Yesterday I was at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham when George Osborne set out plans to eliminate the deficit if the Conservatives win next year’s election.
The debate, as summed up by one commentator, ‘was George Osborne’s speech yesterday: bold – or just reckless?’
It’s clear opinions are divided.
The Chancellor announced £25 billion of further cuts over the next 5 years, much of which will come from a further squeeze on welfare budgets.
There are cheers, even calls to go further. Charities – and indeed some members – are concerned about the impact on vulnerable people.
It’s easy to focus on the headlines, and frame his speech as playing to the right.
But as ever there’s more to the speech.
Two small, yet crucial mentions of disability perhaps reveal a desire to bring more than just the usual suspects with him.
The Chancellor promised to protect disability benefits.
Could this recognition be an attempt to start building bridges with disabled people?
Life costs more if you are disabled. Buying a wheelchair, higher energy bills, higher insurance premiums. Scope research shows all this adds up to an extra £550 per month. Some costs can’t be avoided, but too often disabled people continue to pay over the odds for everyday items and services. Too many of these markets don’t work for disabled people, there is insufficient competition and disabled people pay over the odds.
The disability benefits Osborne pledged to protect are the financial life-line that disabled people rely on to help meet these costs.
The wider benefits freeze will unquestionably affect disabled people.
A million disabled people who are not fit to work will see their income support frozen, as will the quarter of all jobseekers who are disabled. Scope has always been clear that disabled people will be hit hard by the cumulative impact of cuts to out of work benefits, housing benefit and other support.
Nevertheless, a decision to maintain the value of extra costs payments is extremely welcome. And if the Chancellor can find room in his speech to ‘protect disability benefits’, it’s now time for all of the political parties to do the same.