Watchdog calls on government to act ‘before it’s too late’ on impact of cuts

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The equality watchdog has called on the government to “do something before it’s too late”, after its own research showed UK government reforms will cut the living standards of disabled people with the highest support needs in England by more than 10 per cent.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report says that the “disproportionate” impact of spending cuts on disabled people – and other disadvantaged groups – shows the UK government has breached the principle of non-discrimination laid out in international human rights treaties.

The Cumulative Impact on Living Standards of Public Spending Changes looks at the impact of changes in England, Scotland and Wales from 2010-11 – when the coalition government came to power – until 2021-22.

It concludes that the impact of cuts to public spending per head of population in areas such health, social care, public transport and housing (through changes in the value of the public services they use) will have a much more significant impact on households in England than on those in Scotland and Wales.

Overall, public spending per head is forecast to fall by around 18 per cent in England, 5.5 per cent in Wales and just over one per cent in Scotland, with particularly heavy falls on spending per head on higher and further education in England and Wales and on social housing in England.

But the impact of public spending changes over those 11 years on disabled people in England is also much more significant – largely because of social care cuts – with households with people with six or more significant impairments in total experiencing losses of more than £2,900 per year, compared to such households in Wales losing less than £800, and those in Scotland actually gaining by almost £100 a year.

The new report, carried out for EHRC by Landman Economics and Aubergine Analysis, also combines the new figures with research it published earlier this year on the overall impact of tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms on disabled people and other groups.

It concludes that the overall impact of all of these austerity reforms will see those households with disabled people with the highest support needs losing 10.5 per cent of their “final income” (including the value of the public services they use), compared with similar households in Scotland losing 4.5 per cent of their final income and those in Wales losing just under five per cent.

The report concludes that the differences between the three countries are partly because of faster population growth in England, but also due to different spending priorities, and more generous funding in Scotland resulting from the Scottish government’s own income tax rises.

EHRC said the figures – and the different impacts in Wales and Scotland – showed that “neither the overall scale of spending cuts in England, nor their precise impact on protected groups, was inevitable”.

EHRC called on the UK government, as well as those in Scotland and Wales, to mitigate the effects of the cuts by increasing spending in areas such as universal credit, health, social care, education and social housing.

It also called for the next major spending announcements of the three governments to include equality impact assessments, including cumulative assessments that would show how the overall packages of measures would impact on groups such as disabled people.

And the commission said the three governments should explain how these spending measures would comply with their duties as public sector bodies under the Equality Act (through the public sector equality duty).

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC’s chief executive, said: “We know that some communities are being left behind and that the gap is widening.

“We know we need to do something before it’s too late and we’ve shown that it’s possible to assess public spending decisions to see if we can make the impact fairer.

“Our latest research has found that welfare reforms, coupled with changes in other spending such as on transport, housing and health, have a disproportionate effect on disabled people, children and young people, women and certain ethnic minorities.

“This impact needs to be mitigated to ensure that everyone can have a fair chance in life and realise their right to an adequate standard of living.”

The Treasury failed to comment on the EHRC report by 10am this morning (Thursday).

 

 

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