A busy week for welfare benefits

This has been a crucial week for deafblind people who rely upon disability benefits, and their families.  We’ve had a mixed bag of announcements and decisions from the Treasury and the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, the Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered his post-election budget and finally set out how his £12 billion pounds of welfare cuts will be achieved.  Fears that the government would seek to tax disability benefits such as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or increase the ‘bedroom tax’ were not realised – much to the relief of the disabled people and organisations that have campaigned against them.

But the Chancellor did announce that Work Related Activity (WRAG) Component of Employment and Support Allowance (claimed by disabled people being supported to find work), will be reduced to the same level as the Job Seekers Allowance for new claims made from 2017.  People on the Support Group or existing claimants on the WRAG will not be affected.

This decision will undoubtedly affect the finances of deafblind adults with less severe sensory impairments, many of whom we know are already struggling to make ends meet.   In our experience, this group does not need a benefit cut to incentivise them to look for work – most are already trying hard to get into the workplace but face huge barriers, including negative attitudes from employers, failure to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace, reduced support from Access to Work and inaccessible transport.  The Chancellor also announced that people on the WRAG will get better support to find work, and it remains to be seen how effective the proposed support will be.

But there was great news for children with long term health needs, in the form of a judgement by the Supreme Court on the removal of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from children in hospital.  Under the current system, if a child spends over 84 days in hospital, then their DLA payments are removed. The government had argued that DLA payments were not necessary for these children because when they are staying in hospital, their care needs are being met free of charge by the NHS.  However, the rules caused hardship for many families as most provide the same level of care when their child is in hospital, and many incur significant additional costs as a result of their child’s hospital stay.

In this week’s judgement, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that taking away DLA from a disabled child in hospital is in breach of human rights and is unlawful.  This judgement was achieved as a result of tireless campaigning from Contact a Family and the Mathieson family who brought the case after their son Cameron spent more than two years in hospital before his death.  Congratulations to them all on achieving a judgement which will have a significant impact on families with severely disabled children who spend extended time in hospital undergoing treatment, including many deafblind children.

How will you be affected by this week’s news?  If you would like to share your experiences, drop us a line.

Author: Kate Fitch

Director of Policy and Communication at Sense

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