Leading disability charities have condemned Philip Hammond’s Spring Budget for failing to address the plight of disabled people facing cruel cuts to sickness and disability benefits, describing the Chancellor’s refusal to reverse the draconian changes as a “missed opportunity” that risks pushing disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty.
The Chancellor offered no u-turn or concessions on cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or the government’s decision to overrule two tribunals and deny Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for an estimated 160,000 disabled people, many of whom suffer with debilitating mental health conditions, despite repeatedly stating the government is committed to building a country that works for everyone.
Cuts to ESA will see payments for many new claimants reduced by around £30 a week, despite the Department for Work and Pensions admitting those affected will have been found unable to work following a Work Capability Assessment.
The changes, which come into force for new claims from April 2017, affect those placed in the Work Related Activity Group of ESA and will see payments reduced to the equivalent of Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Phil Reynolds, Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) Policy Group Co-Chair, said: “Today was a missed opportunity to put a stop to damaging cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and reassure disabled people and those with long-term conditions that they will receive a fair deal if they need additional support in future.
“Alongside MPs from all parties, we have warned that the disastrous £1500 per year cut to ESA for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group and the equivalent benefit in Universal Credit will push them further from work and closer to, or deeper into, poverty.”
The courts recently ruled that people who find it difficult to leave the house because of mental illness should be awarded the higher rate of PIP. Rather than adhering to the rulings of two tribunals, the Government announced that they would rewrite the law – denying benefits for more than 160,000 people with mental illness.
Phil Reynolds said: “Proposed changes to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will leave at least 150,000 disabled people without vital financial support in future. We’re extremely concerned that these unnecessary regulations undermine the principle of the PIP assessment.
“Thousands of disabled people will be bitterly disappointed that the Government has not used today’s Budget to scrap these damaging and unnecessary cuts.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “People who find it difficult to leave the house because of anxiety, panic attacks, and other mental health problems are as restricted in their independence as many people with physical mobility problems, and face just as many higher costs in their daily lives as other disabled people do.
“The Government’s changes to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) could affect over 160,000 people with mental health problems – both in and out of work – who have extra costs related to their disability.
“These proposed changes could prevent people accessing the financial support they need to get to health or job appointments, get out to pay for fuel and heating, take their children to school or see friends and family – things essential to their daily lives and recovery, things essential to preventing isolation.
“The Government says that it is committed to treating mental health as seriously as physical health, but these proposals call this commitment into question. These misguided proposals must be reversed.
“Mind is determined to stop these changes going through. These changes are coming into force on March 16th so we have to act fast. We’ve been talking to MPs and members of the House of Lords, urging them to help us stop these changes from happening.
“Our legal team is also looking into a possible legal challenge if this legislation comes into force.”
£2bn additional funding for adult social care in England
The Chancellor did, however, announce an additional £2bn over the next three years for adult social care in England and promised to consult on the long-term future of social care funding. But this still leaves a significant gap in funding and charities are now urging the government to “move swiftly” to close a projected shortfall of £2.6 billion by 2020.
Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope said: “Today’s cash injection is a welcome step forward, and the chancellor is right to recognise that a boost now won’t do more than provide a temporary sticking plaster.
“The care system is on its knees. We welcome the decision to produce a green paper this year that can consider the long term future sustainability of social care.
“But government will need to move swiftly from options to decisions. Approximately 400,000 working age disabled people use social care to get washed, get dressed and get out of the house. There is a funding shortfall of £2.6 billion a year predicted by 2020.
“It’s right that the government will now consult on the long-term future of social care. This Green Paper must lead to rapid action and a solution that works for disabled people.”
Duleep Allirajah, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We welcome more cash for social care, and it is encouraging that the Government admits that more funding is needed for the NHS too.
“The system has reached breaking point and a lack of social care is badly hitting cancer patients. Many are dying in hospital because they cannot get the social care they need at home. Others are facing cancelled operations because a lack of social care means there aren’t enough free hospital beds.
“But we need more than a one-off cash injection, which is only a short-term sticking plaster for pressure on the NHS. We need a long-term, sustainable funding solution for the NHS and social care.
“We hope that the proposed social care green paper signals a real desire to tackle the problem and isn’t simply an exercise in political procrastination.”