Furious politicians and disability campaigners have attacked the minister for disabled people after she tried to justify the latest round of government cuts to disability benefits.
Activists, and MPs and peers from more than 10 disability-related all party parliamentary groups – including those on disability, learning disability and autism – were particularly angry about government plans to remove the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from council-funded residents of care homes.
Maria Miller MP claimed the move was a “tough decision” but was taken because the money to pay for people’s mobility was “duplicated” in the support provided by local councils through care and support packages, a claim greeted with disbelieving laughter by campaigners.
Lord [Brian] Rix, a crossbench peer and president of Mencap, drew loud applause when he told Miller: “I can’t tell you the anger I felt…at the removal of the mobility allowance.”
He said this would affect 60,000 people with learning difficulties who “rely on the mobility allowance” to get out of their care setting “to go anywhere”.
He added: “To say local authorities are going to help – local authorities are cutting back, charging for everything. It’s an impossible situation.”
Lord Rix also drew applause from the audience when he said that the government’s claim that everyone would suffer equally from the cuts “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever”.
And a representative of the disability organisation SeeAbility drew further loud applause later in the meeting when he pleaded with the minister to “think again” on cutting the mobility component.
He said the move was “the wrong choice” and that cutting it would make a small saving but would make a “huge difference” to disabled people’s ability to “do things that they will not be able to do if you withdraw that benefit”, such as accessing the community or visiting a loved one.
Miller appealed to those at the meeting to “look at the totality of the measures” the government had introduced around disability.
She said that by “simply picking on one element like that” people were “not really grasping what we are trying to do”.
She added: “We are offering more support than ever before to disabled people to get into work. You do need to look at those different issues side by side.”
But she promised: “We will absolutely make sure that we watch carefully how this is implemented but this is a tough spending review but it is not going to be without pain and I understand people’s concerns about this.”
Anne McGuire, the co-chair of the all party parliamentary group on disability and a former Labour minister for disabled people, who herself has a long-term health condition, said she was disturbed by the decision to impose a one-year time limit for those people who claim the “contributory” form of employment and support allowance and are in the “work-related activity group”.
She said they would be likely to be “distant from the labour market” and that “for some of these people a year will just not be sufficient to re-engage with the labour market”.
Miller said the government had “thought long and hard about how we can make the savings needed”.
And she claimed: “Even in the teeth of a massive challenge we have married a real appetite for reform with a determination to support those people who need our help.”
She added: “It is important that we look at the ways that different changes in the benefits system are introduced and that they do not deliver a disproportionate effect on particularly vulnerable groups of people.”
Miller was also asked by the disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins how the government would ensure that the £1 billion social care grant announced in the spending review – which was not ring-fenced – would actually be spent by councils on social care.
But disability campaigners laughed again when Miller said that “that is what our local authority elected representatives are there to do”, and that by freeing up local councils to make their own spending decisions the government would ensure disabled people secured the right support packages.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said she was concerned at the government’s plans to cut housing benefit by ten per cent for anyone who had been on jobseeker’s allowance for a year, in the light of continuing “employer prejudice”.
Miller said: “It is a point it is important to look at and make sure how that is going to impact on different groups of people.”
25 October 2010