The chancellor has sparked an angry reaction after pledging to make another £10 billion worth of benefit cuts in the first year after the next general election.
George Osborne made the promise – later backed by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith – in a speech to the annual Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
The promised cuts to welfare spending will come on top of reductions of £18 billion during the five years of the current parliament.
Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK, said: “We never saw a full impact assessment for the last set of cuts and how they will affect disabled people.
“Most of those measures have not been implemented and yet the government is already looking to cut more from disadvantaged groups, including disabled people.”
He said he believed the government would find some of the £10 billion in cuts by extending personal independence payment – the planned replacement for working-age disability living allowance – to older people.
John McArdle, a founding member of the grassroots disabled people’s organisation Black Triangle, said the organisation was hearing “heart-breaking” stories every day about disabled people “living in absolute fear and dread” because of cuts to benefits and other support.
He said: “What more is there to cut? People are already dying from neglect because of these cuts. If you cut more, more people will die.”
Stephen Lloyd, the disabled Liberal Democrat MP, said he was “very disappointed” that Duncan Smith had failed to “see off the Treasury’s push on further cuts to welfare reform”.
Lloyd told Disability News Service only two weeks ago that he believed Duncan Smith would “fight tooth and nail to resists further cuts to welfare”.
But in this week’s speech, Duncan Smith said the government would “have to make further savings in the welfare budget” and again warned that support for disabled people would go to “those who have genuine need”.
Lloyd said: “My take was that he stayed at the DWP so that the chancellor wouldn’t get the cuts he wanted.
“This may have been the case to an extent but I am not happy with the proposed £10 billion further reductions and will seek more detail on my return to Westminster.”
Adrian Berrill-Cox, a disabled barrister who stood for the Conservatives for the seat of Islington North at the last general election, said any cuts should be “carefully considered and well targeted to the areas where they will do the least harm so benefits can be maintained in areas where they do the most good”.
He said the benefits bill had “risen sharply” over the last 15 years and that “in some places is going to places where it is not that needed and is not reaching other places where it is needed”.
He added: “I don’t think there is much flesh on the bone in disability benefits. I hope that is an area that is not hit as hard as others. Disabled people have life quite tough enough as it is.”
He suggested that the chancellor might introduce means-testing of disability living allowance (DLA).
He said: “I need DLA for my care. I do have additional expenses so I am glad I receive the mobility component.
“But given how tough so many other people’s lives are, whether somebody in my position can make a case for keeping it where there are pressing requirements for government expenditure is another matter.”
He said it would hurt if he lost his higher rate mobility component of DLA – at more than £50 a week – but if somebody else lost that money “they would be housebound”.
He added: “I am being given a financial contribution to my mobility from the taxes of people who earn a quarter of what I do. There are people who need that money more than I do.
“It would be lovely if we could afford to indemnify every disabled person against all the costs they suffer as a consequence of their disability. Our deficit tells us that that is not the world we live in.”
Meanwhile, a Treasury spokeswoman has stressed that new plans to allow workers to swap some employment rights for shares in the company they work for would not result in an assault on discrimination laws.
She said the plans – announced by Osborne – would see the new “employee-owners” give up rights on unfair dismissal, redundancy, and the right to request flexible working and time off for training, but would not affect legal protection from discrimination at work.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission declined to comment because it has “not seen any formal proposals”.
11 October 2012