On 27 February 2014 parliament held a debate on the impact of welfare reforms on disabled people. We would like to thank John McDonnell MP and Grahame Morris MP for securing this debate, but more importantly we also want to thank the thousands of individual disabled people, including blind and partially sighted people, who have campaigned for MPs to recognise the severe impact of the welfare reform agenda on disadvantaged groups across the country.
Over 100,000 people called on parliament in 2013 to hold this debate through the "War on Welfare" or "WoW" petition
. Ahead of the debate we briefed MPs about the issues that we felt needed to be addressed.
Areas of concern
We are particularly concerned about the impact of welfare reforms on blind and partially sighted people. We hear from blind and partially sighted people every week who are experiencing difficulties with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Many blind and partially sighted people are affected by the range of cuts and changes being implemented by the Government, including:the rollout of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA);
- time-limiting some benefit payments (eg contributions-based ESA);
- the abolition of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIP);
- the bedroom tax deduction in housing benefit; and
- reduced council tax benefit.
What we want to see
- Clarity on future cuts. The Chancellor has announced £12 billion further cuts in benefit expenditure from 2015 that have not been published in detail. The policies announced so far (including ending housing benefit for people under 25) would make a third of this published figure. The Government has suggested that the state pension will not be cut which leaves limited other options in DWP expenditure. RNIB seeks clarification on the future of DLA for children under 16, people over 65 and the future of Attendance Allowance (paid to older disabled people including 59,000 blind and partially sighted people). These three benefits cost over £10 billion in spending per year but cutting just £2 billion from this budget could result in 557,000 disabled children and older people losing crucial help;
- Assurance that all information on current and future changes in support for blind and partially sighted people will be available in accessible formats.
- A renewed timeframe for implementing PIP from DWP (necessary given the delays in the current decision-making process);
- Clarification on Atos' position and how any replacement provider will meet and improve the standards of assessments and revised 'customer journey' information for people going through Work Capability Assessments; and
- A commitment to ensure reduced stigma in debating welfare and social security issues. Only one in five blind and partially sighted people receive DLA and only one in ten access social care services funded by councils. The welfare state is failing blind and partially sighted people and the solution is not to demonise or stigmatise people who need support, but the climate created in the drive to reduce spending has contributed to a rise in the level of harassment and abuse reported by disabled people.
Download our full briefing for the debate on Poverty and welfare reform (Word, 166KB) You can find the transcript of the full debate on parliament's website
(we were pleased to see that RNIB's research for the Disability benefits consortium was mentioned several times in the short debate)