Leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have raised grave concerns about the prospect of major cuts to public services, following the creation of a coalition government led by the Conservatives.
As part of the coalition document drawn up by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, the parties agreed that £6 billion cuts to “non-front line services” would be made in this financial year.
The Liberal Democrats had warned during the election campaign that further spending cuts should wait until the economic recovery had gathered steam.
But as part of the coalition agreement, the Liberal Democrats have now backed immediate moves to start tackling the UK’s budget deficit.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said: “We are concerned that public expenditure cuts may adversely and disproportionately affect disabled people.”
She said NCIL was keen to work with the new coalition government “in a positive way to ensure that disabled people’s rights and opportunities are maintained and improved”.
But she said that, even though all the political parties had pledged to protect frontline services during the election campaign, there was “plenty of evidence that services on the ground are already suffering”.
She added: “What we are finding in situations reported to us on our information line is that people are already experiencing cut backs in their care packages, some by as much as 25 per cent.”
She said if this was to continue it would “make a mockery of what was said about protecting frontline services”.
And she said NCIL’s fear was that the “invisibility” of disability issues in the election could mean that disabled people would “continue to be disproportionately affected by the cutbacks”.
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, agreed that DPOs were concerned about the impact of possible spending cuts, and added: “I think everyone is really feeling nervous.”
He said DPOs – particularly those financially supported by local authorities – were concerned about how cuts to public spending would impact on their own finances.
He said: “This is new territory for everyone. We don’t know how things are going to pan out.”
Peter De Oude, community involvement manager for Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, said disabled people were “scared” and “concerned” about the impact of possible cuts to public services on their right to independent living.
He said: “Our members are very, very concerned about cuts in spending.”
He said that spending cuts could mean some disabled people being deprived of the support that would allow them to live independently, and risked a return to the days when disabled people were “treated as charity cases that need pity”.
And he said there were real concerns that a Tory-led coalition would lead to a “bigger role for private sector organisations” in service provision, with less user involvement in the development of services.
De Oude said disabled people would also be concerned that a Conservative-led coalition would be less likely to understand that “disability is a human rights issue”.
“The danger is that it is either being eroded or there is less of a drive to understand the issues that are important to disabled people and in particular that disabled people are human beings.”
13 May 2010