Government policies risk “turning back the clock” on independent living by 40 or 50 years, according to a disabled peer.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell told fellow peers that three key policies meant the government was breaching its duties under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
She said the coalition’s “treatment of essential independent living support for disabled people has become alarmingly unwise and potentially even dangerous”.
She was speaking during a Lords debate, secured by her fellow disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low, on the impact of the government’s policies on disabled people.
Baroness Campbell pointed to the government’s refusal to ringfence the extra £2 billion a year it is giving local authorities to fund social care support, its decision to close the Independent Living Fund to new members, and plans to cut spending on disability living allowance by 20 per cent.
She said the three policies were “having a cumulative effect of putting independent living at risk” and “could really take us back to the 70s or even the 60s, when basic needs were not properly met”.
Lord Low described the government’s decision to impose a 12-month limit on disabled people receiving “contributory” employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for incapacity benefit – as a “particularly savage” policy that went “far beyond anything that was contemplated in the Thatcher era”.
He said the policy – which will affect those in the ESA work-related activity group – would “cause great hardship and have a devastating effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people”, while there “simply aren’t the jobs to enable someone on ESA to get a job within 12 months.”
An estimated 700,000 people will be affected by 2015-16, while 280,000 of them could lose £89 a week, he said.
He added: “To people forced to live on benefit, these figures are mind-boggling. Disabled people see this as a betrayal of the citizen by the state.”
The disabled Labour peer, Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, said cuts to benefits were falling “unfairly and disproportionately” on disabled people, while many were reluctant to claim the support they needed in case they were seen as “scroungers”.
She said Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who were “rubber-stamping” obviously incorrect decisions – made by medical staff working for Atos Healthcare – that disabled people were “fit for work” were “acting illegally”.
She said she believed DWP staff were working to government targets to reduce the number of people claiming incapacity benefits.
The Conservative peer Lord Taylor of Holbeach, responding for the government, claimed the coalition’s policies would help “all disabled people to fulfil their potential and participate fully in society”.
He denied there were targets for forcing people off incapacity benefits, and said ESA was only intended to provide short-term support for those in the work-related activity group.
Lord Taylor said the government’s welfare reform policies were about “doing what is right” and “not about reducing the benefits bill”.
5 May 2011