Campaigners have warned that this week’s budget has produced a new and worrying attack on disabled people’s rights and support.
While most of the media’s attention was focused on measures such as reducing the top rate of income tax, freezing tax allowances for pensioners, and increasing the personal allowance, another announcement has alarmed disabled activists.
The chancellor, George Osborne, suggested that he could be planning another £10 billion of cuts to welfare spending, in addition to the £18 billion already announced since the coalition came to power two years ago.
He claimed that the welfare budget was set to rise “to consume one third of all public spending” if nothing was done to “curb welfare bills further”.
And he said that the next spending review would “have to confront this”, with figures showing that to keep spending cuts in other departments at their current levels, the government would “need to make [annual] savings in welfare of £10 billion by 2016”.
Disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations were horrified by the threat, and said they feared that many of these cuts could fall on disabled people and disability benefits.
Sue Marsh, a disabled activist who has played a key part in campaigning against the cuts to disability benefits in the new Welfare Reform Act, said her reaction on learning of the new threatened cuts was “beyond incredulity”.
She said she believed the government would focus any further cuts on groups such as disabled and unemployed people and single parents.
She said: “It was £18 billion before and I didn’t think they could do that. I already felt that £18 billion had brought us to a tipping point. Now it’s only about how far we tip. Any further cuts are just going to cause massive, massive hardship.
“If they tried to put through another £10 billion and 50 per cent of that fell on our shoulders, I think last year’s riots would look like nothing [in comparison].”
Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK, said a £10 billion cut in welfare spending “could be very damaging for disabled people”, even if the cuts were not made directly to disability benefits [many disabled people claim mainstream payments such as pensions and jobseeker’s allowance].
He said he feared the Treasury wanted to transfer older people from disability living allowance (DLA) to the new personal independence payment (PIP), and make similar cuts to the 20 per cent reductions already announced to spending on DLA/PIP for working-age disabled people.
Roger Lewis, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said he believed the government had placed disabled people “very clearly central in their sights” and that disabled people were “being squeezed off benefits and being squeezed out of work”, as so many had jobs in the cash-strapped public sector.
He said: “It feels like we are being marginalised in society and most of the gains we have won over the last 50 or 60 years are being completely pushed back. It is a very, very, very grim picture.”
Henrietta Doyle, Inclusion London’s policy officer, said: “We are very concerned at the possibility of a further £10 billion in cuts in welfare benefits because well over half of disabled people claim welfare benefits and tax credits.”
The Treasury has said that any decisions on the £10 billion – and how any cuts would be split between welfare and spending in other government departments – would only be made at the next spending review, although there have been reports that this review could be brought forward from 2015.
22 March 2012