% for two or more). It’s meant to encourage families living in too big houses to move into smaller properties. But this tax affects all tenants, including disable people who might need the spare room for medical storage, adaptations (like a lift), or a PA, or who might find it nearly impossible to move to a smaller home that still meets their needs.
3. Cuts in local government funding and cuts to social care
Another key part of the government deficit reduction is to cut the amount of funding allocated to each local council. This reduction in funding has meant that many councils have had to raise the eligibility criteria for free care, among other things. Nearly 90% of English councils can no longer offer care to people whose needs are ranked low to moderate.
4. Cuts to library services
Unlike all of the other cuts, this one doesn’t affect the money in your wallet or your care, but it affects how you live your life. For many disabled people, reading (or listening to audiobooks) is one of the few activities that can be done safely (not including papercuts). Unless you’ve got a never ending bookshelf or an e-reader, the chances are that you rely on your local library for a good book or even access to a computer. Libraries were one of the first services to be cut or threatened.
5. Cuts to university funding and the Disabled Student Allowance
As someone who was a student at the time, I can distinctly remember when undergraduate tuition fees were raised from £3,000 a year to £9,000 a year to allow a cut in government funding. Along with this cut, the government is also planning to cut the DSA. Their changes include no longer paying for specialist accommodation, and limiting the type of laptop that they provide (based solely on your level of disability, not on the type of course being studied). Changes like this could stop thousands of disabled people becoming students.
6. Cuts to transport
Transport, as I’m sure every disabled person knows, can be incredibly difficult if you have a disability. With hundreds of train stations not accessible, and only a limited number of buses and taxis suitable, getting around is a challenge. Disabled transport is already being cut (largely due to cuts in local government funding), as are schemes to improve train stations (the budget has been nearly halfed), and free special needs school transport has repeatedly come under threat. The number of people these cuts threaten is unknown, but the number is surely in the thousands.
7. Changing Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment
We haven’t felt the real effect of this one yet – existing claimants aren’t being reassessed until 2015 – but it is thought that up to 600,000 people would no longer be eligible for PIP.
Nobody can deny that the government had to do something, but the question of how much is too much is more important than ever, especially when it seems like the cuts have been targeted at vulnerable people. Disabled people make up less than 10% of the population, and yet are facing over 25% of cuts.
What are your thoughts on the coalition government and the cuts? Get in touch by messaging us on Facebook, tweeting us @DHorizons, emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving your comments below.
By Jasmine Harris