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EMILY BROTHERS ARGUES THE CHANCELLOR HAS DELIVERED A DISABLING BUDGET FOR DISABLED PEOPLE

SUNDAY 20 MARCH 2016

Emily Brothers, one of Labour’s few disabled Parliamentary Candidates in 2015, has criticised George Osbourne’s budget for its disabling effects on disabled people. She said:
“George Osbourne finds himself feeling his way blindly out of budget chaos today, ‘handicapped’ by yet another series of blunders. Blinkered by Tory dogma to reduce the deficit at all costs, the Chancellor delivered a disabling budget on disabled people.
“Iain Duncan-Smith’s suggestion that we shouldn’t “under estimate the determination of a quiet man” may well apply to influencing the future Tory leadership and the outcome of the European Referendum. However, the idea that one of the Government’s strongest advocates for cutting disability benefits has suddenly found his voice can only be received with incredulity.
“I heard Iain Duncan-Smith saying he wanted to slip through reforms under the radar during obscure parliamentary sessions, not in the full glare of a budget that was bound to spark reaction. They were apparently the proposals that he put forward and got support from both the Prime Minister and Chancellor. So Iain Duncan-Smith making silent protests about his own reform reminds me of Frances Bacon’s words:
‘Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.’
“This resignation shows the Tories in disarray, with deep divisions now emerging on their cuts agenda. Whilst they scramble around in the long grass, Labour needs to nail down that austerity isn’t delivering for Britain.
“Just hours before Iain Duncan-Smith resigned, for the third time a Tribunal directed him to comply with a Freedom of Information request to reveal documents about how the Government introduced Universal Credits. Releasing the papers will have a ‘chilling effect’ in revealing Chaos within Government and the candid advice of officials. That may suggest an expeditious departure, not a principled one.
“If Iain Duncan-Smith truly finds the latest proposals reprehensible, it is difficult to understand why his Ministerial team don’t appear to share those misgivings. It is surely time for Lord Freud who worked closely to review PIP, together with the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, to step down from Government or explain the ‘indefensible’.
“The Prime Minister’s response to Iain Duncan-Smith asked:
‘Today we agreed not to proceed with the policies in their current form and instead to work together to get these policies right over the coming months.
‘In the light of this, I am puzzled and disappointed that you have chosen to resign.’
Well count me into that puzzlement on what has being going on, but also what is going to happen next to make PIP more effective for disabled people and how the Government intends to plug the £4.4BN they now seem to have put aside. The current disarray is creating confusion and turmoil over Government policy intentions on disability benefits and how they will get back on track to turn in a £10BN surplus by 2020.
“Although an ideological budget, it had much to do with presentation for the key players. It demonstrates an unhealthy control by the Treasury across Government. Undermining Ministers by rolling their programmes into an overarching dogma for austerity has the tendency to hack them off, turning whispers into a hell of a row. This time it was over disability benefits, next time the corrosive effects might reach education. How well connected was Nicky Morgan on the decision to turn all schools into academies? That announcement wasn’t about economics, tackling failing schools or raising standards, but about another DOGMA TO relinquish the state from the education of the ‘next generation’.
“This was clearly a political budget, designed to deliver a surplus by 2020 without regard to the consequences to the most ‘vulnerable’ in society. That is undoubtedly true, but Labour mustn’t allow itself to be drawn into the comfort zone of protecting people. That’s too defensive and lacks the vision disabled people want, so we can live independently and aspire.
“Labour needs to cease this opportunity to reinforce our rights based approach to securing independent living for disabled people. Rooted in the social model of disability, our policies need to enable Labour participation in society by improving access around our communities, provide opportunities to achieve in education and at work.
“That presents a fundamental challenge, with Disabled people facing both an ‘income penalty’ due to employment barriers and ‘cost of living penalty; due to the extra costs of living with an impairment or long-term health condition. In developing a comprehensive strategy to break the link between disability and poverty, we need to tackle the causes, both the disabling barriers and consequences.
“The Coalition Government set in train an attack on working age disabled people by replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIP). New arbitrary criteria was designed to reduce entitlement for 160,000 claimants and stopped for a further 170,000 people. The latest move came with Paul Gray’s review which sought to take into account the use of aids for dressing and meeting toilet needs in an effort to further cut the number of receipiants.
“Whilst DLA/PIP is intended to meet the extra costs of disability, many people have to spend it on everyday costs because of the poverty they experience. That will get worse with cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Meanwhile, inflexible DLA/PIP criteria means that many day-to-day activities are not addressed, including communication needs or support to break people’s isolation. That’s why an additional third PIP component is needed to more comprehensively address the needs of disabled people. That can’t happen with the proposed £1.3BN cut to PIP, affecting 370,000 people.
“Cuts to local Government services are having a disproportionately negative impact on disabled people. Since 2010 £4.6BN has been lost to social care funding according to Independent Age. That will be exacerbated by the chancellor’s budget measures to extend business rate relief to smaller business and shops, taking £7BN out of newly devolved funding to councils in England. This will undoubtedly have implications for disabled people’s care needs.
“So there is much to worry about for disabled people. Just a few weeks ago, I submitted my form for assessment under the new system. Being blind, having hearing loss and gone through a triple heart bypass isn’t going to change, nor will the barriers to daily living and mobility be dismantled any time soon. Like many disabled people, I fear the outcome as it may impact on my independence and living standards.
“Individually and collectively there will be agreement about supporting people with the greatest needs. How that is achieved and with what resources will determine who will ultimately get some support or none at all. For Tories that involves tax give-aways to high earners and wealthy pensioners. For Labour it is about fairness, closing inequality gaps and enabling people to live independently.
“Budgets are about setting priorities. George Osbourne has consistently made the wrong choices, not least by locking disability benefits into the Government’s austerity agenda. Applying reductions to Capital Gains and Corporation Tax to the cost of disability benefits is not only despicable, but charts Labour’s alternative narrative for fairness and fiscal credibility.”

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