Government targets disabled and elderly people for cuts

On 12 March, thousands of disabled people – already one of the poorest sectors in society – joined the Hardest Hit demonstration in London. Alongside families, carers and supporters they marched through London to oppose savage cuts in benefits and social services of up to £9bn over the next four years. Among the Coalition government’s attacks on disabled people are the following.

Employment and Support Allowance: Up to three million people who previously received Incapacity Benefit and Income Support are being forced to undergo periodic medical tests to decide if they are entitled to Employment Support Allowance (ESA). The tests, administered by private company Atos Origin, on an £80 million government contract, decide whether those of working age are ‘fit to work’. The assessments have been criticised by a number of charities including the Citizens Advice Bureau as ‘flawed’ and ‘inadequate’, saying that assessors regularly report ‘incorrectly what the claimant has said about their own conditions’. 69% of decisions force claimants off ESA and onto the lower Jobseeker’s Allowance, or off benefits altogether. Yet, between October 2008 and February 2010, almost 40% of these decisions were overturned on appeal. One shocking example concerned a woman with terminal cancer who was awarded zero points for ESA.

Personal Independence Payment: The automatic right to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), worth up to £70 a week for care and up to £50 a week for travel needs, is being phased out. DLA is for many a lifeline, allowing them a small amount of personal dignity and independence. Claimants will have to wait for a year for the new ‘personal independence payment’ and then submit to a series of tests. Ministers say support will also be conditional on disabled people acting on government instructions to ‘better manage or improve their situation if appropriate’, effectively blaming them for their disabilities.

Independent Living Fund: The Independent Living Fund pays out an average of £300 a week to fund carers for 21,000 severely disabled people so that they can live at home and not in a care home. It will be phased out by 2015.

The government is penalising some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, peddling myths of ‘fraud’ and ‘abuse of the system’. Disabled people are being targeted for abuse, harassed for using disabled parking spaces, and reported to the benefits fraud hotline. A recent survey by the charity Scope reported that over half of disabled people experience hostility, discrimination and even physical attacks on at least a weekly basis, and more than a third said the situation had become worse in the last 12 months. No wonder Eleanor Lisney from Disabled People against Cuts has accused the government of ‘taking disabled people back to the Victorian age’.

Council adult care services under attack

In 2009/10 there were 1.7 million adults in England receiving some form of care services, including 215,000 in residential care and 1.46 million receiving ‘community based services’. Most such services are provided by local councils which have the power to set levels of eligibility in terms of care needs and means-testing. With the huge cuts in funding, councils are responding by reducing eligibility for support, closing day and other support centres, and stopping payments to charities which provide essential services.

Many councils have tried to impose the worst cuts on services for the disabled. As part of an attempt to cut £118m from its adult social care budget, the ConDem-run Birmingham council decided only disabled people whose needs had been assessed as ‘critical’ would qualify for council-funded care. A judicial review of the decision has now decided that such blanket decisions are illegal under the Disability Discrimination Act. The review had been brought by the families of four severely disabled people. One of them was a 65-year-old woman with severe learning difficulties who gets 24-hour care in a home, another was a 25-year-old man with a rare genetic disorder and severe learning disabilities who has overnight respite care, and a third, a 30-year-old deaf, autistic man with severe learning disabilities, prone to self-harm and receiving specialist day care. All of them would have lost these council-funded services.

However ...

Disabled and elderly people are fighting back. A group of pensioners and disabled people held up London traffic for an hour when two wheelchair users handcuffed themselves to a bus in Oxford Circus on 26 May while members of the Greater London Pensioners’ Association stood in front of the bus holding placards. Terry Hall, 76, handcuffed himself to the doors of the bus saying ‘I have had cuts to my heating. The bus passes will probably be next. At the end of the day it’s about real people.’

Thomas Vincent and Cat Wiener

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011


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