This is 3 December, the 20th International Day of Disabled People. As it happens, twenty years is about the length of time I’ve been involved with the campaign for equal rights for disabled people, so I’ve been in a reflective mood this morning.
So, how is our government celebrating this day? With an exciting new chance obligation to work for nothing.
Starting today, Employment and Support Allowance claimants on the Work Programme who “refuses to take reasonable steps to address a barrier which is stopping them working” can be directed to a mandatory work placement by Work Programme providers like A4E.
“Mandatory” means that anyone who refuses to take part loses some or all of their benefits. It isn’t immediately apparent from the DWP press release linked to above, but whilst mandatory work placements for non-disabled people are time limited, those for disabled people are indefinite.
It is genuinely worrying that your entitlement to benefit could depend on a judgement about what it’s reasonable for someone with your condition to do made by a representative of one of the more evil WP providers. There are already signs that some providers are “parking” people with “substantial barriers to employment”, so we cannot rely on the goodwill of every organisation involved in the programme. I’m glad to see that Mind has indicated that their opposition to mandatory work placements “applies to the whole of the Mind network, including our shops and local Minds.”
As the Remploy unions have pointed out, almost certainly we will eventually see disabled workers who had real jobs that have been scrapped by the government, forced into working for nothing.
Unfortunately, none of this should surprise us. There have been so many assaults on disabled people in the last two-and-a-half years, it’s easy to forget some, but when you add them up, it is a horrifying story:
- The closure of 54 Remploy factories, with the loss of more than 1,700 jobs.
- The abolition of the equality impact assessments that require public authorities to take into account the impact of their decisions on disabled people.
- The closure of the Independent Living Funds to new applicants from 2010 and leaving the current beneficiaries to cash-strapped local authorities from 2015. (The ILF was created to protect the most disadvantaged disabled people from the last set of Conservative benefit cuts, in 1988).
- Massive cuts in social care and other social services, including help for carers.
On top of all this, the assault on benefits has hit disabled people hard. One study found some disabled people are already as much as £2,000 a year worse off, and the worst has yet to happen. Disabled people lose out from the cuts that hit everyone – like the changes to benefit uprating, the cuts in Housing Benefit or the Child Benefit freeze. But the enormity of the benefit cuts that are specifically aimed at disabled people hasn’t yet been widely appreciated. By far the best report on this subject is the Hardest Hit coalition’s The Tipping Point. Here’s some of the key points:
- Disability Living Allowance is being replaced by Personal Independence Payment, which will have a tougher eligibility test and will cut the total value of the benefit by £1 billion – half a million fewer people will qualify.
- For people in the Work Related Activity Group (the majority) contributory Employment and Support Allowance will be limited to one year (currently it is paid indefinitely).
- Universal Credit will pay families with disabled children substantially less than the current system: they will lose up to £24,000 by the time the child is 16.
- Universal Credit will pay much less to people with severe impairments – up to £3,000 a year less.
- Low-paid disabled workers will lose out, because the disability element of Working Tax Credit is not recreated in Universal Credit.
- The Work Capability Assessment test for Employment and Support Allowance, introduced by the last government, was extended by the current incumbents. There are problems with the way it operates and the test itself does not treat blind people, people with fluctuating conditions and people with mental health problems fairly.
Officially, the government has marked today with a series of video clips promoting role models to inspire young disabled people. Disabled people aren’t falling into deeper poverty because they lack ambition or role models. £9 billion of cuts count for a lot more than any amount of inspirational bunkum.