Tag Archives: Government

Reform is needed to halve the disability employment gap

The Government’s Green Paper consultation on Work, Health and Disability closed last week. Find out how we responded to the consultation and which areas we argued need action from the Government.

The Government has made a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap – the difference between the employment rate of disabled people and non-disabled people – which has stood at around 30 percentage points for over a decade. If the Government is serious about increasing disability employment, then it must tackle the barriers individuals face to entering, staying and progressing in work.

Improving out-of-work support

Too many disabled people aren’t getting support to get into and remain in employment. Where disabled people do access support, at Jobcentres or through employment support schemes, many feel it is too generic and does not take account of their needs or interests.

It is vital that all disabled people who want to work have access to voluntary, specialist support that is tailored to their needs. Taking part in any form of employment support should be completely voluntary for disabled people, and have no impact on the financial support they receive.

As well as this, Scope wants to see a total reform of the “fit for work” test, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which decides whether someone is able to receive Employment and Support Allowance.

Currently, the WCA fails to capture the range of barriers to work that disabled people face, which means many individuals are not getting the right support to move in to work. That’s why we’re calling for the WCA to be replaced with separate assessments for financial support and employment support needs.

Supporting disabled people in work

New research by Scope has found that in the last year 58 per cent of disabled people have felt at risk of losing their job because of their impairment or condition. That’s why it’s so important that once disabled people take up jobs, the right support is in place to enable them to stay in work.

Something we want to see is an expansion – and better promotion – of Access to Work, a scheme that provides disabled people with financial support to work. We also want to see the requirement to take Statutory Sick Pay in consecutive blocks to be lifted. This would give individuals more flexibility in taking time off from work, for example through part-time sickness absence or a phased return to work.

Working with employers to drive change

Efforts to halve the disability employment gap will only be successful if we see a shift in how disabled people are perceived in the workplace. The need for action is clear – 85 per cent of disabled people feel employer attitudes haven’t improved since 2012.

Building on progress made with other aspects of workforce diversity, employers should shift from compliance with the law to taking a more proactive approach to attracting, recruiting, supporting and developing disabled employees.

For instance, the Government’s Disability Confident scheme – which provides guidance to employers on hiring disabled people – has a Business Leaders Group which is well-placed to drive best practice among employers through new research and peer-to-peer networking. However, it is crucial that this group has sufficient scope and capability to realise such an ambition.

Next steps following the Green Paper

Scope welcomed the opportunity to respond to this Green Paper. However, this will only lead to change if Government and employers take meaningful steps to tackle the barriers disabled people face to entering and thriving in work.

Therefore, we would like to see a cross-government strategy for disability employment – presented as a White Paper – as soon as possible. This should include a range of reforms to support disabled people in and out of work, along with clear indicators to determine the success of these. It is vital that any proposals are informed by the experiences of disabled people.

Find out more about Scope’s work to tackle barriers to employment for disabled people.

2016 in parliament – Our impact

2016 has been a busy year in politics. We’ve seen the Government make a significant U-turn to stop proposed changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP), an important consultation announced on the future of health, work and disability, Brexit and increasing pressure on the Government to provide the social care system with the funds it urgently needs. Scope has focused on protecting the rights of disabled people throughout 2016.

Theresa May used her first speech as Prime Minister to outline her vision for the country. She said she wanted to create a country that worked for everyone and create more opportunity for people, regardless of background. Whilst we welcomed this, much more can be done to help those ‘just about managing’, especially when recent research has uncovered that nearly half of people in poverty are disabled themselves or live in a household with someone who is disabled. We’ve raised these concerns with Government, and we need to keep hearing from you about what needs to change.

While the world was excited by the Paralympics in Rio our research found that whilst 78% of disabled people, through the Paralympic Games, have a positive impact on attitudes towards disability. Only 19% felt that Britain is a better place to be disabled now, than four years ago.

That’s why we have met with officials at Downing Street to emphasise the importance of making their social justice plans focus on improving the lives of disabled people.

Social Care

Social care has dominated the agenda in recent weeks and has been a big talking point all year. At Scope we’ve been calling for sustainable funding for social care to ensure disabled people have access to suitable care. The lack of additional funding in the Autumn Statement was disappointing and the small increase in council tax for social care won’t last and isn’t a long term solution.

