Peers have raised fears that the government could be planning cuts to the disability living allowance (DLA) budget and the Access to Work (ATW) programme and could be set to abolish the Office for Disability Issues (ODI).
The concerns were raised in a debate held to mark the 40th anniversary of The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.
The disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low said there had been “rumours” that the ODI – which works across government to promote equality for disabled people – was “under threat”.
And he warned that any move to cut spending on ATW would “directly undermine the government’s efforts to move disabled people off benefits and into work”.
He said disabled people were “anxiously awaiting the budget next week with the possibility of cuts in their income through means-testing and restrictions on benefits such as the disability living allowance and attendance allowance”.
The former Labour minister Baroness Thornton asked whether the new coalition government was planning cuts to ATW and a review of DLA, and whether it would take forward the Labour government’s independent living strategy.
The disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell told the debate that the social care system was “in crisis” and that disabled people face “obscenely tough personal assessments of their needs”.
She said: “We need a new approach and new legislation to enable disabled people to face the future with dignity and the assurance that they will not be forgotten by a society that puts resources before need.”
She also criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commission for putting equality for disabled people “on the back-burner”, and said it still needed to learn to incorporate disability rights into its equality and human rights agenda.
Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said it was “vital that any budget cuts do not disproportionately affect disabled people”, and that the coalition was “committed to championing disability equality across government”.
But he said it was too early in the new administration to answer “specific questions” about the government’s plans.
All of the peers paid tribute to Lord [Alf] Morris, who introduced the act as a private members’ bill when he was a new Labour MP.
Lord Low said the act was “one of the most celebrated pieces of legislation in modern times” and was “unquestionably a landmark act”.
Baroness Campbell said the act was “groundbreaking” and praised Lord Morris for being a leader who “worked hand in hand with the people for whom he was fighting”.
The disabled peer Lord [Jack] Ashley, who worked on the bill as a Labour MP, said that one of its main achievements was that it “drew attention to the subject of disability, which had hitherto been ignored completely”.
Lord Corbett, the former Labour disability spokesman, who secured the debate, said the act was “the first legislation in the world to enshrine the belief that people with disabilities had rights which should be respected and enforced in law, and to set out a detailed framework of what those rights were”.
Lord Morris said his act had helped more than 60 million disabled people, and had become “the model for legislation on disability in countries all over the world”.
18 June 2010