RNIB disappointed by Chancellor’s Autumn Statement
We are disappointed that key elements which could have addressed the additional costs of sight loss faced by blind and partially sighted people were missing from today’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor. Additionally, as the Chancellor outlined the UK Government’s tax and spending plans for the next year, plans to tighten health-related benefits have caused alarm among blind and partially sighted people.
Health and work
Disabled people make an incredibly valuable contribution to society, but work isn’t possible in all circumstances. The harsh sanctions announced today are unjust and unnecessary; research on the impact of past measures suggests these simply do not work.
If the Government is serious about creating job opportunities for disabled people it needs to properly invest in high quality, tailored employment support for disabled people and to fix the Access to Work scheme.
For many blind and partially sighted people, Access to Work is a highly valued source of support and equipment. But delaying this support puts jobs at risk. For almost two years, people applying to Access to Work have faced significant delays. These delays compromise people’s ability to secure, or maintain, employment. Fixing this should be the UK Government’s priority if it wants to get more blind and partially sighted people into work.
We strongly oppose the announcement to introduce tougher rules around the requirements to look for work, which will apply to some out of work benefits. We’ll provide more information on this – and outline our next steps - when we’ve had time to digest the detail.
Benefits uprated but no additional cost of living support
We’re pleased to see the Government has decided to follow custom and increase benefits by 6.7 per cent, using the September rate of inflation, although this won’t take effect before April 2024. This comes after RNIB and 76 other charities wrote to the Chancellor last week and held a day of activity on social media under the banner of #SupportCantWait to urge him to uprate benefits at least in line with inflation. We are relieved that this decision was taken. However, we had also wanted to hear about additional financial support for disabled people to help them cope with the rising costs of living.
Too often we hear that disability benefits fall woefully short of covering the additional costs of sight loss, made worse by the rising cost of living. Surveyed earlier this year, some 50 per cent of blind and partially sighted people reported using their disability benefits to cover everyday bills. Today, we wanted to see a commitment from the UK Government to review how benefits are set and increased, so blind and partially sighted people can always afford the essentials and manage the extra costs related to sight loss.
We are disappointed the UK Government did not commit to providing additional funding to tackle the challenges seen within Social Care, which provides vital support for many blind and partially sighted people through vision rehabilitation. Urgent action is needed to address the unnecessary challenges people face when accessing this life-changing support.
We’re also concerned that additional funding to address NHS waiting lists has not been announced. By September 2023, 640,736 people in England were waiting for ophthalmology treatment.
Other notable mentions:
- The Government is providing an additional £10 million to support Veterans’ Places, People and Pathways Programme.
- We welcome the investment of £500m over the next two years to fund innovation and AI; we will push for innovation to be accessible.
- We welcome the Advanced British Standard in education and call on the UK Government to ensure this is informed by the Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment.
- We welcome the expansion of NHS talking therapies and insist the Government ensure that these therapies are suitable for anyone with sight loss.
Overall, there was little mention of investment in public services and practical solutions to support blind and partially sighted people. We will be further scrutinising the detail of the Autumn Statement in the days ahead and looking for opportunities to work with Government to ensure blind and partially sighted people are included in initiatives introduced in the Statement.