In October we shared our research into the experiences of young disabled people and care ‘Leading My Life My Way’ with Government. This research uncovered that 60 per cent of young adults felt let down by their social care provision and a quarter were either only slightly or not at all involved in decisions about their care.

Many young disabled people are not being supported to do the things they want to do in their lives.

“I think it [support package] covers my blindness and my hearing impairments and the practical things I need to do, but it doesn’t give me enough time to go out and socialise.” Ricky, 26, South East

Urgently addressing the funding crisis in social care is the first step to delivering this.

Extra Costs

In March, we saw the disability community unite against proposed changes to PIP announced in the Budget. These changes would have left 640,000 people worse off financially. We warned the Government that these changes would just make disabled people’s lives harder and that our helpline heard from many disabled people concerned about the changes. We urged the Chancellor to think again and consider the impact these moves have on the lives of disabled people.

The Government u-turned and said it would not be going with this plan and committed to no further welfare cuts during this parliament.

In October we published the one-year on report of The Extra Costs Commission looking at action taken by businesses, government, regulators and consumers to drive down the £550 financial penalty of being disabled.

Uber and Marks & Spencer were two examples of companies introducing new products and practices to serve their disabled customers better. We would now like to see more businesses recognise the value of their disabled customers and will be focusing on improving service in the energy and insurance industries in the New Year.

Employment

Following our campaign in 2015, the Government committed to halve the disability employment gap and this year we have continued to call on them to introduce reforms to meet this target.

Alongside other charities this year, we have campaigned changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) due to come into effect in April 2017.

The Government plans to reduce the level of financial support to disabled people in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). Disabled People in the WRAG have been found unfit for work by the independent Work Capability Assessment. This cut in support of around £30 a week to new claimants would impact nearly half a million people in the WRAG.

We believe this cut will push disabled people further away from the jobs market and make their lives harder rather than helping them overcome existing barriers to employment.

MPs and Peers from across different political parties supported our calls and argued the change must be postponed. Although the Government pushed ahead with this cut, we will continue to campaign against it.

In October the Government published a Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability which set out proposals to reform support for disabled people in and out of work.

We think it is right the Government is consulting on this and welcome some of the proposals, including working more closely with employers, challenging attitudes and halving the disability employment gap. We want to see wholesale reform of the fit for work assessment scheme, employment support to be made voluntary and significant shifts in employer attitudes towards hiring disabled people.

However, we’re concerned that the Government is considering extending requirements to look for jobs and attend employment programmes to people in the support group of ESA.

The consultation is open until February and the Government want to feedback on their proposals. Our latest blog on the Green Paper sets out how you can get involved.

This year the new Prime Minister said, ‘we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.’ In 2017 we will be looking to ensure that this includes the UK’s 12.9 million disabled people.

Next year we will continue to campaign for the Government to introduce reforms that support disabled people to find and stay in work, the protection of disability benefits and asocial care system supports disabled people to live independently.

 Read more of our policy blogs.

Share your experiences of claiming Personal Independence Payment

The Government has launched an independent review of how the assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is working. This follows a previous independent review of PIP in 2014.       

PIP, alongside Disability Living Allowance (DLA), is a payment that provides working-age disabled people with support to meet the extra costs of disability. Our research shows that these costs amount to an average of £550 a month.

These costs might include expensive items of specialised equipment such as wheelchairs, spending more on things like energy to keep warm or taxis to get around, and even certain types of insurance.

A call for evidence has been launched as part of this review to gather the views of individuals who have claimed PIP for themselves, or on someone’s behalf, about their experiences of the process. This includes new claims and DLA reassessment claims, both under normal rules and Special Rules for terminally ill people. In particular, they are interested in the following:

  • How effectively further evidence is being used to assist in making the correct claim decision.
  • Data sharing within the Department for Work and Pensions and across government, including the way information gained from the PIP assessment is shared with other organisations to improve health and care services.
  • The general claimant experience.

Sharing your views will help to inform the review’s final conclusions on the effectiveness of the PIP process, which will be presented to government.

How to respond

This call for evidence closes on Friday 16 September 2016, 5pm. You can respond via the online form.

Alternatively, you can submit a response in the following ways:

Email: pip.independentreview@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Post: PIP Independent Review Team, Department for Work and Pensions, Floor 4, Caxton House, Tothill Street, London, SW1H 9NA

This call for evidence is available in a range of formats, including large print, Easy Read, audio, British Sign Language (BSL), Braille, large print, audio cassettes, CDs and BSL DVDs.

