This week’s autumn statement – the last before the general election – demonstrates the government’s “total disregard” for disabled people, say campaigners.
George Osborne’s speech to MPs omitted any mention of disabled people, but there was also no mention of disability by any MP in the subsequent cross-party debate.
This meant that the government’s latest tax and spending plans were discussed for nearly three hours without a single mention of their impact on disabled people.
Even in the 110-page autumn statement document published by the Treasury, there were just three fleeting mentions of “disabled people” or “disability”.
There was also huge concern at Osborne’s apparent attempt to scapegoat social security claimants by referring to “the disastrous decisions on spending, borrowing and welfare that got us into this mess”.
And in another apparent attack on those who are unable to work he said he wanted to “support people who want to work hard and get on”.
He also alarmed those who reply on public services by pledging “very substantial savings in public spending” in the “coming years”, and announcing new measures to “control benefit spending by freezing universal credit work allowances for a further year”, which will affect those in low-paid jobs.
Henrietta Doyle, policy officer for Inclusion London, accused the chancellor of being “out of touch with the experiences of disabled people”, who would “struggle to survive further cuts, as many are already isolated and struggling to pay for food, fuel and rent”.
She said: “The banking crisis caused the financial ‘mess’, not government spending or the costs of welfare.
“Disabled people should not be made to pay for the mistakes of the banks through harsh cuts to welfare and support which are causing more poverty and isolation.”
She added: “The government continues to divide those on low incomes into the deserving and underserving poor, while barriers such as discriminatory attitudes amongst employers that prevent disabled people from working still continue.”
Linda Burnip, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said Osborne’s autumn statement offered only “cuts, cuts and more cuts”.
She said: “It really is time politicians of all parties woke up to the fact that it is likely to be disabled people’s votes that win or lose them the next election.”
Dr Sarah Campbell, principal co-author of the Spartacus report, said: “Once again the government show their total disregard for disabled people, who were left largely unmentioned in the autumn statement.
“Osborne claims to support people who ‘want to work and get on’, yet at the same time is implementing cuts and changes in disabled students’ allowance, Access to Work, disability living allowance (DLA) and social care, preventing disabled people from doing so.
“He also showed his lack of commitment to those sick and disabled people who are unable to work.
“Already hit by cuts such as the bedroom tax and the one per cent cap, they now face a freeze in employment and support allowance and housing benefit [through a two-year benefits freeze], as well as the… cuts to DLA and social care.”
But she added: “The opposition did no better [in the autumn statement debate], failing to highlight these issues and stand up for disabled people.”
Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, criticised Osborne’s “repeated, sinister references to welfare”.
She said: “Obviously he is not going to be specific before the election about actual cuts. But after the election he is promising savage cuts, and as some other things are ring-fenced, then welfare is well and truly one of his targets.”
Jane Young, a disabled consultant and campaigner, said the autumn statement “does nothing to help the 300,000 disabled people who need accessible homes”, and that changes announced to stamp duty were “of no use to the hundreds of thousands of disabled people struggling to afford private rent, who have no hope of getting on the housing ladder”.
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “Basically it is saying that if you are not working you are a waste of resources, a ‘useless eater’.
“By omitting disabled people, it just shows the absolute contempt that the Tory-led government has for disabled people and for the humanity of those who are victims of austerity.”
But he said the policy of austerity had “completely failed by their own standards”, with the coalition breaking its pledge to balance the budget in this parliament.
He said: “They are trying to balance the books on the backs of the poor. Austerity is an excuse to privatise everything, including social security, and disabled people are bearing the heaviest burden and paying the heaviest price.”
Rick Burgess, co-founder of the campaigning organisation New Approach, said: “The autumn statement confirms Osborne’s overall aim is a pre-welfare, pre-NHS social settlement with state spending at 1930s levels.
“This means no money for disabled people, no healthcare for the sick and a reliance on charity and a rejection of human rights.
“It is a profound regression from all the progress the UK made after defeating fascism in World War Two.”
The autumn statement did offer two measures that will benefit disabled people.
Osborne announced a £10 million-a-year measure to extend the employment allowance to employers of personal assistants and other care and support workers.
According to Disability Rights UK (DR UK), this means that a family will be able to employ a care worker on a salary of up to £22,500 and pay no employer national insurance contributions.
Sue Bott, DR UK’s director of policy and development, said she was “delighted” with the move.
She said: “It struck us as very unfair when last April the government introduced the £2,000 annual national insurance contribution employment allowance to small employers and specifically excluded disabled people employing personal assistants.
“Disability Rights UK and the Low Income Tax Reform Group have been lobbying to right this unfairness. I’m glad we have been listened to.”
There was also an extra £60 million between 2015-16 and 2018-19 for the Access for All programme, enough to improve access at about 20 rail stations.
Disability News Service reported in April that the government had cut the budget for Access for All from £370 million over its first 10 years (from 2006-2015) to just £103 million over the next four (2015-16 to 2018-19), across England, Scotland and Wales.
The new money will mean this funding increases to about £160 million in the four years to 2018-19, a figure more in line with the first 10 years of the scheme.
Lianna Etkind, campaigns and outreach co-ordinator for the user-led accessible transport charity Transport for All, said: “In an autumn statement that is mostly bad news for disabled people, this investment is a glimmer of progress.
“Improving station access helps disabled people get to work, travel to see friends and family, and play a full part in public life.”
Pat Onions, from Pat’s Petition, said these “small grants of money” were “extremely welcome”, but she added: “We have been here before. A small grant can be used as a sweetener to distract attention from other savage cuts.
“And the more this [autumn statement] is dissected, the more it is obvious that welfare is going to take a massive hit.”
4 December 2014