Disability and mobility
The Low Review of the proposed withdrawal of DLA mobility from care home residents is a sharp reminder that disabled people have the same mobility needs as anyone else.
Chaired by crossbench peer Lord Low of Dalston, the Review (on whose steering group I had the privilege of serving) whose report [link to report on Low site here] is published today, has called on the government to reverse its decision and instead protect mobility payments for disabled people living in residential care. This protection should apply not just for the current form of the benefit (Disability Living Allowance or DLA) but also its proposed replacement (the Personal Independence Payment).
DLA is a non means-tested benefit whose purpose is to help meet the extra costs that disabled people face. The value of the mobility component varies according to the level of need, either a lower rate of £19.55 a week or a higher rate of £51.40. Paid to the individual and used at their discretion, DLA is the key to personal mobility.
So what personal mobility needs do disabled people living in residential care homes have? Certainly, many may need a wheelchair to get around. But beyond that, what else – and aren’t they already provided for, for example, in the funding provided by the individual’s local authority?
The idea that DLA represents double funding of mobility was the government’s main argument for proposing its withdrawal. The Review looked into this and found no evidence for it. Neither, to date, has the government provided any evidence either. It is true that that there can be some local authority funding for mobility but what the Review found was that this was to meet assessed care needs, for example travel to a day service.
When the Review asked what other needs there are, the answers it got back were entirely humdrum, things like going to the shops or the cinema, going fishing, visiting friends, visiting family (especially visiting family), going to college, going to work – and so on. In short, a list that would apply to anybody – which is of course precisely the point.
For what these answers betray is the assumption behind the question about disabled people’s mobility needs. In particular, it is assumed that those needs, and especially those disabled people in residential care homes, are far less than those of anybody else. One catches a glimpse of this hidden assumption in the phrase “long term sick and disabled”. As a category within the social security system (and a term which we use), there is a logic to this conflation of these two groups. But as the Review itself was forcibly reminded, disabled people are not sick – and residential care homes are not hospitals.
DLA mobility grants disabled people independence, choice and control over a key aspect of their lives. Its removal would turn the clock back 40 years to a world in which the mobility needs of disabled people in care were conceived of as little more than a coach trip or two laid on each year to Margate or Blackpool.
Campaigners on behalf of disabled people have described its threatened removal as “emblematic”. It is not hard to see why. What is hard to see is how a Conservative-led government, which one would expect to value independence, choice and control, has allowed itself to get on the wrong side of this argument.