Spring forward: RNIB calls for improved services and support
Chancellor Philip Hammond will deliver his Spring Statement on Wednesday 13 March. It is the Treasury's first update of the year on the UK's economic health, and an opportunity to reflect on where we are and what we can expect in the months to come. But what would we like Wednesday’s announcements to address? Richard Holmes, RNIB's UK Parliamentary and Public Affairs Manager, explains.
Here we are again at the start of yet another significant week in Parliament. Amongst the ongoing debates on Brexit, the Spring Statement brings the Chancellor a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people across the UK.
RNIB has been tirelessly campaigning on issues that affect all aspects of blind and partially sighted people’s lives – from education and training through to employment and eye health. Having seen budgets shrink, it’s clear that services and support for people with sight loss are now in desperate need of attention and resource.
Better education for children and young people with vision impairment
In November, RNIB worked as part of the Young Vision Alliance to release a report highlighting the lack of provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in England. The report showed that between 2017-2018, one in three local authorities in England reduced their support. In the same period, 700 vision impaired children saw a reduced provision too.
It’s essential that the Government helps local authorities meet the needs of all children and young people with vision impairment. This Spring Statement would be an ideal opportunity for the Chancellor to announce new funding for local authorities’ SEND services. At RNIB, we know its essential new funding goes towards ensuring there is sufficient access to Qualified Teachers of Vision Impairment (QTVIs) and Qualified Habilitation Specialists in every area for all children and young people with vision impairment.
More emphasis on eye health
The Long-Term Plan for the NHS in England was published in January and while we welcomed the overall focus on prevention, we believe further attention and resource is needed to tackle the lack of capacity in eye clinics.
Outpatient appointments for eye care were more numerous than any other specialty in 2017 to 2018, with 7.6 million ophthalmology appointments in England over the year. However, Government attention and funding for eye health has not risen in line with demand.
Non-medical support in the eye clinic is also something that needs to be improved. When a patient receives the news that they are losing their sight, it can be a confusing and frightening experience. Further investment is needed to fund Eye Clinic Liaison Officers. These vital staff offer support and advice when people are at their most vulnerable in their sight-loss journey and can have a massive impact on a patient’s resilience and independence.
Defrost financial support for blind and partially sighted people
Wednesday represents a golden opportunity for the Chancellor to give vital help to those receiving, or applying for, Universal Credit. He should announce the end of the ‘benefit freeze’ which has meant benefits such as Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) haven’t been increased annually as other benefits, such as PIP, have. Currently the freeze is set to run until next year. Announcing a benefits thaw would help thousands of blind and partially sighted people, including those on lower wages, who could receive increased Tax Credits.
Improve employment opportunities for those affected by sight loss
The Chancellor will no doubt use the Spring Statement to celebrate high employment rates among the general population. However, it is clear that these higher employment rates are not being felt equally across the country. Our research shows that just one in four blind and partially sighted people of working age are in employment.
Last week, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said that she wanted Government to be more ambitious about getting more disabled people into work. This is a welcome step, but we’ll be pressing for more radical action in the coming year.
What’s happened to the Social Care Green Paper?
In his first budget as Chancellor, in March 2017, Mr Hammond announced a Green Paper on social care to address future funding pressures in the care system. He said that the Green Paper would be published in the summer of 2017. Two years on and there are no signs of it, while the care system finds itself in further crisis. We’ll be looking for an update from the Chancellor this week.
Whatever happens in the Spring Statement on Wednesday, RNIB will continue to fight for these improvements to the support for people with sight loss across the UK. You can help us achieve these aims by working with us and communicating with your own MP – to bring forward real change, faster.