On Wednesday the Chancellor will deliver his Emergency Budget before the House of Commons, presenting him with the opportunity to set the tone and underline the priorities for the Conservative Government in the new Parliament.
The Chancellor is expected to detail how the pledges set out in the Conservative manifesto will be brought into legislation in the coming months.
Scope will be following the announcements closely – so what can we expect to hear?
Meeting the extra costs of disability
Much of the pre-Budget analysis has focused on the Conservative plans to find £12bn of savings in welfare spending – with speculation that this could mean cutting or taxing disability benefits.
Life costs more if you are disabled. The extra costs faced by disabled people can have a significant impact on the living standards of disabled people, who spend an average of £550 per month on costs related to their disability. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are the payments that are designed to contribute towards these extra costs.
The Government has repeatedly stressed that payments designed to tackle the extra costs of disability will continue to be protected in the new Parliament. The Chancellor stated it at Conservative Conference last year, the Prime Minister promised to ‘safeguard and enhance’ the value of PIP in the election campaign, and the Conservative manifesto confirmed it once again.
The extra costs of disability act as a taxation on disabled people and Scope wants to not only see the value of the payments protected, but ultimately enhanced so that the value is triple-locked in the same way that pensions are – rising by whichever is the higher of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%.
Scope has worked extensively to highlight this issue over the last two years and we’ll be keeping a very close eye on what protection is afforded to extra costs payments on Wednesday.
It’s extremely welcome that the Government has committed to halving the disability employment gap, taking forward one of Scope’s key policy recommendations. Scope very much hopes that the Chancellor will reiterate this in his statement on Wednesday.
However, this commitment will be undermined if BBC News reports last Thursday on a leaked Whitehall memo about Government plans to reduce the value of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are accurate.
ESA provides the financial support that allows many disabled people to move into the workplace. With other government schemes such as the Work Programme failing to offer the personalised and tailored support that many disabled people need to get into work, reducing their incomes won’t incentivise them to find a job. Instead, it will make life more difficult at a time when disabled people are already struggling to make ends meet.
The proposed changes to ESA must also be considered in the context of the news earlier in the year that the financial support provided through the Access to Work scheme will also be subject to capping.
Scope is strongly urging the Government not to cut access to this financial support but to instead look at what can be done to reform and improve its back to work schemes and make increased use of city and regional growth strategies – such as the newly-announced Northern Powerhouse – to better connect disabled people to employment opportunities.
Scope facilitated the Extra Costs Commission, a year-long independent inquiry into the extra costs of disability, with the final report published just last month.
One of the report’s key recommendations is the need to develop improved online access for disabled people. Twenty seven cent of disabled people have never used the internet, compared to eleven percent of non-disabled people. This prevents disabled people accessing appropriate financial products and getting some of the best deals on goods and services.
On Wednesday we’ll be listening out for any further announcements about the Government’s plans to address this critical issue.
Social care, integration and independent living
It’s expected that the Chancellor will use the Budget to highlight the progress of the Better Care Fund (BCF), and perhaps extend it. Scope welcomes the Fund’s potential to improve the integration of health and social care services and promote independent living for disabled people.
However, the scheme must work better for disabled people going forward. Only 14 of 91 the current local BCF Plans include schemes specifically aimed at disabled adults. This represents a missed opportunity, which any BCF extension and longer term vision on integration must address.
Furthermore, despite the announcement of increased funding for the health service, it remains critically important that this is matched with a sustainable future funding settlement for social care.
Visit our blog again after the budget to read our positions and analysis.