Disabled people are becoming increasingly more marginalised in society because of welfare reforms, according to a new study.
Research by disability charity ‘Inclusion Scotland’ – a national network of Disabled People’s Organisations funded by the Scottish Government – found that disabled people are suffering stress, fear and isolation because of changes to the benefits system.
Inclusion Scotland surveyed 315 disabled people and another 60 through ‘free text’ comments. Twenty four of the worst affected were then interviewed to find out how welfare reform was impacting on their lives.
One of the respondents spoke of a friend who committed suicide after failing a Work Capability Assessment for the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance:
“They got him on a good day, they didn’t see him on a day when he was in bed crying and couldn’t get up. He pulled himself together as best he could for the medical and was told his benefits were stopping….three months later he was gone.”
According to the research, disabled people are finding the process of applying for benefits increasingly more difficult and stressful. “I was having terrible anxiety attacks”, said one person waiting to hear about a benefits application.
“Suffering depression is part of my MS, but I was having anxiety like I had never experienced”, they added.
Other key findings include:
- Disabled people have been left confused by the sheer number of the benefit changes taking place and the lack of reliable, accessible information about them.
- Disabled people are not receiving the help they need from overstretched Job Centre Plus staff. DWP staff simply do not have the time or skills to help learning, physically or sensory disabled people overcome the barriers they face in completing complex forms or searching for work.
- Some Job Centre staff are openly hostile towards disabled people and use derogatory terms to describe them. In one case a claimant was shown a tin of air freshener which advisers said they used because, “the people who come in here stink”.
- The political and media rhetoric about ‘skivers’ and ‘scroungers’ has left disabled people feeling stigmatised, vulnerable and isolated.
- Disabled women who have survived sexual violence and abuse are being failed by the benefits system which re-ignites the trauma of abuse.
- Disabled people increasingly fear losing their disability benefits and being plunged into poverty, because their impairments and health conditions create extra costs which Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) does not meet.
Sally Witcher, CEO of Inclusion Scotland said, “What disabled people have told us confirms our worst fears. Welfare cuts are costing disabled people their health, their peace of mind and, in some cases, their lives”.
Dr. Rosalind Greig, the researcher who carried out the interviews said, “It was really distressing to learn just how many disabled people are living in fear not just of welfare cuts, but of how their neighbours might be thinking of them as benefit scroungers”.
Commenting on the findings, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Alex Neil, said: “This report highlights the Scottish Government’s concerns that benefit cuts have already affected some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“That is why I am so concerned about the further benefit cuts that the UK Government are planning to inflict. It is unacceptable that disabled people are finding the process of applying for benefits so distressing.
“With our new powers we will do what we can to make the system fairer and simpler, we will re-establish trust and openness, and we will reject the stigmatising and divisive language that the UK Government has introduced.
“Until these powers are devolved we will oppose all further cuts to the welfare budget and any other reform which undermines the provision of care and support for disabled people.”