December 3rd is International Day of Disabled People. What policy changes could make the lives of disabled people more worth living and bring an end to the conditions that make their existences so often fraught? asks Linda Burnip
The relentless tirade of assessing and testing us for everything so that we are made to feel that our lives are a drain on the public purse would be a good place for new policies to start. Our lives are of value whether this government accept that or not but really we get so very tired of fighting for everything we need.
Regardless of whether our needs are ever likely to improve, disabled people face annual reviews for social care and the support we need to live in the community, taking part in everyday things as non-disabled people do. These reviews induce fear into us as so often social services try to reduce the amount of funding they allow us to have for essential things like support to get out of bed, go to the toilet, shower or clean ourselves and eat. Too often, especially since the Brexit transition period ended in June, are disabled people being told they are too expensive to support to live in their own homes and attempts are made to railroad them into a Care Home or supported living with no or little one-to-one social care.
The government claims it is putting a large amount of funding into social care but the bulk of that is actually going to the NHS and most of the rest will be taken up by an increase in minimum wages and an increasingly elderly population with more people needing social care than ever before. We need a real and substantial increase in funding for social care which will allow us to pay our staff a wage which reflects their skills and the often unsocial hours they have to work.
Also in relation to staffing there is a real crisis in recruitment but again the government have only offered a small plaster to cover a gaping hole with some additional funding for job centre adverts until next March. We need them to urgently reverse the loss of freedom of movement and allow non-UK workers to come and work in social care. Whether anyone would of course is difficult to say: removing restrictions for HGV drivers and others appears to have been a complete failure.
Disabled people are also endlessly assessed and tested for their paltry incomes even though the majority of those receiving social security payments have contributed for many years through National Insurance contributions and taxes. Private firms continue to be paid billions of pounds to carry out assessments which are not fit for purpose and which should be scrapped. GPs who have trained for seven years or more, rather than for a few days, should be allowed to decide whether disabled people are fit for work or should receive Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
A further policy change needed is keeping the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and extending it to legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance. This would allow disabled people to be able to both eat and heat their homes which many cannot afford to do. This is a scandalous situation in what is still an affluent country.
Of course for those receiving social security benefits and in need of social care, the financial situation is even bleaker as PIP, or Attendance Allowance awarded to meet the extra costs of being disabled such as having higher heating bills, is now taken away by Local Authorities to pay towards care, (except by Hammersmith and Fulham who have worked closely with disabled people in their borough.)The amount a disabled person must be left with has not increased since 2015, which is a staggering six years with not even an extra £1 a week more. We are campaigning for an end to care charging which is nothing less than an unfair tax on disability.
A further essential policy change which is needed is an end to conditionality and the use of sanctions in Universal Credit. Benefits and Work states Universal Credit (UC) sanctions rates have rocketed, rising 15-fold in just four months. Not all of those cases are disabled people, but we know many of them will be and we also know too many disabled people have already died as a result of wrongly imposed sanctions when they have been left with no money for food or heating at all.
To summarise: we want the government and opposition parties too to value the lives of disabled people. It would be extremely good if they adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into domestic law, giving us all far greater human rights.
Linda Burnip is co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts.
Image: License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0. Attribution: Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/ Original Author: Nick Youngson – link to – http://www.nyphotographic.com/Original Image: https://www.picpedia.org/highway-signs/d/disabled.html
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