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RNIB’s response to the Spring Budget 2023

While the Spring Budget took some positive steps, including extending the Energy Price Guarantee, it did not go far enough to support blind and partially sighted people with rising living costs.

Energy support – some help but people with sight loss need more help

We are pleased that the Energy Price Guarantee is being extended for three months - fixing energy bills for typical households in Britain at £2,500. While welcome, this alone will not ease the challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people, and other disabled people.

Hundreds of people with sight loss are telling us about how the cost of living crisis is causing extreme worry and anxiety. Blind and partially sighted people already face additional, unavoidable costs and are twice as likely to live in a household that has a total income of £1,500 a month, or less. Even with the guarantee, energy bills are far higher than one year ago and many people with sight loss risk having to choose between eating and heating. To make matters worse, many people have now lost their Warm Home Discount.

Sophie Dodgeon, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, explains:

“It’s vital the UK Government addresses the underlying factors which mean many blind and partially sighted people have been disproportionately affected by spiralling costs. This must include developing and implementing a ‘social energy tariff’ which would mean offering a lower rate for those most struggling with energy bills and a reversal of eligibility changes to the Warm Home Discount Scheme.”

It is also critical benefit rates are reviewed - and rebased - so people can afford an adequate standard of living and manage the extra costs that come with sight loss. Too often, we hear that payments designed to cover additional costs faced by disabled people are used to pay essential food and housing costs.

Employment – Access to Work delays need to be addressed

A new voluntary employment scheme for disabled people in England and Wales, Universal Support, was announced, worth £4,000 for up to 50,000 people. The scheme will match people with disabilities and long-term sickness with jobs and provide support and training.

However, supporting people back into employment will only work for blind and partially sighted people if there’s urgent action to fix Access to Work. Currently, thousands of people are facing severe delays - of many months - to get the support and equipment they need to do their jobs.

Benefits – welcome scrapping of the Work Capability Assessment

The UK Government announced the scrapping of the Work Capability Assessment, an assessment which currently determines a person's fitness for work and eligibility for a higher level of income support in Universal Credit. Changes to assessment processes are long overdue.

“We know that too many blind and partially sighted people experience frustrating and humiliating assessments where assessors simply don’t know enough about sight loss, resulting in people being unfairly rejected for support they are entitled to.” Sophie Dodgeon, Head of Policy and Public Affairs

It is welcome that people with sight loss will be able to try work without fear of losing benefits. In our Health and Disability Green Paper survey, half of blind and partially sighted respondents said they worry about the effect on their benefits if they ask for employment support.

We are concerned, however, about the introduction of an integrated health assessment for health and disability benefits based solely on Personal Independence Payment assessments due to the possibility that all benefits may be lost in one inaccurate assessment, leading to extra hardship. It’s critical that any new assessment process for benefits shows the DWP can learn from what’s gone wrong. The DWP needs to get decisions right first time around.

Transport – sustainable transport must still be inclusive

The Chancellor announced £8.8bn is being set aside for sustainable transport schemes. RNIB welcomes the move to lower emissions and improve health, as long as such schemes are designed inclusively so that all pedestrians, including blind and partially sighted people, can get around safely and independently. We are working with Active Travel England and local authorities on ensuring new street schemes are appropriate for everyone walking and wheeling as well as sustainable.

We also welcome the news that £200m will be spent dealing with potholes. The poor repair of our roads not only leads to injuries for pedestrians with sight loss, but also makes roads less safe for cyclists and people on e-scooters, leading to some of them riding illegally on pavements. Pavement riding poses such a severe risk to blind and partially sighted pedestrians that some people are prevented from walking around at all. We’re pleased to see equivalent funding for potholes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Rates of fuel duty will be maintained at the current levels for a further 12 months, by extending the temporary 5p fuel duty cut and cancelling the planned increase in line with inflation for 2023-24. For blind and partially sighted people who rely on taxis this is a welcome measure, with some people telling us that the high cost of getting out and about is making them cut back on social activities and adding to feelings of isolation.

We call for similar concessions to support public transport users, who are also facing higher costs. Being unable to drive, blind and partially sighted people are disproportionately reliant on public transport, and while some can access reduced or free travel, this isn’t available to everyone with sight loss.