To request any of these formats, please use the email and post contact details listed above.

Tell Scope about your experiences of PIP

Scope will be responding to this call for evidence. We are keen to include the experiences of disabled people who claim PIP as part of our response. You can tell us about your experiences in the following ways:

Email: minesh.patel@scope.org.uk

Telephone: 020 7619 7375

Welfare and Work Bill – our priorities in the closing stages

The Welfare and Work Bill that is currently going through Parliament is a big priority for Scope because it will have a major impact on the employment prospects of disabled people.

As scrutiny reaches its final stages in the House of Lords, and as set out in our last blog post on the Bill, Scope is focused on two key issues – opposing the proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for some disabled people, and persuading the Government to report on progress in meeting their commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

Disability employment gap reporting

A key issue for Scope is requiring the Government to report annually on progress in meeting its manifesto commitment to halving the disability employment gap. The first clause of this Bill introduces a reporting obligation on the Government’s progress towards achieving full employment, ensuring Parliamentarians and the public are kept informed of progress towards meeting this target.

Scope believes that this should include a requirement for the Government to report annually on meeting its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, which itself set as a Manifesto commitment.

The gap between disabled people’s employment rate and the rest of the population has remained stubbornly static at around 30% for the last decade. The Government cannot hope achieve its objective of full employment unless it halves this gap. Reporting annually on progress towards doing so, will draw attention and accountability to this very welcome commitment, and will greatly help to prioritise its delivery by the Government.

This looks set to be the first issue that Peers debate then the Bill’s Report Stage starts later today.

Opposing reduction to ESA

On Wednesday, they will turn their attention to the Government’s proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance for disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group.

In previous blog posts and Parliamentary briefings, we have set out how this proposed cut of £30 a week will adversely affect some disabled people, who have been found unfit for work by an independent assessment. The cut will disincentivise them from finding employment, and push them further from the labour market.

Two important developments have powerfully brought home this message to Parliamentarians recently. At Lords Committee Stage, Scope and our coalition partners in the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), supported Lord Low, and Baronesses Meacher and Grey Thompson, to review the impact of the ESA WRAG cut.

From evidence received from disabled people, as well as organisations representing them, the review found the proposed cut to ESA WRAG would make it much harder for people in this group to find work. This is because it would more difficult to be able to afford training, work experience and volunteering. Cutting benefits would also lead to stress and anxiety as people struggled to pay the bills, affecting their physical and mental health, according to the review’s findings.

It recommends that Government should not push ahead with the cut. Instead, they should put in place better support for disabled people to help them build up their skills and support to look for, and stay in, work.

Disabled people had the opportunity to communicate these messages face to face with MPs  in a lobby of Parliament a couple of weeks ago, which was attended by nearly a hundred members of Parliament.

The review and lobby of Parliament have generated considerable momentum behind the campaign to reverse the ESA WRAG reduction. Both independent and leading opposition Peers have signed up to amendments to scrap the ESA WRAG cut, and its equivalent in the Universal Credit system. Scope and our DBC partners are very hopeful that this will herald a vote against a reduction in ESA on Wednesday night in the House of Lords.

We will be live tweeting the debates on Monday 25 January and Wednesday 27 January, and you can follow proceedings live online on Parliament TV. Watch out for more blog updates on the bill as it leaves the Lords, and MPs consider any changes they have made.  

The Emergency Budget 2015 – what we learnt

As commentators continue to try and make sense of Wednesday’s Emergency Budget, what did we learn about the implications of the Chancellor’s statement for disabled people?

Meeting the extra costs of disability – DLA/PIP and tax credits

Despite setting out details of how he planned to find £12bn of savings in the welfare budget, on Wednesday the Chancellor confirmed that disability benefits – including DLA and PIP – will continue to be protected from taxation or means-testing. This directly recognises one of Scope’s priority policy recommendations.

It’s hugely significant that, in this most-political of Budgets, the Government has set out its stall in protecting the value of these payments.

It’s also worth noting that despite the extensive coverage of the Government’s plans to reduce tax credits for certain groups, disabled people have been relatively well-protected in comparison. Many disabled employees earning lower annual salaries and who are managing health conditions alongside part-time work use tax credits to supplement their income.

