Tag Archives: policy

The hardest hit of the hardest hit

Guest post from Claudia Wood, Deputy Director of Demos

It has become clear, since as early as 2010, that radical cuts to welfare spending would be the centre-piece of the Government’s deficit reduction plan. The aim of reducing the benefits bill by £18 billion per year by 2014-15, was supplemented in 2012 by the announcement that a further £10 billion would be shaved off with a new round of reforms from 2017.

The impact of the Government’s plan to cut several benefits in several ways will – inevitably – affect some households repeatedly. The Government’s Impact Assessments only consider each cut in isolation, and cannot quantify this cumulative effect. And so the Government has identified dozens of individual groups who will experience a reduction in income, but has no idea if they are actually identifying the same group over and over again.

We are witnessing the most ambitious reform of the Welfare State since it was created – shouldn’t the Government have a way of assessing its impact which is fit for purpose? This is particularly important for groups most likely to be on the sharp end of multiple cuts. Disabled people, for example, rely on a variety of different benefits and services, few of which have escaped reform in the last three years.

Cuts: calculating the cumulative effect

Supported by Scope, Demos attempted a series of cumulative impact assessments based on the combined effect of 15 disability-benefit related cuts.

We were able to work out how many disabled people would be affected by each, and how much they would lose in monetary terms. We found, overall, that 3.7 million disabled people would experience some reduction of income, and, over the period to 2017 – when the next set of reforms are likely to be announced – they would lose £28 billion in benefits as a group.

That’s a big number, adding together several individual cuts. But of course, they aren’t spread equally. What happens to the hundreds of thousands of disabled people who we found would be subject to up to six welfare cuts simultaneously?

Number of disabled people affected Loss per person by 2018 Total loss as a group
Double whammy  88,000  £15,506  £1.3 billion
Triple whammy  26,600  £17,097 to £23,461  £6.2 billion
Triple whammy  93,366  £6,309  £589 million
Triple whammy  29,484  £18,100  £533 million
Triple whammy 264,600 £6,280 £1.66 billion
Quadruple whammy  16,768  £5,428  £113 million
Quintuple whammy  12,500  £11,517  £481 million
Sextuple whammy  3,000  £23,300  £23-£116 million

At the ‘lucky’ end of the scale, 88,000 people currently claiming contributory ESA (WRAG) will see a double whammy of having their benefit capped by 1% through the Benefit Uprating Bill, and time limited to 12 months. At the other end of the scale – a group we might call ‘the hardest hit of the hardest hit’ – at least 1,000 disabled people (up to 5,000) will experience six separate cuts to their benefits income before the next election. By the time the next round of cuts are due, they will be £23,300 worse off per person – this represents the loss of all benefits recognising their disability (ESA and DLA), and a substantial reduction in housing benefit.

In between these two poles lies the 120,000 who will experience some form of triple cut, and 99,000 who will have a quadruple cut. At best, these represent a loss of £6,309 per person by 2017. But for those unfortunate enough to lose their Disability Living Allowance early on, and who also claim contributory ESA (WRAG), the combined impact of these and the CPI and 1% uprating cap will be a £23,461 loss by 2017.

Disabled people’s spiralling costs of living

For anyone, these are substantial sums of money. But for disabled people struggling with spiralling costs of living, such financial losses are life-changing.

Yet they are also an underestimate. We didn’t include in our cumulative assessments many of the reforms we modelled individually – such as the freezing of child benefit (affecting one million disabled parents), nor the closure of the Independent Living Fund (21,000 disabled people), discretionary payments to the Social Fund (945,000 disabled people), the 10% cut to Council Tax Credit (1.38 million disabled people), or cutting of Local Housing Allowances for private tenants (827,000 disabled people).

We didn’t include these as we felt we were unable to quantify the exact combination of cuts using publicly available data – this is perhaps the ‘too hard’ bit the Government referred to. But the fact we were able to construct seven distinct cumulative combinations covering the primary disability benefits (DLA and ESA) and Housing Benefit, factoring in uprating, time limitations and implementation periods, using public data, suggests that a more comprehensive and ambitious analysis would not be beyond the capacity of the statisticians at DWP.

