Government cuts ‘could see disabled people slide back to the bad old days’


Government policies on social care, health and benefits risk sending disabled people sliding back to “the bad old days of dependency, isolation and poverty”, a disabled peer has warned.

In a Lords debate on the Queen’s speech, Baroness [Jane] Campbell urged the government to work closely with disabled people – as Tory governments in the 1980s and 1990s had done – and said that cutting social care was “a false economy”.

She told fellow peers: “The Independent Living Fund has been closed, independent living care packages are being cut and disabled people really fear where the £12 billion in welfare cuts will fall.”

Baroness Campbell said that the proportion of disabled people who feel they have choice and control over their lives dropped from 76 per cent in 2008 to 66 per cent in 2014, while 97,000 fewer disabled people were now receiving support compared with five years ago.

The crossbench peer also called for more support for working-age disabled people, rather than the current focus on older people.

Of 91 Better Care Fund plans – designed to support councils and NHS organisations to jointly plan and deliver local health and care services – that were approved in October 2014, only 14 included a focus on working-age disabled people, she said.

She said: “The government must now look much more closely at how the Better Care Fund can support people of all ages, if they want us to work and participate in society.”

And she said the government must also examine how the extra £8 billion a year it has pledged to invest in the NHS in England by 2020 would support social care.

Baroness Campbell said: “Social care enables disabled people and informal carers to become more socially and economically active, avoiding expensive residential care and hospital admissions.”

Her speech came as the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care issued an “urgent plea” for “sustained and substantial” extra spending, in the face of an expected fall in the adult social care budget of £1.1 billion in 2015-16.

In an ADASS survey of social care directors, half said they believed fewer disabled people would get access to support over the next two years, 58 per cent believed personal budgets would be smaller, and 17 per cent thought that quality of care would worsen.

And a national survey of NHS leaders for the NHS Confederation – also published this week – found that 99 per cent agreed that cuts to social care funding were putting increased pressure on the NHS, while 92 per cent agreed that cuts to social care funding were increasing pressures on their own organisation and services for patients.

Responding to the NHS Confederation survey, a Department of Health spokesman said: “We have given an extra £1.1 billion to councils to help protect social care services this year, and have committed £10 billion extra by 2020, which is going into health and social care systems that are being merged for the first time.

“The £5.3 billion Better Care Fund is the first ever national programme to join up health and social care, which will focus resources on helping people to live independently, saving money and improving care closer to home. These figures show the need for that holistic approach.”

But Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, called on NHS leaders to do more to highlight the “crisis” in social care funding, and the impact on the NHS of social care cuts.

She said: “NHS leaders are continuing to highlight the lack of resources for social care, but I believe they need to go further. 

“They have the ear of government and the general public so they have a crucial responsibility to spell out exactly what the social care crisis means, including increased mental distress, higher admissions to hospitals, and loss of independent living. 

“Whilst the high expenditure on agency nursing care is significant and should be highlighted, I believe the social care crisis will end up costing the NHS far more.”

In the Lords, Baroness Campbell also called on the government to merge assessments for health and social care eligibility and those for benefits, to avoid “wasting public funds on bureaucracy and appeals”.

And she suggested a “triple lock” on the value of personal independence payment (PIP) – which meets some of the extra costs of disability and is replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA) – to match measures taken by the coalition to protect the value of the state pension.

The triple lock was introduced in the last parliament, and ensures that the state pension increases every year by the higher of inflation, the increase in average earnings, or 2.5 per cent. 

Baroness Campbell said that research by Scope estimated that disabled people spend on average £550 a month on disability-related expenditure such as daily living equipment, higher heating bills, taxis and higher insurance premiums. Her own annual bill is about £12,000.

Her fellow disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat Baroness [Celia] Thomas, told the welfare reform minister Lord Freud that she and other peers were “understandably fearful of the £12 billion of planned cuts” to the budget of the Department for Work and Pensions.

She said she feared the government could be about to introduce the “nightmare policy” of taxing or means-testing disability benefits, and called on Lord Freud to make a commitment not to cut the Access to Work budget.

She said: “We do not know nearly enough about where these cuts will come.”

Lord Freud said he was “not in a position” to tell Baroness Thomas and other peers where any cuts to welfare would come from.

He said: “We are looking at how to make those savings and will set out those savings when the work is complete.”

Baroness Campbell told Disability News Service later that she had written a letter to Lord Freud to ask him why he had ignored her questions when responding to the debate, including – for the second time – her request for the government to introduce a PIP “triple lock”.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Kate Green, has written to the new minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, to ask him whether the government has any plans to cut disability benefits.

She said in the letter that “disabled people, their families and carers remain deeply fearful about the government’s plans”.

And she pointed out that Labour’s shadow employment minister, Stephen Timms, had asked the prime minister to rule out any further cuts to disability benefits, at prime minister’s questions this week, but he had failed to do so.   

Instead, she wrote, she was surprised to hear David Cameron tell MPs that PIP was “more generous to those who are most disabled” than DLA, when the highest level of PIP is no higher than the highest DLA rate, while “the government’s policy intention for PIP is to reduce spending on this benefit by 20 per cent compared to spending on DLA”.