Work allowances for disabled people are being maintained and the rate at which disability-specific tax credits are set has been protected relative to other groups. However, it’s important to note that disability tax credits will still be subject to steeper tapering alongside other types of credit.

This serves to underline the importance of supporting flexible working for disabled people – both in helping to manage work alongside health conditions and ultimately as a way of maintaining disabled people’s engagement with the labour market.

As such, the move to keep DLA and PIP outside of taxable income is more important and welcome than ever; if extra costs payments had been taxed, this would have resulted in a 40% drop in the annual income for a disabled person on the higher rate of PIP at the minimum wage.

And whilst many of the changes will still have significant implications for disabled workers, there is at least a real recognition that there is something exceptional about support for disabled workers – and that protecting this support is important.

Full employment

Whilst there was no further mention in the Budget statement itself, the publication of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on Thursday moved the Government further towards its ambition of delivering full employment. Halving the disability employment gap will be a key stepping stone in achieving this.

It’s therefore disappointing that the Government plans to reduce the value of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) from April 2017 onwards.

ESA has a vital role to play in supporting disabled people make their way into employment. Reducing its value will only make life harder for disabled people who face additional challenges to get back into work.

Disabled people are pushing hard to find jobs and to get on at work, but they continue to face huge barriers. Unlike the other back-to-work programmes that are currently available, the support that disabled people receive needs to be more personalised and tailored to their needs.

On Wednesday, the Chancellor promised further support measures for employment – and we’ll be keeping a close eye on what is being proposed.

Social care

Whilst there was confirmation that the Government would be committing to a further investment in the NHS, it remains extremely concerning that there was no mention of social care in the Chancellor’s statement.

A third of all social care users are disabled people, and access to the care system is critical in supporting many people to live independently. But we know that the system is under increasing demographic and financial pressure, and that the rationing of care is already having serious implications in supporting disabled people to get up, washed, dressed and out the house each day.

It’s therefore essential that the commitment to investing in the healthcare system is matched by a sustainable future funding solution for the care system in the Comprehensive Spending Review later this year.

In addition, there needs to be greater clarity on what the integration of health and social care and the implementation of the Better Care Fund will look like for disabled people.

What we’re looking for in the 2015 Emergency Budget

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.

Employment

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.

Digital inclusion

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.

What the General Election means for us

(Image copyright Michael D Beckwith 2013)

Parliament returns on Monday with a new Conservative Government and a new Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP.

In the run up to the General Election, we called on the next Government to improve the lives of disabled people by:

  • protecting the value of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) / Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • halving the disability employment gap
  • investing in social care so that all disabled people have the support they need to live as independently as possible.

Halving the disability employment gap

We’re really pleased the Conservatives identified halving the disability employment gap as an important part of realising their objective of full employment. Their manifesto said ‘We will aim to halve the disability employment gap; we will transform policy, practice and public attitudes.’

The BBC have reported that as part of the Government’s plans to achieve full employment, there will be an Employment Bill within the Queen’s Speech that aims to create two million new jobs over the next five years.

We know that disabled people want the same opportunities to work as everyone else, and nine in ten disabled people are in work or have worked in the past. Yet only 48 per cent are currently in work. We will be looking for the Government to ensure that disabled people are at the heart of employment strategies and regional growth plans.

This week we have seen a welcome rise in the number of disabled people in work but the disability employment gap has remained largely unchanged over the last decade, at around 30 per cent.

We have made a number of recommendations on how the Government could increase the disability employment rate by:

  • creating more flexible workplaces
  • ensuring disabled people are connected to regional growth
  • ensuring that all disabled people receive effective and personalised support.

There is also an important economic case for addressing the disability employment gap. A recent report by Scope found that a 10 percentage point increase in the disability employment rate would increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by £45 billion by 2030 and also result in a £12billion gain to the public purse.

It’s vital that the Government continues to see addressing the disability employment gap as a key part in achieving full employment, so that disabled people who want and are able to work are supported to find a jobs, stay in work and progress in their careers.

Extra costs payments

Life can cost more if you are disabled and the extra costs faced by disabled people can have a significant impact on disabled people’s living standards. Scope research shows that disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on costs related to their disability. PIP and DLA are payments that are designed to contribute towards these extra costs.

During the election the Conservative Party announced they planned to make £12billion worth of cuts to welfare and there was much speculation on their welfare spending plans.

