Social Security and Welfare Reform

Is a 'safety net' the right thing for disabled people?

  • Published: Apr 17, 2014
  • Author: Tom MacInnes
  • Category: Social Security and Welfare Reform

Disabled people have been especially hard hit by the cuts to the social security safety net. But is it a “safety net” that disabled people need?

In the previous blogs in this series, we have set out how the safety net has been weakened by recent cuts, notably the ‘bedroom tax’, changes to local housing allowance, council tax support and the overall benefit cap. These changes affect large numbers of disabled people. Although people claiming certain disability benefits are exempted from the overall benefit cap, around two thirds of those affected by the bedroom tax are disabled. 

Many disabled people have seen a rise in council tax as their council tax support has been cut.  The fact that some councils have exemptions, and the fact that some disabled people are excluded from the overall benefit cap, just brings in an extra level of arbitrariness that is a common theme across these blogs – a safety net with an increasing number of holes.

So that’s the safety net at its most basic, covering essential costs during period of worklessness. This sits alongside a social security system increasingly designed as a set of incentives to find work (or disincentives not to do so). But disabled people may well be out of work for very long periods, or not be able to work at all. The idea that what people in this situation need is a safety net – even one in good repair – is a serious mistake.

Jenny Morris has long experience of writing and campaigning on disability issues. In her most recent blog (which you can find here ) she writes about the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF). The ILF allows disabled people to continue living in their own homes, with control over the decisions that affect their own lives. Following the consultation on the closure of the ILF, local authorities, who will now have responsibility for ILF recipients, said that

“All disabled people, including those transferring from the ILF, will continue to be protected by a local authority safety net that guarantees disabled people get the support they need.” 

Jenny writes

“It is this ‘safety net’ approach that people fear – instead of being able to aspire to an ‘ordinary life’ they will, at best, be left with just ‘life and limb’ support (the ‘safety net’ that the government refers to) or, at worst, be forced into residential care.”

This point is key. State support for people who are disabled or long term sick must be designed according to different criteria. For those who have lost their job, state support needs to provide a sufficient minimum for stability, in particular, to allow people to remain secure in their home and free from debt, while they look to find another job. For disabled people, it must allow for the choices, power and independence that non disabled people take for granted.

It is not just the closure of the ILF that threatens the independence of disabled people. The move from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment is designed to reduce eligibility to this support by 20%. Moreover the assessment for that eligibility appears to be have many of the flaws of the Work Capability Assessment, which is now so problematic no one wants to run it any more.

So what should be done? The obvious point to start is by asking disabled people themselves The Spartacus network published a report this month on the failures of the WCA and work programme in general from the perspective of disabled people. The report is contains practical proposals to improve back to work support which would help disabled people and stop the government wasting money on systems that are both ineffective and cruel. This approach, which proceeds on the basis that the clients of the system are the experts on it, is one that a government truly interested in reform, rather than cuts, would take.


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