The chancellor has announced few long-term measures focused on disabled people in his first budget, but he has provided significant emergency funding to cope with the impact of coronavirus on public services, as well as temporary measures on sick pay.
Rishi Sunak used his first budget yesterday (Wednesday) to announce an initial £5 billion in funding that will be used to support the NHS; to prepare and protect other public services; and to fund “local authority actions to support social care services and vulnerable people” in dealing with COVID-19.
It came as the World Health Organization declared yesterday that COVID-19 was now “a pandemic”, with 118,000 cases reported globally across 114 countries.
There was no mention of disabled people in Sunak’s budget speech, and most of the disability-related measures detailed in the budget documents had previously been announced.
But he did announce temporary measures to make it quicker and easier to claim statutory sick pay and the contributory form of employment and support allowance.
There was also no major announcement on long-term social care funding, only confirmation of an extra £1 billion for the system in 2020-21 and the following three years.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock had earlier launched the government’s attempt to secure cross-party consensus from MPs and peers on the issue (see separate story).
Although Sunak did not mention disabled people in his budget speech, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn highlighted both social care and the impact of austerity on disabled people, in his response to the budget speech.
Corbyn said social care was in crisis and “instead of the government presenting a social care plan which the part-time prime minister told us was ready long ago, they are asking the rest of us for ideas”.
And he mentioned the case of Errol Graham, who starved to death after the Department for Work and Pensions wrongly removed his out-of-work disability benefits when he failed to attend a “fitness for work” test, a scandal first revealed by Disability News Service in January.
Corbyn said: “When the chancellor talks about the ‘difficult decisions’ that the government took in imposing austerity, is he thinking of the decision to deprive Errol, and people like him who are going through such trauma in their lives, of their income?
“The worst thing is that austerity, and all that suffering, has been a political choice, not an economic necessity.”
Sunak did announce new funding of £50 million to improve accessibility at 12 rail stations, an expansion of the programme of station upgrades being carried out through the Department for Transport’s Access for All programme.
This funding is on top of the £300 million announced in 2018 in the government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy for improvements between 2019-20 and the end of March 2024.
Sunak also confirmed a new £30 million fund that will help ensure wider provision of accessible Changing Places toilet facilities.
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said: “These are absolutely critical facilities to enable disabled people to live independent lives.
“We very much welcome these funds, which should facilitate the building of well over a 1,000 new Changing Places, and the move to ensure that all future public buildings have to have a Changing Places facility as standard.
“We hope that this is the first step in the government recognising that we need far-reaching changes in the whole of the social and built environments – including housing, the public built environment, and transport.”
Among measures previously announced and confirmed in yesterday’s budget were a guarantee that personal independence payment awards will now last at least 18 months; three years of funding to provide more homes in the community for autistic people and people with learning difficulties who are currently in long-term hospital settings, although there was no mention of how much funding would be provided (the Conservative general election manifesto promised £74 million over three years); and funding to pay for the scrapping of hospital car parking fees in England “for those in greatest need”, including disabled patients.
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