What is desperately needed for Disabled people in this Wednesdays Autumn Statement

Mon,20 November 2023
Blog Benefits Education Employment Health & Social Care Housing Transport
Comment by Dan White, Policy and Campaigns Officer

This week will see the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

The Autumn statement on Wednesday will affect the household budgets of millions of people, setting out how much money will be spent on state benefits and public services, all of which have a crucial impact on Disabled people across the UK.

Millions of Disabled people are already sinking in the mire of deep poverty and have well-founded fears about the future, and with the Governments recent track record on disability care, that fear is very real.

We already know that the UK Government is planning cuts to working age benefits from 2025, which will affect future Disabled claimants. This is against a background of today’s Disabled benefit recipients, turning off essential heating, struggling to pay rents and being the highest users of food banks. We also know that cuts to public services may also be in the offing, despite health, social care and education already being significantly underfunded.

There have been relentless media and government assaults on Disabled and long-term sick benefit claimants for the last few months, with the most recent being Jeremy Hunts announcement of a New Back to Work Plan to “help” Disabled people, those with long-term health conditions, or the “long-term unemployed” to look for and stay in work. This follows the incumbent Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Strides plans to make it harder for people who are long-term sick to claim benefits, effectively also forcing them into work. The obvious consequence of forcing Disabled people into employment is that they will become more unwell. The human cost of this policy is totally unacceptable. It is also hard to see how this will save the Government money, as other public services will undoubtedly need to step in to deal with the repercussions.

So, what should Disabled people in one of the richest countries in the world expect? Is it too much to ask that all citizens are valued equally and that we provide additional support to those who need it?

To begin with, rather than benefit cuts, we need an increase in benefits to match the reality of Disabled people’s financial outgoings. The blame game of a faltering economy, pitted against the needs of Disabled people, should stop. There is a growing consensus that Disabled people need greater financial support and security, to meet the essential costs of life.  Recently, the Work and Pensions Committee called for the UK Government to take more account of the financial difficulties faced by people with disabilities and their families. Cost of living payments must vastly improve to reflect the energy needs of people who power essential equipment while struggling to stay warm.  

As for social care, Disabled people are bearing the human cost of a grossly underfunded care system. Disabled people simply can’t afford care charges that are deducted from benefits. Thousands are having care stripped back to the minimum, and thousands of Disabled people that receive direct payments can’t recruit personal assistants, as pay is low and uncompetitive. The Government needs to provide something in this statement, to ethically stop care charges being taken from benefits. Social care investment is primary and urgent. We ask the chancellor to provide £8 billion per year and stop care charges.

And what else could a decent, wise, and fair budget do? Well, the SEND system needs an increased level of funding that delivers improved outcomes for all young Disabled people with and without EHCPs.

There has been no word on the proposed energy social tariff, and as we head into another winter where Disabled people will be deciding whether to charge a wheelchair or to put the heating on. An announcement on a social tariff is urgently needed as Disabled people use more energy in the home to charge essential equipment and to keep their body temperatures regulated by having the heating on.

Regarding housing, so many Disabled people live in inaccessible and crumbling homes, we urgently need the Government to provide accessible, affordable, warm housing to Disabled tenants. As of writing there are whispers of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt weighing up whether to boost housing benefit, we will see, we will hope.

Transport costs need to reduce and investment in making transport accessible needs to be increased. For many Disabled people, public transport is our only option, yet many are denied access or just can’t afford it. Barriers to our social mobility are unacceptable.

These may sound like big asks but in fact they are exceptionally modest. For centuries the needs of Disabled people weren’t integral to the ways society was organised or the design of public services.  There is a lot of catching up to do to counter decades of systemic and structural inequality. The social injustices that persist, leave Disabled people marginalised and disproportionately living in poverty. Implementing the social model of disability, transforming society and giving Disabled people lives that are equal to everyone else is, as Spock would say, is the human thing to do.

The UK needs to provide for those who need it, even the UN is appalled by the Governments lack of duty of care to over 14million Disabled people, calling austerity cuts to the welfare system ‘ideological’ and ‘tragic’ and suggesting that the UK benefits system could be branded “cruel and inhuman. “ Instead of a response to this of “Deny, deflect and complain” The Government needs to be honest with itself and the electorate and reverse the devastating impacts of austerity which have caused unfair and untold misery to Disabled people and those who care for them.

We ask the Chancellor to invest in all UK citizens, to listen to Disabled people, to read the countless shocking reports and data on the state of disability poverty. We ask for better targeted support not fiscal punishment or tabloid outrage. We ask to be heard and for equality in everything, from housing to benefits in this autumn statement and we ask for it now. We also ask the chancellor to read our new Disabled peoples manifesto written by Disabled peoples organisations countrywide and use it to understand why investment in us is essential.

Supporting and including Disabled people will provide opportunities for growth and development in many different areas, do it now, do it right, before the UN come calling again.