Watchdog’s report shows impact of years of ‘hostile’ cuts on disabled people

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Families which include both a disabled adult and a disabled child have lost more than 13 per cent of their income through seven years of government cuts, according to a new report by the equality watchdog.

The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been seen as “a vindication” of years of campaigning by grassroots groups to persuade the government to carry out such an assessment of the overall impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people.

Ministers have repeatedly ridiculed the idea of carrying out such a cumulative impact assessment (CIA), ever since disabled campaigners began calling for such research six years ago.

Both Pat’s Petition, and then the War On Welfare (WOW) petition campaign, demanded the government carry out a CIA, which led to two high-profile debates in the House of Commons.

The UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities added its voice to calls for a CIA in August, following similar calls by EHRC and even the government’s own benefits advice body, the social security advisory committee.

The EHRC report shows the cumulative impact on various groups – including disabled people – of changes introduced between 2010 and 2017 to income tax, national insurance, VAT, social security, tax credits, universal credit and the national minimum wage.

It shows that households that include a disabled adult will lose almost £2,500 a year, while families with both a disabled adult and a disabled child will face an annual loss of £5,500 by 2021-22 (more than 13 per cent of their income).

It also shows that the higher the support needs of the disabled members of the household, the greater the impact of the cuts.

Lone parents will be hit proportionally even harder, losing 15 per cent of their income.

The report – which details interim results of research conducted by Landman Economics and Aubergine Analysis for EHRC – also found that while “the poorest are set to lose nearly 10 per cent of their incomes, the richest will lose barely one per cent”.

Rick Burgess, one of the founders of the WOW campaign, which was signed by more than 100,000 people and led to a debate in the House of Commons in February 2014, said: “Vindication is nice, it’s just a shame it takes so many years, years in which thousands of disabled people were made destitute and many died.

“And note this changes nothing: we still live under an oppressive regime who lie and are not challenged on this by a largely supine media.

“I expect nothing from this government, they have shown persistently that the Conservative movement are institutionally disablist and hostile to the wellbeing of disabled people. The only solution is to remove them from power ASAP.”

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said: “The initial findings hold no surprises for disabled people living with the impacts of welfare reform, but they do prove that far from ‘targeting resources at those most in need’, as the government has repeatedly claimed for the past seven years, it’s the most in need they’re taking the most from.

“The interim report shows that disabled adults with disabled children are the worst hit and that the more disabled you are the more you are adversely impacted. 

“This report also disproves the government’s claim that a cumulative impact assessment would not be feasible to undertake.

“Its findings add weight to the idea that their reluctance was instead motivated by having something to hide.

“The EHRC do not have the same resources at their disposal as the government and we continue to urge the government to carry out a fuller CIA to assess the cumulative impact of cuts to social care support in addition to benefit changes.”

Carole Ford, a member of the current steering group of the WOW campaign, said the government’s “steadfast refusal” to carry out a CIA “demonstrates an understanding that such an assessment would reveal that the policy of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ was in no way compassionate”.

Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, which was signed by more than 60,000 people and led to a debate in Westminster Hall in July 2013, said the failure to carry out a CIA was “disastrous for disabled people”.

She said she “unreservedly” welcomed the EHRC report, and added: “The findings of the impact on disabled people are truly shocking.

“Will this government and future governments learn from this disastrous experience and act more responsibly in future?

“Will the covenant with disabled people now ensure that no massive changes are ever introduced again without a full impact assessment first?”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “The report is clear evidence that the government’s reforms have been having a massive negative effect, driving disabled people deeper into poverty when they already don’t have enough money to live on.

“We’re acutely struck by the report’s conclusion that the reforms will continue to cause ‘particularly adverse impacts on disabled families’. This can’t go on.”

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The government can’t claim to be working for everyone if its policies actually make the most disadvantaged people in society financially worse off.  

“We have encouraged the government to carry out this work for some time, but sadly they have refused.

“We have shown that it is possible to carry out cumulative impact assessments and we call on them to do this ahead of the 2018 budget.”

The commission also called on the government to “reconsider” existing cuts and reforms that have impacted on those who are “most disadvantaged”.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman refused to say whether it now accepted that CIAs can and should be carried out, or whether DWP accepted the EHRC figures.

But she said: “We carefully consider the equality impacts of individual policies on those with protected characteristics, including disability – in line with both our legal obligations and with our strong commitment to equality.

“HM Treasury publishes comprehensive distributional analysis* at the budget that is transparent and fair.

“The EHRC’s analysis does not paint a complete picture because it fails to take into account our successful jobs market or the steps we are taking to help people of all backgrounds get on in life, including expanding tax-free childcare, boosting apprenticeships and introducing the National Living Wage**.

“We are expecting to spend over £50 billion this year in benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions.”

*These analyses have only measured how changes affect households of different incomes, and do not examine the impact on different groups, such as disabled people

**The EHRC report does take account of reforms to the national minimum wage