Last year in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference the Chancellor said that a future Conservative Government would protect DLA and PIP in any freeze on benefits, a commitment that was also in their Manifesto.

We’ll be looking to the Government to protect the value of extra costs payments.

Independent living

Working age disabled people are a third of all social care users. Social care supports disabled people to live independently, work and play an active part in the community.

However levels of unmet need within social care are high, with 97,000 disabled people who would have received social care five years ago, now receiving no support. That is why Scope has called on the Government to introduce a new sustainable funding settlement for social care.

During the General Election there was considerable focus on the conservative party’s commitments on NHS funding, but it’s crucial though that investment in the NHS is not looked at in isolation from social care funding.

Earlier this year the Care and Support Alliance published the findings of a survey of over 800 English GPs which found that almost nine in ten believe reductions in social care services have contributed to pressures in their surgeries.

When the Government sets out their priorities within the Queen’s Speech, we hope to hear about increased and ongoing investment in social care, so that the ambitions of the Care Act, to promote independence and well-being, can be realised.

Find out more about Scope’s campaign to improve living standards (PDF).

The system’s not about people, it’s about money – #100days100stories

When Kenneth moved into a care home, he imagined gaining independence and the chance to learn new skills. What he got was a very different situation. Kenneth shares his story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

Kenneth wearing a baseball cap smiling at the cameraI left home when I was 19. Like anyone else, I wanted independence and my own space. I wanted to choose what time to get up in the morning, what to have for lunch – simple stuff like that.

I moved into a bungalow with three other young disabled people. We had staff on site 24 hours a day to support us. I thought it would be great, I really did. My dream was to make friends and have a social life. Maybe go on holiday with my new housemates.

After a few weeks, I realised something didn’t feel right. For a start, everyone was in bed by 8.30pm. Why would you go to bed so early every night? It turned out my new housemates had no choice – they were being ‘put’ to bed early, even if they didn’t want to go.

Nobody was listening

I wasn’t getting the support I needed either. I wanted to cook my own dinners and to get out more in my car, but that wasn’t happening. I felt powerless because nobody was listening to me.

The days were long. I work so I could get out of the house but the others spent a lot of time watching TV. I remember coming home to find one of my friends, a girl who uses a wheelchair, sitting at the kitchen table with nothing to do. She’d just been left there on her own. Another time I came home to find two of my housemates with their wheelchairs facing the wall. I don’t know how long they had been like that – hours maybe.

A modern day institution?

When people think about institutions, they imagine these big old buildings with lots of residents sitting around doing nothing. But we were living in a brand new, purpose built bungalow and it was just as bad. It’s not how it looks on the outside; it’s how it’s run on the inside that matters.

Despite my mum and social worker getting involved, nothing changed at that place and I moved out. Now I live in another bungalow with 24-hour support. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot better.

In the future, I’d like to live on my own and have a personalised budget so I can choose the care I need. I’d like live-in support workers so I can do what I want, when I want. Personalised budgets are available where I live but disabled people are still getting stuck in homes because it’s the cheaper option.

Less choice over our lives

The system is so wrong. It’s not about people – it’s about money. Our social care and benefits have been slashed which means young people like me have little choice over our lives. Through my job at Change.org, I met Norman Lamb MP, the Minister of State for Care and Support. As I told him about my experiences, I started crying. I couldn’t help it. I hope what I told him has got through. Something has to change.

Find out how you can get involved in our 100 days, 100 stories campaign and read the rest of our stories so far. 

Disabled families hit hard by extra costs

Una Summerson, Head of Campaigns at Contact a Family, writes about why urgent action is needed from the Government and energy companies on extra costs for families with disabled children:

Contact a Family’s Counting the Costs campaign found a sharp rise in families with disabled children going without heating and food over the last 2 years. This is leading to ill health. With more than 3,500 responses from UK families with disabled children,

More than a quarter have extra costs of £300 or more every month relating to their child’s disability. The biggest costs being higher heating and utility bills.

Looking ahead, 60% of surveyed families see their financial situation worsening in the next year. Shaped by what thousands of families with disabled children say would help, the Counting the Costs campaign calls for urgent action by the UK government to stop this alarming trend. However, the campaign also recognises it’s not just about making sure the benefits and tax system adequately reflects the extra costs and barriers to work families face.