And it is critical that it is attempted. Individual Impact Assessments are all well and good when making a single policy change here and there, but when dozens of changes are underway simultaneously – 18 Impact Assessments were issued for the Welfare Reform Bill alone – this piecemeal approach is both inadequate and misleading.

Each Impact Assessment identifies a relatively small amount of money shared across a large group. On reading them, one might conclude that the cuts are being widely and fairly spread. But if we were to pile three, four, or more losses onto a single person – would we say the same? And yet this is the case for hundreds of thousands of people across the country. How can we judge the fairness of such a comprehensive package of cuts if we have no real overview over who will be affected, and to what extent?

Table 1 – the headline figures from our analysis (PDF)
Table 2 – how the changes are combining to produce a cumulative impact (PDF)
Table 3 – for more detail on how we calculated the total figures (PDF)

Why changes to DLA should put disabled people first, not targets

Guest post from Eugene Grant – Scope’s Public Policy Advisor on poverty and welfare.

In 2013, with the economy in recession, unemployment levels still high and wages flat-lining, times are tough for everyone. But disabled people in particular are struggling to make ends meet and the way ahead is hazardous and foreboding. Already disproportionately likely to live in poverty, be out of work or paid less than non-disabled people, disabled people are about to be hit from all sides by a barrage of cuts to much-needed welfare benefits and changes to social care services.

Among these, one of the biggest concerns for disabled people is the future of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). DLA is a life-line for millions for the simple reason that it costs more to live in our society as a disabled person. The little things so many of us do without thinking – like getting out into our communities, running errands or travelling to work – can be much more expensive – often prohibitively so – if you’re disabled. DLA helps people meet these extra costs. In fact, such is the impact of these costs on disabled people’s living standards that academics estimate that taking these into account when measuring poverty could put almost half of all disabled people in the UK below the breadline.

With this in mind, disabled people are understandably frightened by the government’s plans to bring DLA to an end and introduce a new benefit called the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the subject of tonight’s Dispatches on Channel 4. Come the new financial year and PIP is to be piloted in a select few areas; in June it will be rolled out for new claims only; in October those affected will include those whose current DLA award is due to expire around that time and thereafter. In 2015, everyone else receiving DLA will be told that their support is soon coming to an end and they will have to apply anew for PIP; they will not be moved across automatically. While the department for work and pensions (DWP) has launched an online toolkit showing people chronology of changes, lots of people are confused about how they will actually be affected when the reforms come into effect.

The government’s aim of creating a better targeted benefit through PIP is laudable, but what we and many disabled people are really worried about is that the assessment with which the government wants to re-test almost two million disabled people is not fit for purpose. As our past research shows and as we’ve said before, this is because it doesn’t take into account the range of practical and social barriers that disabled people face in daily life. We’re anxious because the government is set to get rid of the low rate of DLA care and that, under the new system, disabled people who might have less visible impairments but still face real barriers to living full and independent lives will lose out.

But most concerning is that the government is already predicting how many disabled people will receive support before PIP has even been rolled-out. As a result of introducing PIP, the department for work and pensions reckon more than half a million people who would’ve have received support now won’t get it. For us and disabled people across the country, this raises alarming questions as to whether the government is working to predetermined targets instead of what’s best for disabled people and their families. It looks set to repeat past mistakes it made with the much-derided Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The government has to make some difficult decisions in terms of the country’s finances; but, at the same time, some people need benefits. They aren’t feckless, they aren’t scroungers; they just need a bit more support to live the full and independent lives that so many of us take for granted. If the government is really serious about leaving a lasting legacy after the Paralympics – one in which disabled people can fulfil their potential – then they urgently need to reconsider their approach to welfare.

Lords debate support for BME disabled people

The research team here at Scope has been working with the Equalities National Council (ENC) – a charity run by and working with black and minority ethnic (BME) disabled people – to find out about the lives of BME disabled people, and to find ways they can be better supported.

