The UK government’s welfare reforms risk forcing disabled people in Wales to go “cap in hand” to public bodies for the support they need, according to the country’s leading disabled people’s organisation.
Disability Wales launched a new report this week which warns that working-age disabled people in Wales will be even harder hit than those in the rest of the UK by the welfare reforms being implemented by the UK government.
The Cap in Hand? report, written by the Bevan Foundation for Disability Wales and using many of the government’s own figures, points to the impact of reforms to disability living allowance (DLA) and employment and support allowance, the housing benefit under-occupancy rule (the so-called bedroom tax), the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the introduction of universal credit, and other welfare changes.
It points out that Wales has a higher proportion of disabled people than any other nation or region of the UK, while disabled people in Wales are less likely to be in work than disabled people in all other nations and regions, apart from the north-east of England and Northern Ireland.
It concludes that the reforms will “increase poverty and isolation as well as having a lasting negative impact on disabled people’s independence and standard of living”.
Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said: “Disabled people across the UK will bear the brunt of cuts to the welfare budget, with disabled people in Wales being particularly hard hit.”
She added: “Our concern is that the cumulative impact of all the changes, including to housing benefit, disability living allowance and the Independent Living Fund, will leave many disabled people worse off financially and reduce independence.
“We fear that it will turn back the clock to a time when disabled people and their families had to go ‘cap-in-hand’ to the authorities to receive any support or assistance.”
The report also calls for an end to the use of court-rooms for some benefit appeals, which “further exacerbates the stress that disabled people encounter through the appeals process” and “associate[s]claiming benefits with criminal cases”.
Among its recommendations for the UK government, the report says it should exempt from the “bedroom tax” disabled people who have had adaptations made to their homes, and assess the cumulative impact of all its welfare reforms on disabled people.
It also makes a number of recommendations for the Welsh government, such as improving advocacy services, providing clear guidance to councils on making discretionary payments to disabled people affected by the bedroom tax, and promoting positive images of disabled people “to counteract popular portrayal of disabled people as scroungers, fakers, and workshy”.
Huw Lewis, the Welsh Labour government’s minister for communities and tackling poverty, said the report “adds to the picture we are getting about the very real impact the welfare reforms will have on disabled people in Wales”.
He said: “No one is arguing against reforming the welfare system for the better, but the UK government’s new rules are hitting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Lewis said the Welsh government’s own research suggests that DLA reform will “account for some of the biggest cuts in Wales”.
He said: “We are now undertaking further research on the potential impact of the welfare reforms on those with protected characteristics, including disabled people. We will consider the recommendations in the Bevan report alongside our own findings.”
He added: “Our Framework for Action on Independent Living sets out what the Welsh government is doing to support disabled people to live independently.
“It includes actions to tackle barriers to equality, for instance in access to transport, to suitable housing, and to employment. It also makes the point that all these barriers are part of a jigsaw that needs to be complete if we are to really help people to live independently.”
1 May 2013