An Autumn Statement that has provided “distracting crumbs” of funding will not be enough to address the impact of 12 years of austerity that has stripped away support from disabled people, campaigners and activists warned this week.
The response from disabled people’s organisations and leading activists to Jeremy Hunt’s first significant financial event as chancellor was mostly one of relief that it did not entrench austerity and its impacts even further, following a decade of cuts.
But there was also concern at many of the funding announcements, questions over decisions the government failed to take, and warnings that countless disabled people were now facing destitution.
Much of the focus was on the measures taken on social security, most importantly the decision to uprate working-age and disability benefits – and pensions – by 10.1 per cent.
Inclusion London said there had been “intense lobbying” from disabled people’s organisations on the need for such an uplift, because of soaring inflation, and the increase was needed now, not next April.
An Inclusion London spokesperson said: “It is worrying that we had to campaign on this, when so many people on a low income are clearly struggling and will be increasingly struggling over the winter months.”
And she said there was a need for a “broader review of the adequacy of benefits rates” so they can be increased to a level that enables an “adequate standard of living”.
Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) said the increase in benefits was “welcome but not enough and not happening soon enough”.
Becki Meakin, involvement manager at Shaping Our Lives, said the increase “disguises the fact that existing welfare benefits fall far short of providing people with an above poverty income”, and was not taking effect until April, so would leave people “in a desperate financial situation as we enter the coldest and hardest time of the year”.
Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL) also said the uplift was “not enough”, as inflation was even higher than 10.1 per cent.
It also said that financial support was needed now, not in April, including for disabled people with higher energy costs due to their use of independent living aids such as powered wheelchairs, beds and toilets.
George Baker, general secretary of The Disability Union, said the uplift was “surprising and welcome, but is still the bare minimum”.
He said: “The benefits system needs a major rethink to address the worsening economic situation.”
Hunt (pictured) also announced new funding for adult social care, with up to £2.8 billion extra in 2023-2024 in England and £4.7 billion in 2024-2025.
Hunt said this would “allow the social care system to deliver an estimated 200,000 more care packages over the next two years”.
He also confirmed a decision to delay for another two years the so-called Dilnot reforms – widely seen as regressive and unfair – that would have introduced a lifetime cap of £86,000 on how much anyone pays for care in England.
GMCDP said the new social care funding was “far below the amount needed and as such is merely accepting social care will continue to collapse due to delay of political reform… and underfunding”.
Inclusion London said the extra funding was welcome, but the government needed to increase the social care minimum income guarantee, so that “people who pay for care out of their benefits are not left choosing between vital care, heating or eating”.
Under current rules, it said, all increases in benefits for those paying their council for support could go towards their care charges and leave them no better off.
Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, was another to welcome the extra funding but warn it was not enough, and so would “do little to lift people up to the level they require” and would “not benefit those who already have or will have their care package cut”.
George Baker, from The Disability Union, added: “Social care desperately needs extra funding but this will not address the core issue, which is that the care sector is currently not functioning under existing demand.”
He said that 200,000 new care packages “will not address even the existing backlog”.
Hunt also announced that the managed migration of those on income-related employment and support allowance to universal credit – due to start this autumn – would be delayed until April 2028, a move seen by the Treasury as a cost-saving measure.
GMCDP said the delay was “welcome” but that the “fundamental problems” around the migration process were “not being addressed”.
BRIL said the move showed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was “in disarray”.
ESA claimants will still be able to make a claim if they believe they will be better off under universal credit (UC), and those ESA claimants whose circumstances change will still be forced onto UC, missing out on the so-called transitional protection they would have received under managed migration.
Inclusion London said ESA was a “vital lifeline” for many disabled people and the delay “gives a clear opportunity to review how universal credit is or isn’t working for disabled people”.
The Disability Union added: “Any delay to the changeover of ESA is always welcome, as it allows us more time to pressurise the government to change course on this entirely.”
Hunt also announced a pause in the continuing migration of working-age claimants of disability living allowance onto personal independence payment (PIP), which has been continuing since October 2013.
GMCDP said the pause was “welcome” but failed to address PIP’s “shortcomings”.
A GMCDP spokesperson said: “We need a new co-designed disability benefit, administered by a new government department, as the Department for Work and Pensions is institutionally disablist.”
Kathy Bole, from Disability Labour, welcomed the pause, and said: “The system for PIP is flawed and it has been since its inception.
“We urge the government to fix PIP and hire and train more staff to engage with individual disabled people.”
BRIL said: “The fact that they have to pause it means they are not able to get on with their own programme.
“Either they do not have enough staff, or it is not well managed.”
The Disability Union’s George Baker said the move was “unsurprising, considering the disaster that is PIP.
“Reading between the lines, it becomes increasingly clear that the government recognise their flagship benefit reforms simply do not work.