Our research findings – published last year – were shocking:

  • There are at least one million disabled people from BME background in the UK and this figure is growing.
  • One in two BME disabled people live in poverty.
  • Only two in every five BME disabled people have a job.

Last week the House of Lords recognised the importance of this work, and held a two and a half hour debate on the report. The debate was tabled by the former Minister for Disabled People, Lord Paul Boateng.

The challenges BME disabled people face

The debate gave lifted the lid on the challenges BME disabled people face. Over 15 Peers spoke powerfully and movingly about issues ranging from the importance of translation services for BME disabled people, to the need to fix the social care system so that everyone who needs care and support can get it.

Many of the Lords echoed our recommendations. Scope and ENC found that many disabled people are falling between the cracks of Government departments – an issue that the Government Minister Baroness Browning argued needed to be resolved.

Disabled children from BME communities experience deep and saddening barriers to the support they need. Baroness Tyler recognised this in her contribution to the debate, and asked the Government to consider the recommendation of Scope’s Keep Us Close campaign to ensure that BME disabled people can access the right services in their local area.

Our report also found that the best way to provide services is to support small, user-led organisations like ENC to provide local services, a point Lord Addington made in his speech.
Although the debate successfully raised awareness of the challenges BME disabled people face, it is important to recognise that this is just the first step in a longer journey of change for this often overlooked community.

In the words of Lord Boateng, when introducing the debate: “To be black, a member of an ethnic minority or disabled is to know what it is to be invisible – to be there but somehow not be seen, or to be heard but simply not heeded.

“You suffer a double whammy of neglect and disadvantage. All too often you find yourself between a rock and a hard place.

“When we take action to enable and empower all of us in our God-given and precious diversity, then we really will have something to celebrate.”

You can find a transcript of the full debate in the Lords here.

The Bill of Rights Commission’s final report misses the point

It’s been a long wait, but the much anticipated report by the Bill of Rights Commission has finally seen the light of the day.

The strength of feeling of support for preserving existing levels of human rights protection is something that the Commission will have heard loud and clear, at least if one is to judge by the responses to its consultation exercises. There has been an unequivocal call from disabled people as well as many other groups not to erode the crucial safety net provided by the Human Rights Act (HRA).

It can only be welcomed then that the Commission’s report – though otherwise largely mired in differences of positions between the various members on the Commission – stresses that there should be “no less protection” than is currently contained in the HRA. However, the prospects of a different language being used in a future Bill of Rights does raise at least some doubts of how this will be achieved in practice.

UK Bill of Rights

More important is, however, what the report identifies as being the need for change. This would appear to mostly come from the need for a rebranding exercise insomuch as a UK Bill of Rights is seen to provide a way to bring about a greater sense of ownership among the public. The majority of the Commission appears to believe that given the polarised nature of the debate, it is unlikely that “public perceptions are likely to change in any substantial way” through public education.

If we were to go down this route, repackaging the Human Rights Act as a UK Bill of Rights would not only be potentially dangerous as it would risk diluting current protection, but also amount to a missed opportunity. Disabled people have been clear that consideration of a Bill of Rights need a discussion about how best to progress protection further and how to afford greater recognition to the rights contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On that count, the Commission’s report fails to deliver. Both the Government’s disability strategy and disabled people agree that the UN Convention needs to be at the heart of reforms moving forwards. In considering the future of our human rights laws, the Government should recognise that rather than an exercise about mere cosmetic re-branding, the prospects of developing a Bill of Rights should be driven by a need to look where additional protections could be brought in, and set a path towards incorporation of internationally recognised standards into domestic law.

Scope CEO Blog: Watching the Dispatches undercover footage

Undercover filming

Coming out of a meeting on Tuesday morning, one of Scope’s press officers was waiting in my office, telling me that we needed to leave immediately to go and do some filming for Channel 4’s documentary series Dispatches.

Dispatches had filmed undercover footage of what happens when doctors are trained to deliver the Government’s Work Capability Assessment. They wanted me to watch the footage and give a reaction to it.

