Budget 2016: A missed opportunity to improve the life chances of disabled people

With the dust settling following yesterday’s Budget, the impact on disabled people has become clear for all to see. Not only did the Chancellor push ahead with cuts to disability benefits, but he also did nothing to address the very real funding crisis in social care.

Cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and reforms to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), confirmed in the budget, will see disabled people across the country struggling to make ends meet. The government is concentrating on short term savings and there is still no long-term solution for the knock-on effects of these cuts, which are likely to lead to additional strain on other services, such as the NHS.

Despite claims that disability welfare expenditure has risen, this has been coupled with a substantial rise in the number of disabled people in need of support. These cuts are estimated to affect over 640,000 disabled people across the country, with 200,000 likely to lose vital support.

Although the changes to PIP may not have a significant impact on people with sensory impairments, and we are pleased that the DWP has listened*  to the concerns of deafblind people, we are seriously concerned about the impact of this policy on other disabled people. These changes are based on weak evidence and, contrary to the Government’s claims, were not recommended in the PIP Independent Review.

Many people we support have to fight hard to get the right amount of PIP and ESA. Both PIP and ESA assessments are riddled with problems, leading to a very high success rate of appeals as a result. However instead of concentrating resources on improving the knowledge of health professionals who undertake the assessments, and making sure they fully understand the impact of different conditions, the government announced in the budget that it will increase the number of DWP representatives attending tribunal hearings; with a view to reducing the number of successful appeals.

Many people who are likely to lose PIP will also be affected by the cut to ESA, leaving them without any vital financial support for their disability. The Government believes that the cut of £30 a week for new ESA claimants, placed in the Work Related Activity Group, will help disabled people into work, but we know from many people we support that this is simply not the case. If anything it will make it substantially harder. Deafblind people tell us the employment support they received so far was highly ineffective and on many occasions actively disempowering. In order to find work, disabled people don’t need cuts in benefits, they need meaningful, accessible, individualised support.

Many disabled people, including people with complex needs, want to work and play an active role in their communities. However, they face many barriers along the way; from employers attitudes and discrimination to inaccessible public transport. Cutting benefits or capping support disabled people can get from Access to Work won’t deal with those problems, and will only make matters worse.

It is time for the Government to live up to their admirable ambition of halving the disability employment gap, and commit the necessary resources to ensure that it can become a reality. Yesterday’s budget did nothing to help bring this about.

If you are concerned about the impact of the changes to disability benefits on you or someone you support, please contact Sense’s Information and Advice service.    

* The briefing document included in this oldblog post is in an PDF format.   If you would like a copy in Word please contact campaigns.info@sense.org.uk


Author: Svetlana Kotova

Policy Advisor (Welfare Benefits & Employment) for Sense Public Policy

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