“They are, as usual, kicking the can down the road.”
Hunt also announced a further £900 cost-of-living payment to those on means-tested benefits during 2023-24, a significant increase on this year’s £650.
But there will be just another £150 cost-of-living payment for those on non-means-tested disability benefits such as personal independence payment – the same as this year’s payment.
Inclusion London said this was “welcome” but “not enough”, while Disability Labour said it would be “too little, too late for many” and was not enough “to truly help those in the greatest need” and “those who currently teeter on the edge of financial ruin”.
GMCDP also said the payment was too low and would “leave many disabled people experiencing proportionately greater degrees of poverty”.
The Disability Union said: “Inflation is leaving many disabled people destitute. This is a paltry sum compared to what’s needed.
“Disabled people, in fact all citizens, need to be guaranteed food, shelter and heating to avoid a poverty crisis.”
BRIL said: “This shows us that we are only a sixth of the value of people on means-tested benefits.
“It is cruel because it is often established that disabled people need higher heat levels in their homes due to not being able to exercise or have no assistance or support to exercise.
“Many disabled people are also living in lower-quality insulated buildings.”
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights (DR UK), said the payment “doesn’t touch the sides” of what is needed, due to years in which there has been a lack of “meaningful increases”.
Pensioners will receive a £300 cost-of-living payment, also the same as this year’s.
Another decision announced by Hunt last Thursday was that social housing rents – nearly one in five households in England are in the social rented sector – will only be allowed to increase by a maximum of seven per cent in 2023-24.
DR UK’s Mikey Erhardt said that “no other group of people is as reliant on the social housing sector as disabled people”, and the government should have frozen social housing rents and service charges, and taken action to address “inaccessible homes, huge rates of disrepair, hazardous homes and poor behaviour from landlords”.
He said the government’s actions would instead “fuel the flames of this crisis, pushing more and more disabled people into rent arrears as their costs become too much to handle”.
GMCDP said there needed to be a freeze on rents across all housing sectors, an increasing in local housing allowance rates, and new private sector rent controls.
BRIL also questioned why there needed to be any increase in social housing rents.
Inclusion London criticised the failure to address rising rents in the private sector and in mortgage payments, both of which will have a significant impact on disabled people.
Disability Labour said the social housing rent cap was “welcome” but still too high, and added: “We call for a cap on rents to prevent profiteering, the abolition of section 21 [no fault] evictions and a tangible financial investment in building accessible social housing which is in a habitable condition.”
Kamran Mallick, from DR UK, said it was not clear whether the government’s public spending announcements, including increases for education and social care, “will do anything other than leaving us running to stand still”.
He said disabled people were “still only being thrown peanuts”.
He said: “Fuel costs are set to continue to skyrocket, essential education and care services for disabled children and adults have already been cut to the bone, pushing local authorities to the brink of bankruptcy.
“While the government hasn’t completely put the knife into disabled people, it is still twirling it between its fingers.”
A GMCDP spokesperson said: “Overall the government is removing £55 billion from the economy and intensifying austerity, at a time when more money circulating in the lower income sections of the economy is needed.
“Austerity is simply going to cause more harm and more deaths. The measures announced are distracting crumbs to obscure from this fact.”
Inclusion London said: “Time and time again, disabled people are treated as acceptable collateral damage.
“While the Autumn Statement turns away from the harshest austerity measures, we know that more must be done to prevent further avoidable deaths.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said the reforms “around the edges” of the “defective” social security and social care systems were “really about kicking both benefits and social care reform into the long grass yet again” and do “nothing to reform the disablism of the DWP or to address its long-term failure to involve disabled people and listen to their proposals and experience”.
Ellen Morrison, Labour’s disabled members’ representative on its national executive committee, said that any mitigation was useful in such a serious crisis.
But she said: “Ultimately, though, the situation has become so dire for disabled people that fragmented, unpredictable supplements cannot meaningfully help.
“Extra funding and cost-of-living payments might limit the worst of what we’re facing, but we’re 12 years into a programme of austerity that has stripped away the services we rely on to such an extreme that housing support, the NHS, social care and schemes like Access to Work are barely working.
“Only with a complete overhaul to the social security system and the approach to funding vital services, could disabled people begin to see the level of support we truly need.
“Anything short of that will lead to more of the same: state-led discrimination that continues to violate our human rights.
“Disabled people deserve better than waiting for dribs and drabs.
“Many disabled people are in work or ineligible for means-tested benefits.
“One-off £150 payments for PIP claimants will do little in the climate of rising heating, food and fuel costs that we’re disproportionately impacted by.”
And she said the delays to the universal credit migration showed what a “nightmare” it has proven to be and that it was time for the government to admit that it was “not a simplified system in any sense” and was causing “immense harm” to claimants.
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