The Work Capability Assessment is something Scope has been campaigning on for a while now. This test was introduced to determine which disabled people would be eligible for out of work benefits, who would be eligible for specialist support to help them find a job and also identify those disabled people who would be expected to get a job straight away.

It’s a test Scope has had deep reservations about. We’ve been deeply worried about the implications of using a medical tick box assessment that ignores all the other barriers disabled people face in finding work, being used to identify who can go out and get a job.

Work Capability Assessment tests

Within 15 minutes of coming out of my meeting, I was sitting on a sofa in a studio watching something absolutely outrageous.

Disabled people would have been shocked and appalled as I was to see the reality of the way doctors were effectively being trained to leave behind all their years of medical training and deliver a test that even the trainer claimed was “almost unachievable”.

The Government has said time and time again that this test is fair, appropriate and not driven by targets. Yet quite clearly the doctors are being told to achieve targets of how many people they find fit for work or who need support and that they will be held to account if those targets aren’t met. This is a flawed test and it is being implemented in a damming way. How can decisions that can have a profound and devastating effect on disabled people’s lives be made in this way in Britain in 2012?

These are real people being assessed, up to 10,000 every week. We know that disabled people want to work but many need the right support to do so. And by being subjected to this flawed test they may be denied the very support they need to get a job.

Dispatches reveals a “toxic” system

The trainer in the film even said she felt the test was “toxic”, that it was “frustrating” that someone cannot have the benefits and are expected to find a job when she knew they didn’t stand a chance. For me, the footage didn’t just show that the test that was toxic. It showed that the whole system is toxic.

Yes this programme has to raise serious questions about how the test is being delivered, but ultimately the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for ensuring that disabled people get a fair deal.

Many disabled people, Disabled People’s Organisations and disability charities have been trying to work with the Government to improve the test. There can be no more finger pointing or blame between the DWP and ATOS. They both have a responsibility and duty of care towards disabled people.

They should both be ashamed for allowing this to happen. And they need to take serious action immediately.

Take action now by emailing your MP

Over-looked Communities, Over-due Change

Guest post from Robert Trotter

It’s one of Scope’s ambitions to be completely inclusive. This means that we work hard to make sure that disabled people from all backgrounds have the same opportunities as everyone else.

But in the past it’s been difficult to support disabled people from ethnic minority communities, as there’s been very little research done to find out what kinds of support are needed, and how it can best be provided.

That’s why we’ve worked with another organisation – the Equalities National Council – to talk to disabled people from ethnic minority backgrounds to find out what their experiences of services were, and how these could be improved.

Our report – Over-looked Communities, Over-due Change – has some clear findings that should help us better understand this growing group of people.

Those we spoke to told us that life can be very difficult. Like many disabled people, money can be really tight. Life can often be very lonely. Sometimes it can be a struggle for people simply to know where to go for help, especially if their English isn’t the best.

Yet they also told us lots of simple ways that services could be improved. So in our report we explain how the Government, as well as those providing care for ethnic minority disabled people, can provide better support by involving communities better in the way that services are designed.

We hope that by reporting what ethnic minority disabled people told us, and offering ideas and solutions for improving their life opportunities, we can kick-start a journey of change – because as our report shows, it’s absolutely vital that we find ways to better support this often-overlooked community.

You can read a full copy of the report or an executive summary.

If you’d like more information, please contact Robert Trotter (Research Officer) atrobert.trotter@scope.org.uk

Scope Chair Alice Maynard responds to the Commission on Assisted Dying

The Commission on Assisted Dying reported back its findings and recommended that under certain circumstances people with terminal illnesses should be allowed assistance to end their own lives.

The Commission was chaired by Lord Falconer, a barrister and former justice secretary, and comprised of doctors, specialists in palliative care, an ex-police commissioner and a former president of the General Medical Council. It’s worth noting that Lord Falconer, as a policeman might say, ‘has previous’. In a past life he introduced an amendment to an act of parliament in order to change the law on assisted suicide. Indeed, it was striking how many of those on the Commission had pre-established views on the issue.

