georgeosbourneSeveral learning disability charities have criticised Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget, saying that it will be of “little comfort” and create more uncertainty for people with learning disabilities.

Osborne delivered his eight Budget yesterday (March 16), and confirmed plans announced last week to change the eligibility criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). He also announced that there would be £3.5 billion more cuts to public spending.

Osborne also announced cuts to small business rates, with the annual threshold for 100% relief on business rates for small firms to double from £6,000 to £12,000 and the higher rate to increase from £18,000 to £51,000. It is estimated that this will exempt 600,000 businesses. 

However, business rates will be devolved to local authorities in 2020, which could see putting more pressure on already strapped budgets. In The Independent, Dave Innes, policy and research manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said local councils face losing extra revenue. “The Government has announced some protection for councils in the short run, but if this isn’t extended until after business rates have been devolved, they stand to lose £1.4 billion a year, or 3.5% of their total revenues,” he said.

Additionally, Osborne made no mention of social care in his speech, or of short breaks for carers, for which funding runs out at the end of this month.

Charities have been quick to criticise the Budget for its lack of commitments to people with learning disabilities.

Little comfort

Tim Cooper, chief executive of United Response, said: “The Chancellor’s claim that this government is spending more on people with disabilities than the previous government, will bring little comfort to the 3.4 million people with disabilities in this country who are currently living in poverty.

“The government’s plans to ‘better target’ support [the changes to PIP criteria] will see 600,000 people with disabilities worse off, and therefore less able to meet the additional living costs that they incur directly as a result of having a disability. We are also yet to see where the additional £3.5 billion cuts to public spending announced today, will fall.

“For the 890,000 people who accessed long-term social care last year, and the additional 520,000 who had their request for help turned down, this budget has created nothing but greater uncertainty, as the income of local authorities is reduced further through cuts to local business rates.

“£700 million is needed to simply maintain social care at its current level. The Chancellor suggested back in his Autumn statement that should be raised through the 2% increase in council tax (social care precept). But recent figures from the LGA [Local Government Association] have shown that this will bring in at best £372 million. It will also create greater disparity, with local authorities in poorer areas where social care is needed most being the least able to generate additional income through council tax rises.

“Whist additional funding has been promised through the Better Care Fund, the vast majority (£1.5 billion) will not be made available to local authorities until 2020. The Chancellor ignored calls from across the sector today, to bring forward, at least £700 million of this funding to 2016/17 to address the most pressing areas of need.

“Alongside this, policies announced at the last budget, such as the introduction of the National Living Wage and the cap on Housing Benefit are creating additional costs and uncertainty at a time when the social care sector is already teetering on the edge. Again, these are areas where the Chancellor failed to provide any reassurances.

“For the government to deliver on the vision for care set out in the Care Act, and on the promises that it has made to people with learning disabilities in the No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored green paper, it must invest in social care and if not now, then when?

“Today’s budget does nothing but compound the uncertainty already facing people with disabilities.”

Enham Trust’s Director of Work, Quality and Governance, Mark Deal, echoed Cooper’s sentiments on social care funding, noting that the majority of the £372 million raised from the social care precept will be spent on implementing the National Living Wage.

He also called for the government to reconsider its decision on PIP, saying it is: “likely to result in: increased costs to the NHS, due to poorer physical and mental health [and] reduced likelihood of gaining employment.”

Meanwhile, Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, highlighted the negative effect that the cut in Business Rates may have: “The reduction in Business Rates will further reduce the ability of already cash-strapped local councils to pay for the social care that people with a learning disability desperately need. The care system is critically under-funded, many people with a learning disability are not getting the vital care and support they need so are stuck at home with nothing to do, isolated and scared about the future.

“[The] Budget added to this crisis and restricted the funding of care providers having to implement the National Living Wage further, making it harder for people with a learning disability and their families to access the care they rely on.

“Alarmingly there was no mention of further funding for Short Breaks services, which runs out this month and are a vital lifeline for families who care 24/7 for their loved ones and prevent them from reaching a crisis point.

“The government must now explain how it plans to support people with a learning disability who are seeing such drastic cuts to disability benefits which they were promised would be protected from cuts.”

Lorainne Bellamy, Mencap spokesperson who has a learning disability, added: "I have a learning disability and have been living on my own now for seven years. My supporter helps me with letters about my tax credits which are really difficult to understand. She helps me read and understand my telephone bills, my gas bills, my insurance and my statements from the bank. She has helped me set up direct debits so I can pay my bills and not get into debt. I used to not get any support at home, I struggled a lot, but this help has made a real difference.

"I know how important the support I have had has been in allowing me to be independent. I am worried that there are people worse off than me who don’t get any support at all and worry about what happens to them. The government need to make sure people with a learning disability and their families get the right support."