Chair of Scope: why DLA is important to me

Post from Alice Maynard, Chair of Scope

One month before heartbreak blog from Chair of Scope

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is important to me and millions of disabled people up and down the country. It was created because, quite simply, it costs more to live as a disabled person. Those costs may be a direct result of someone’s impairment or condition – such as extra heating – or a result of the environmental barriers that disabled people face in everyday life that make day to day living more difficult, like not being able to get on a bus, or having to make expensive phone calls to get information about access to services.

But as you probably know there are plans to cut the overall budget by a fifth. The government’s hurried consultation on DLA reform closes next month. The chances are we will have edged closer to a system that supports fewer people. More people could find themselves in greater isolation, further from their local community and employment opportunities, and pushed towards greater dependency on the state and other services like the NHS.

One of the simple things I do with the care component of my DLA is to pay extra for vegetables that are already prepared. If I lost this I would need more social care support to help me prepare food – and the total cost of that is around £10 an hour. Some quick arithmetic shows that DLA for diced carrots is by far the cheapest option to keep me independent and healthy. Put pressure on this allowance and all the creative ways in which we disabled people manage our impairments start to break down.

The government is starting from the right principles. They have retained the emphasis on independent living and the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – DLA’s potential successor – will not be means-tested. But this needs to be backed up with practical and sensible reforms. This is a great opportunity to completely overhaul the DLA assessment process and develop one based on the barriers that people face in their day-to-day lives and the additional costs that we face as a result.

Since the DLA was introduced, the nature of those barriers has changed. Some – many physical access barriers for instance – have been addressed, but others – access to internet based services, for instance – have come along instead, and we need to understand their impact on disabled people. But, it looks like the PIP will end up having an assessment based on ‘functional ability’ that falls well short of that. An opportunity missed.

And buried in the overall reforms are some iniquitous proposals. The government’s plan to cut the mobility component for those living in residential care is tantamount to imprisoning these disabled people. The government presumes that transport is covered in care packages paid by local authorities for people living in residential care but in most instances this is not the case. The impact of doing this will be devastating for many. As one disabled person recently told us:

“It would completely take away my independence. My sense of dignity as a person and my life as a normal citizen of my community would both be destroyed if I lost my independence.”

The government is right in its desire to reform DLA but for the reform to be effective it must understand why it costs extra to live as a disabled person and what DLA enables us to do. They desperately need to rethink some key areas and:

• Reverse the 20% cut in the overall budget

• Take longer over the consultation – really get to know how important DLA is and the difference it makes to our lives.

• Develop a test that takes into consideration what stops us fully participating in society and what we have to spend to overcome at least some of the barriers – our extra costs.

It’s great that so many disabled people are blogging today to make their voices heard; I hope the government is listening, because there is still time for them to get it right.