For many people with disabilities and/or families with disabled children, these are hard times. In the past few years, there have been regular news stories, reports and other publications on how the recession and cuts to services are adversely affecting people’s lives. And this is set to get worse when universal credit is introduced, according to a new report. These concerns cannot be ignored by Government.
The report, Holes in the Safety Net: The impact of Universal Credit on disabled people and their families, claims that up to half a million disabled people and their families will be worse off under universal credit, if current plans go ahead.
If – and, to be balanced, it is an ‘if’ – this is accurate, that is a lot of people who will be struggling even more in the future than they are now. While the weekly cuts people face – of between £28 and £58 per week – may not sound much to some, for those relying on benefits, they are huge amounts, and can be the difference between eating properly, or not, for example.
The Government has dismissed the report’s findings, with a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman telling the BBC that it was “highly selective” and that there would be “no cash losers” under universal credit.
Of course, they would say that, wouldn’t they?
There have also been rumblings from Government about universal credit helping to ‘always make work pay’ and encouraging people – disabled or not – into employment.
That is all well and good, and fits nicely with the anti-scrounger agenda the Government has being pursuing. But for people with disabilities – and family carers of people with disabilities – getting a job, of any description, can be out of the question.
For instance, a parent of a child with profound and multiple learning disabilities may spend most of their day meeting their care needs, especially if they are struggling to get the services they require (which many are, according to a Scope report out this week). Such people are hardly layabouts, watching TV all day and generally living the life of Riley.
Additionally, about two-thirds of people with learning disabilities are able and want to work, but only about 8% have a paid job – and not for the want of trying.
The concerns highlighted in the report have been around, right from the start, when details of plans to reform the benefit system were unveiled in 2010, and they are, if anything, growing in strength. It would be naïve to expect the Government to admit that such a report as Holes in the Safety Net is correct, but its findings cannot just be dismissed.
Whether they admit it in public or not, the Government should read this report and its recommendations carefully and seek to address the concerns raised because they are not going to go away. Making the changes recommended in the report could be the difference between people continuing to live their lives as they are, or being plunged into a crisis in which they would need even more services. Can the Government really afford not to listen and respond to the arguments made in the report?