Turning the clock back for disabled people

By Bernadette Meaden
October 24, 2013

David Cameron has expressed considerable sympathy for the plight of young professionals, in secure jobs and earning good incomes, who are unable to get on to the property ladder, or climb up to the next rung. He has personally championed Help to Buy, even bringing forward stage two of the policy so that people did not have to wait for the help he felt they so badly needed.

In sharp contrast, his government this week showed its determination to make the least fortunate bear the brunt of austerity. After holding a second consultation on Personal Independence Payments for disabled people (the first consultation having been exposed as a sham) the Department for Work and Pensions announced its decision.

The consultation focused on the controversial 20 metre rule, which means that anyone who can walk 20 metres or more will no longer receive help with mobility. Having received 1142 responses to the consultation, (including this from Ekklesia) the DWP revealed that although only five were in favour of the 20 metre rule, it will remain. Disability consultant Jane Young has done an expert and balanced intial analysis of the government’s response here

What this decision means for hundreds of thousands of disabled people cannot be overstated. By introducing Personal Independence Payments using this mobility criteria, the government will in effect remove independence from perhaps half a million people.

Before carrying out a single assessment or reassessment, the government decided that the budget for this benefit will be 20 per cent lower than that for Disability Living Allowance, so guaranteeing that around 500,000 people will lose out.

Surely any reasonable person would accept that people who can walk little further than 20 metres face considerable difficulty in the real world, despite what the DWP may wish us to believe. Without a Motability car, or the money to fund their own car or taxis, they will find it almost impossible to independently engage with society. How can someone, with such limited mobility, go shopping or keep hospital appointments without a car? As Dame Tanni Gray-Thompson has warned, we could be turning the clock back thirty years, to when disabled people were ghettoised and largely excluded from society.

If one were being cynical one might think that this may explain why the government is so determined to go ahead with these cuts. They know that the people who suffer the consequences will be excluded from society and so will be politically insignificant. They will not be raising their voices in pubs or at public meetings, because they will be virtually housebound and isolated.

If a government wishes to make cuts, there can be no better target than a group of people who, as a consequence of the cuts being implemented, will be socially excluded. For an unscrupulous politician it is an ideal option. Be generous towards the prosperous, socially active, vocal groups in society, thus securing their support, and strip resources from those who are isolated and invisible.

This week Sir John Major said, ‘it ought not to be acceptable to anyone, that many people are going to have to choose between keeping warm and eating.” He also spoke of ‘the lace-curtain poverty’ of the elderly. He was correct of course, but perhaps he, like most of the population, remains unaware of the harm being inflicted on working-age disabled people, who may soon have to choose between eating and leaving the house.

Sick and disabled people and carers established a government e-petition as part of a campaign to oppose the cumulative impact of welfare reform. They have collected 70,000 signatures, but need to reach 100,000 by December 12th to trigger a Parliamentary debate. They would be grateful to anyone who can help them reach this total. The campaign can be contacted here.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.