The new minister for disabled people has been told by many of the country’s leading user-led organisations that the failure to address disability poverty in her government’s new green paper is “shocking and unacceptable”.
Chloe Smith (pictured) was appointed to the post late last week, following the sacking of Justin Tomlinson, and she now assumes responsibility for both the disability benefits green paper and the new disability strategy.
Serious concerns were raised by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) about both the Shaping Future Support green paper and the National Disability Strategy in the days after their publication this summer.
The new DPO Forum England – which represents 21 of the country’s leading DPOs* and was set up after Tomlinson shut down his own advisory forum of DPOs – has now completed its detailed response to the green paper consultation, which closes on 11 October.
It says in its response that it is “shocking and unacceptable” that the green paper “completely fails to address the inadequacy of the financial support available to disabled people who face multiple and complex barriers to employment”.
It also says that the green paper’s repeated references to “affordability” and rising spending on disability benefits is a “major concern”, while its suggestion of a possible merger of personal independence payment (PIP) and universal credit is “unacceptable”.
And it says that the green paper’s “framework of austerity” is “entirely at odds” with the results of the government survey used to inform the disability strategy, which found that only four per cent of disabled people agreed or strongly agreed that disabled people have enough financial support to meet their needs.
The response also says that the green paper is not based in “reality”, partly because it has failed to apologise to disabled people “for subjecting them to a hostile environment” which has caused “many deaths, large scale poverty, exclusion, and human rights abuses that have been examined in detail and condemned by the United Nations”.
Any reform must ensure that the “harmful practises and culture of the institutions administering benefits are changed to be supportive and constructive”, it says.
The DPO Forum England response also stresses the important of independent advocacy for disabled benefit claimants, which it says would best be provided by local DPOs.
And it raises concerns about the Access to Work scheme, the Disability Confident disability employment scheme, and the “20-metre rule” that prevents many disabled people accessing the PIP enhanced mobility rate, and it calls for the removal of all sanctions from the social security system.
It also contrasts the UK government’s approach to reform with that of the Scottish government, which “has been framed to alleviate Disabled people’s stress and anxiety and a lack of trust in the disability benefits system”.
Meanwhile, last week’s ministerial reshuffle also saw the social care minister, Helen Whately, moved to a role at the Treasury, and replaced by Gillian Keegan, who was previously an education minister.
*Members of the new forum include Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, Inclusion London, The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Equal Lives, Disability Positive in Cheshire, Disability Sheffield, and National Survivor User Network
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