We are calling for energy companies take action to include all disabled children in their eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount Scheme. This scheme may lead to a rebate worth up to £140 on electricity bills. You can qualify if your energy provider is part of the scheme and:

  • you’re a pensioner who receives the guarantee credit of pension credit (the core group)
  • you fall into the ‘broader group’ of people that your energy supplier gives the discount to.

Each supplier has their own criteria for deciding who fits into the ‘broader group’. Some state that disabled children can be part of this ‘broader group’. Some don’t mention them at all, while others accept them if they also have a low income or child under 5. Confused, yes so are we!

Contact a Family’s helpline adviser Marian Gell says “It’s a minefield understanding the different eligible criteria for us let alone busy families. For example, British Gas use Universal Credit to determine eligibility. Since relatively few people are getting universal credit and it seems likely that many families will not be moved onto Universal Credit for several years. A family with a disabled child getting income support and child tax credit would not qualify according to these rules.”

The confusing and differing criteria, alongside the limited time families with disabled children means many often miss out on the scheme. We would therefore like to see a standard approach across all suppliers. Eligibility could be simply determined by receipt of child Disability Living Allowance. Ideally, we need disabled children not just to be recognised as part of the ‘broader group’ but to be part of the core group who receive the discount automatically and don’t have to apply.

Get involved with the campaign or find out about help with fuel bills on the Contact a Family website.

The Care Act is welcome, but there’s plenty of unfinished business

Post from Caroline Hawkings, Public Policy Advisor at Scope.

This week, we’ve reached a significant milestone for adult social care in England.  After many months of debate, the Care Bill has become the Care Act through Royal Assent, meaning that the primary legislation is complete.

In the words of the Minister Norman Lamb, the Act’ represents the most significant reform of care and support in more than 60 years and at least on paper, there are many things to welcome about the new Act.

  • For the first time adult social care law has been brought into a single Act, replacing disparate and sometimes outdated laws
  •  Local authorities have a duty to promote a person’s well-being, which is comprehensively described in a ‘well-being principle’ covering different aspects of life
  • The Act introduces a national minimum threshold for getting care and support, which all local authorities must adhere to, aiming to end the post-code lottery of the current system where local authorities decide their own level. Currently, eligibility for support is assessed against a framework called Prioritising Need, also referred to as the Fair Access to Care Services criteria (FACS). There are four levels ‘critical, substantial, moderate and low’, the majority being at substantial or above.

Other positive features include: an emphasis on providing personalised services, prevention, personal budgets, improvements to care planning and access to advocacy in certain circumstances

But, the key question for disabled people remains whether they will be able to get the care and support they need to as live independently as possible?  Social care is vital to promoting a person’s dignity, well-being and independence and one in three people using social care are working age disabled people. Increasing access to social care is a key part of improving disabled people’s living standards.

There are two crucial inter-linked decisions which have yet to be finalised, which will determine the success of the Government’s landmark piece of legislation.

Firstly, although the Act establishes a national minimum threshold for social care, the level at which it is set will be determined by eligibility criteria contained in regulations (secondary legislation). These criteria will decide whether a person is in or out of the formal system.  The criteria have yet to be finalised and are due for public consultation at the end of May.

The Government has stated that their intention is to maintain eligibility at ‘substantial’ under the current Fair Access to Care (FACS) criteria.  So, the worrying prospect is one of a more uniform threshold which is consistently too high, where care continues to be restricted. This means that thousands of disabled people are likely to be shut out of the benefits which the new Care Act brings.

Secondly, the Act sets out the legislative framework, but the funding allocated to actually implement and apply what it says, is largely dictated by the Treasury. The tight rationing of care is largely due to historic underfunding and budget cuts.  Due to funding pressures, research from the Care and Support Alliance shows that 97,000 fewer disabled people who would have received social care five years ago, now receive no support.

The most frustrating thing is that it needn’t be like this. A lower eligibility threshold is good for disabled and older people and has benefits for the economy. Modelling by Deloitte, in the Ending the Care Crisis report, has shown that a £1.2 billion investment in establishing a lower national eligibility threshold would lead to £700 million saving to Central Government and £570 million saving to the NHS and local government.

Scope, working with other members of the Care and Support Alliance have been consistently urging the Government to introduce a lower eligibility threshold, backed up by sufficient funding to so that local authorities can afford to implement it properly.

If the Government is to realise the bold and welcome ambition of the Care Act, it’s essential that disabled people up and down the country get the support they need to live independently and live well.