Disabled activists have warned that the £6.2 billion spending cuts announced by the government this week could have a severe impact on disabled people’s lives.
David Laws, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, announced heavy cuts to the budgets of nearly every government department, and warned: “The years of public sector plenty are over.”
He promised to “cut with care” and said the government would “protect the vital public services which we all depend upon, and those in our society who are least able to bear the burdens of national austerity”.
But Inclusion London, the capital’s new Deaf and disabled people’s organisation, warned that cuts on this scale were “likely to mean job losses and restrictions in service provision or quality”.
And Marie Pye, former head of public sector delivery at the Disability Rights Commission, and now a Labour local councillor in east London, said the prospect of cuts to public services was “really, really scary”.
Services such as providing social care and making buildings accessible were expensive, she said.
But Pye said that public bodies that carried out good quality equality impact assessments when making difficult spending decisions would be able to minimise the impact on disabled people.
She said that “disability-confident” public bodies would ensure that “fairness in services gets protected”, while those that were not would cause “difficulties” for disabled people.
Campaigners across the disability movement are stressing that the impact of the cuts on disabled people – both as public sector employees and as service-users – is still unclear.
A clearer picture is likely to emerge after the emergency budget on 22 June and the results of the government spending review, due this autumn.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “We are all aware the cuts in spending are inevitable, but we shall be monitoring those cuts very carefully to ensure that the cuts do not have impact negatively on people who already have higher levels of poverty and disadvantage.”
Among the cuts Laws announced were reductions of £1.165 billion in the annual grants made to local government.
Richard Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, welcomed a government decision not to cut the grant used to support moves towards the personalisation of care services, or any other adult social care grants.
The government also said it would stop its payments into child trust funds, while spending the extra contributions that would have gone to disabled children – £20 million a year – on 8,000 week-long “respite” breaks a year for the families of disabled children.
Laws also announced cuts of £600 million to the cost of quangos (non-government public bodies).
The following day, the Queen’s speech contained details of a bill to give ministers powers to abolish or merge quangos, with the government pledging: “The cost of bureaucracy and the number of public bodies will be reduced.”
Among those likely to face cuts is the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has faced repeated criticism over its performance since its launch in October 2007.
Last autumn, Mark Harper, then the Conservative shadow minister for disabled people, said his party would be watching the performance of the EHRC closely in the lead-up to the general election.
And he suggested it would need to improve its performance if it was to survive in its current form under a Conservative government.
27 May 2010