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RNIB disappointed by lack of support for blind and partially sighted people in Spring Budget

Today the Chancellor announced his Spring Budget, which sets out the UK Government’s financial plans.

The Chancellor promised “more jobs” and “better public services”. But we’re disappointed that the Budget contained little to address issues that affect blind and partially sighted people. Many continue to struggle with the cost of living, as well as facing waits for eye care appointments and barriers to getting into work.

A tax cut for workers

In today’s Budget, the Chancellor announced a tax cut for working people. Whilst this puts more money in the pockets of people in work, we were looking for more support for blind and partially sighted people who face barriers gaining and retaining work. This should include better resourcing of Access to Work, which has long waiting lists.

Additional funding to speed up the processing of disability benefit claims is welcome. For too long, blind and partially sighted people have faced delays accessing their Personal Independence Payments. We will continue to monitor waiting times.

The cost of living crisis continues

While we’re relieved the Household Support Fund has been extended for another six months, this isn’t enough to keep many blind and partially sighted people afloat. We need a fairer benefit system so people can always afford the essentials and manage the extra costs that come with sight loss.

An increase was announced to the repayment period for people on Universal Credit who are taking out loans, but we need more steps to prevent people on low incomes falling into debt in the first place.

Going digital

The Budget announced various digital transformation projects for the public sector.

RNIB welcomes the Government's decision to invest £17 million to accelerate DWP’s digital transformation, replacing paper-based processes with simplified online services. We hope this will improve blind and partially sighted people's access to these services and the speed at which the forms are processed.

The Chancellor also announced £3.4 billion worth of investment to modernise the NHS’s IT systems, which he suggests will save money through increased productivity. We were also promised improvements to the NHS app, and for all hospitals to use Electronic Patient Records.

We welcome the changes to the IT Systems as they will improve connectivity between primary and secondary care services within eye care. But more needs to be done to increase the number of eye care professionals, to meet the growing demand for eye care services.

The Government must make sure that accessibility is a key element of any new technology or digital service from inception. There should also still be the option for non-digital solutions such as face-to-face and telephone services, for those who can’t access the online world, which is in keeping with the Equality Act (2010).

Social care in crisis

The Chancellor spoke about the UK Government’s focus on ‘prevention’ in a drive to improve public services, and this is a principle that RNIB welcomes. Preventative adult social care services like vision rehabilitation are vital for blind and partially sighted people. Early intervention can prevent the need for referrals to other more costly services at a later point.

We’ll be looking to see whether the proposals announced today will allow these services to be given the same level of significance as other adult social care services.

To sum up, this was a Budget that did little to tackle some of the main challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people, and especially those hardest hit by the stubbornly high cost of living. Nor did it offer much comfort to those struggling to enter work or stay in a job following sight loss. We will watch closely as to how the details of today’s announcements are now implemented.