Wednesday was International Day of People with Disabilities. By coincidence, it was also the day of the Autumn Financial Statement. Although the Chancellor’s speech and the accompanying documents only addressed disability explicitly a handful of times, nonetheless his policies will affect disabled people.
Prior to yesterday’s announcements Scope called on the Chancellor to:
- Link and match investment in the NHS to investment in social care.
- Invest in Access to Work and specialist employment support to enable more disabled people to enter and sustain employment.
- Protect the value of extra cost payments.
So how did the statement match up to what we asked for?
1. Linking health and social care
The biggest announcement, trailed heavily before the speech, was a further £2bn investment in the NHS.
But it should be clear that without greater investment in this country’s social care this will remain a false economy. Social care, for both older and disabled people is in crisis. Unfortunately, as Scope’s Chief Executive and Chair of the Care and Support Alliance, Richard Hawkes, stated – ‘care was conspicuous by its absence in the Autumn Statement.’
A little less concrete than a budget promise, but still welcome, was the commitment to continue to integrate health and social care locally. Tucked away in the statement was the promise to give councils and CCGs more information about funding they will receive in future years so they can plan together. A slightly technical point yes, and not enough to counterbalance years of underfunding, but this has the potential to drive a stronger focus on supporting working-age disabled people to live as independently as possible.
Other good news was the announcements made concerning carers. These are:
- The Carer’s Allowance earnings limit will increase in April 2015 from £102 to £110 per week
- The Government will extend the £2,000 annual National Insurance contributions Employment Allowance to those households that employ care and support workers.
- Care workers will be exempted from the impacts of removing the £8,500 threshold below which employees do not pay Income Tax on benefits in kind.
2. Employment support
Unfortunately no announcement regarding Access to Work was made yesterday, nor any significant changes to the way in which employment services for disabled people operate.
However, the decision that an additional £3m will be made available to expand existing mental health and employment pilots is a really positive step. It is now important that the learning from these pilots are effectively captured and applied to employment services as a whole.
3. Extra costs
Osborne announced that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independent Payments (PIP) would be protected in any future freeze of working age benefits. Whilst we recognise that the freeze will adversely affect many disabled people in the ESA WRAG group and on JSA, protecting DLA/PIP is an important part of ensuring disabled people can meet the extra costs they face.
Scope warmly welcomed this move at the time, and we were pleased when in this was confirmed in a separate announcement made by the Minister for Pensions Steve Web.