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When I see a promise from the government to help disabled people, I question it

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Over the past week there have been a number stories in the media which paint a picture of what it’s been like to be a disabled person over the past eight years. If you are scratching your head unsure of what I’m talking about, don’t worry, these stories weren't front page news. But maybe they should have been.

On 14 March the Equality Human Rights Commission released its latest cumulative impact report which analysed all changes to taxes, benefits, tax credits and Universal Credit between May 2010 and January 2018. It won’t surprise you the overall finding is that the changes have been regressive. It won’t surprise you that the changes disproportionality affected disabled people, women, lone parents and certain minorities.

It might surprise you however that in households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child, average annual cash losses are just over £6,500, or over 13% of average net income. Or that, on average, disabled lone parents with at least one disabled child fare even worse, losing almost three out of every ten pounds of their net income. In cash terms, their average losses are almost £10,000 per year.

But what does that mean in reality? Well the average household weekly expenditure in 2016, according to the ONS, was £528.90. This includes things like transport, food, fuel and power, clothing, so if you lose £10,000 per year that equates to 19 weeks (or almost 5 months) less of, well, living. It’s hard to work when you’re hungry, cold and can’t afford to get to work and have to make decisions like, ‘do I have another hour of heating or the bus fare.’

We have also seen a steady stream of stories about issues with government policies, procedures and assessments of disability benefits. We saw the tip of the iceberg in January when a High Court ruling found a DWP policy, “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions having taken away the mobility component of personal independent payments for reasons of “psychological distress.”

Added to this, today the National Audit Office released its investigation findings looking at the errors the DWP made in calculating and paying Employment and Support Allowance. It found that the DWP had underpaid approximately 70,000 disabled people since 2011 and owed around £340,000,000 (or 642,844 weeks of average household expenses.) The DWP have promised to make repayments by April 2019 backdated to 21 October 2014. Unfortunately, this doesn't fully change the difficulties disabled people will have had since 2011 - receiving less than they were entitled to while changes to taxes, benefits, tax credits and Universal Credit already left them worse off.

So call me cynical but when I see a promise from the government to help disabled people, I question it. For example, the government announced plans to increase the maximum amount a disabled person can claim through the Access to Work fund by 38% from April 2018 to a maximum value of £57,000 a year yesterday. A promise that made more sense when, a day later, the NAO released its inquiry findings showing just how poorly disabled workers, disabled people and disabled children have and are being treated for almost a decade.

We need an economy that works for everyone not one rigged against the interests of ordinary working people. We need an economy that works for all working people - including disabled people - and we need government policy and practice that supports rather than penalises disabled people.

This is why in our Manifesto for Disability Equality 2016 we called for:

  • All laws impacting on disabled people (including the EA) to be reviewed and amended to make them compliant with the obligations under the UNCRPD
  • The government to end caps on Access to Work Grants

and are still calling for our manifesto to be actioned today.