It’s also worth revisiting how and why the Commission itself came into being. It was funded by pro-euthanasia author Sir Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, and Dignity in Dying, and they both campaign for the law to be changed.

When I met the Commission – as chair of Scope – I did so in order to state our position on the issue of assisted suicide and to ask the Commission some questions about its role, remit and composition. We took this approach because the Commission has not been sanctioned by Government.

To boil their conclusions down, if you have less than a year to live, are over 18, have the mental capacity to make a decision, and have come to the conclusion entirely by yourself and voluntarily then, with the certification of two doctors, you should be allowed assistance to take your own life.

This debate touches on hugely complex and emotional issues. There are passionate voices on both sides. While the Commission acknowledged this in its research – and some of the discussions in the report are useful and interesting – most of the concerns raised by disabled people seem to have fallen by the wayside in its recommendations.

There is a lot about these recommendations that is unsettling and arbitrary.

The report acknowledges the concern that a change in the law might lead to people being pressured into taking their own lives – whether pressure from relatives, from professionals or as a result of more indirect prejudices about disabled people such as that a disabled person’s life isn’t worth living. While the report underlines the need for checks to ensure that people aren’t put under pressure to end their lives, there is scant detail on how this can be done. A fear of losing these safeguards one of the major concerns for disabled people. But the recommendations are paper-thin on this crucial point.

The report makes the distinction between those who are terminally ill, and those who are disabled. The Commission excludes from legalised assisted dying those with long-term impairments that are not terminal. So the point at which a disabled person becomes someone with a terminal illness is going to be an important consideration.

Many impairments affect people’s life expectancy to varying degrees. The line between a disabled person whose life-expectancy is shortened and someone with a terminal illness can often be blurred – and indeed determined by the person’s own approach to disability – making this distinction unworkable in practice. Prognoses change, people’s circumstances change, and it is notoriously difficult to predict how long someone has to live. To make matters worse, drawing the line at a year can increase the uncertainty of any such prediction.

The Commission rightly notes the importance that health and social care systems have in the lives of many disabled people. And sadly, when it comes to supporting disabled people and giving them the opportunity to live the life they want to lead, these systems often fall short. Many disabled people – including those with terminal illnesses – are not able to live their lives to their full potential, and in an era of swingeing welfare cuts that is likely to get worse.

These issues are important considerations and, though their consideration in the report is welcome, they do not come through strongly enough in the recommendations.

Much of my concern is wrapped up in how society views disabled people. Many believe our lives are not worth living or of no worth to society.  And in these economically constrained times, we can be seen as a burden on society and on our families and communities.  Sadly, professionals who are there to support us sometimes share those misconceptions about our value.  A recent report by the charity Mencap revealed that there have been 74 deaths in NHS care and there is on-going discrimination within the NHS of people with learning difficulties. This highlights an issue with the report’s ‘safeguards’, which rely heavily on the objectivity of doctors and social workers.

I believe that disabled people’s lives have intrinsic value and that, as disabled people, we should be able to get the support we need to live our lives to the full.  That requires protection in law, which is the ultimate safeguard from pressure to end our lives prematurely.

Coping with the Cuts

Scope and leading independent think tank Demos have teamed up to produce their Coping with the Cuts report that looks at the impact local cuts are having on the lives of disabled people and their families living in England and Wales.

I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in what’s happening to their local services to have a look at our interactive map, and browse through the report to see how their council is coping http://disability-cuts-map.demos.co.uk/

We know that the cuts are likely to affect people in different ways, but if you are at all concerned, it’s really important that you get in touch with your local council to tell them.

Tell your local councillor to stand up for disabled people locally and protect the services in your community. Telling your story is a great way of making your council understand the true impact of funding decisions on the lives of people they represent.

Don’t miss your chance to have your say. Use our template email to share your views. It takes seconds to do but could make a big difference to disabled people living near you. Make sure the people you care about know what’s happening in their area too by sharing Demos’ report with friends and family or by joining the conversation live on Twitter (#localcuts).