Disability charities have reacted with concern to the Government’s plan to increase working age benefits by only 1%, as outlined in Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, saying it will cause people with disabilities more hardship.

However, news that disability and carer’s benefits will continue to rise in line with inflation has been welcomed.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement included plans to cut a further £4 billion from the welfare bill, by uprating most working-age benefits by just 1% a year until 2015 – well under the rate of inflation, which was the previous marker for increase. The measure will affect welfare benefits, including employment and support allowance (ESA), jobseekers’ allowance and income support.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said: “We know times are tough for everyone but disabled people are being hit harder than most. They face a triple whammy of cuts to their benefits, cuts to local services as local authority budgets get squeezed and an ever increasing cost of living.

“We understand the Government has to save money. Disabled people will be pleased to hear that carer's allowance and disability benefits will rise in line with inflation. At a time of ever increasing cost of living this will offer some small relief. But what happens when [disability living allowance] becomes personal independence payment in 2013? Can the Government confirm that the rise in line with inflation will also apply to this disability benefit too?

“And what about disabled people who are looking for work?

“A 1% increase in ESA for the next three years is effectively a cut. Disabled people face massive barriers to finding work. The fitness for work test is failing and the Work Programme isn't delivering. This will make it even tougher for disabled people looking for work in this challenging economic environment.

“The introduction of a new piece of legislation, the Welfare Uprating Bill also raises eyebrows. We're concerned that it could be used to restrict benefit uprating in the future leading to further cuts down the line.”

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said the Autumn Statement was a “mixed bag” for people with disabilities.

“Many disabled people rely on support and benefits to help them live their lives day to day and rely on Government to provide these vital lifelines. Benefits are a necessity for disabled people, not a luxury.

“As we move into 2013 and another year of the Government’s spending squeeze, we urge it to change its rhetoric on benefits and to acknowledge the profound and real effect that benefits can have on the lives of thousands of disabled people up and down the country.”

Dan Scorer, Mencap’s senior campaigns and policy manager, agreed that the Government’s plan will means a further reduction in support for disabled people, calling the move “unfair” and saying it will “create increased hardship.

“ESA is designed to support disabled people preparing for work, and those judged too sick or disabled to ever work.”
Mencap is also concerned at the announcement of a further 2% cuts to local government budgets in 2014/15, on top of the 27% cuts already being rolled out. This is likely to put further pressure on social care budgets, leading to cuts in vital services that enable disabled people to live with dignity and independence.