My speech at the Changes to Funding of Support for Disabled People Westminster Hall Debate

WHD - Changes for disabled peopleIn my speech yesterday during the Changes to Funding of Support for Disabled People Westminster Hall Debate which was called by my colleague Neil Coyle MP, I raised my concerns about the shocking effects government policy is having on people with disabilities.

Of 11 million people with disabilities, 5 million are living in poverty because of their disabilities. The Government has tried to regenerate the economy on the back of the poor and the disabled.

Instead of denigrating social security, we should be valuing it like our NHS. Our social security system is based on principles of inclusion, security and support for all assuring us all of our dignity and the basics of life should anyone of us become ill or disabled or fall on hard times,

The Government needs to remember this.

I have published my speech and debate below or alternatively, you can watch it by clicking here:

Debbie Abrahams: It is lovely to see you in the Chair again, Mr Crausby. I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Coyle on securing the debate and making an excellent, comprehensive and thorough speech. I will recap some of the points that he made.

Since 2010, 13 policy measures in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 have reduced financial support for 3.7 million people to the tune of £23.8 billion. I will not go through the list, but it is extensive, and it is there for people to read at their leisure. On top of that, as has been said, the closure of the independent living fund and the transfer of responsibility to local authorities have caused immense distress to many families of people with the most extreme disabilities. Because not all local authorities have chosen to ring-fence that funding, those people have experienced a cut of £1.2 billion.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): Does the hon. Lady agree that we are not just talking about dealing with stress? The cuts are also likely to exacerbate any mental health difficulties that disabled people may have, leading them to feel hopeless and depressed, and, in some cases, leading to self-harm and suicidality.

Debbie Abrahams: The hon. Lady makes a good point. One of the woeful things about the measures has been the Government’s lack of assessment of their impact on poverty, on disability and on any other health conditions that disabled people experience. That is a real indictment of the Government.

I return to the cuts to social care. We know from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services that £3.6 billion has been cut from social care, and that figure is likely to increase to £4.3 billion by 2020. That has led to a reduction in the amount of state-funded support for older and disabled people. In 2014, 500,000 fewer people were able to access social care support, and 12% fewer older and disabled people were able to get essential home adaptations through the disabled facilities grant.

Mencap has identified a whole range of issues with health services provisions for people with learning disabilities. Only 49% of trusts have a full-time learning-disabled nurse. In addition to the cuts to social security and to health and social care, there have been cuts to access to justice, 42% cuts to the access to transport funding that enables people with mobility issues to get out and about, and cuts—described as a “ticking time bomb”—to funding for training teachers who provide mental health support to school pupils. It goes on and on. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark mentioned the cuts in the disabled students allowances. That is a looming threat.

Hon. Members have mentioned other cuts that are on the horizon, particularly as a result of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which is currently in the Lords. The cuts to the ESA WRAG were mentioned. In effect, there will be cuts of £30 a week for people in that group—people who have been found not fit for work, including 5,000 people with progressive conditions such as Parkinson’s and MS, and people with cancer. A survey conducted by the charity Macmillan Cancer Support found that one in 10 cancer patients would struggle to pay their rent or mortgage if ESA were cut. The woeful impact assessment has not assessed the impact of poverty on disabled people and the effects on their health conditions, but we know that 0.5 million people will be affected by the cuts of £640 million in addition to the £23.8 billion I mentioned previously. Of 11 million disabled people, more than 5 million live in poverty. The cuts will exacerbate their plight, as 80% of people who live in poverty do so as a direct result of their disability.

The ESA WRAG cut is just one of the cuts facing disabled people. There is also the freeze in social security support over the next four years. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark mentioned the cut to universal credit, which will affect disabled people. Liverpool Economics estimates that it will cause an average loss of £2,000 a year to each disabled person.

Friday’s closure of the consultation on PIP has been mentioned. A result of that consultation will definitely be another cut, based on a review of 105 of the 611,121 current PIP claimants. That is all in the context of a Tory manifesto that included a pledge not to cut disability benefits. I can only assume that the consultation is the result of the Government getting a little bit anxious that more people will qualify for PIP, because the 105 claimants included in the review were all awarded the daily living component as they would benefit from aids and appliances. I am reminded of a statement made by the Institute for Fiscal Studies just after the spending review:

“The OBR has significantly reduced its forecast of savings from disability benefit reforms—in particular the move from disability living allowance to personal independence payment. This is familiar. Year after year expected savings from this reform go down. In fact this change in forecast would have ensured that the welfare cap in 2020-21 would have been breached.”

That is on top of everything else.

A UN committee has been investigating the UK for breaches of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, to which we are a signatory. That is an indictment of our record. The Government’s mantra for disabled people of working age is that work holds the key, but we have heard about the lack of support that has been provided with the Work programme, Access to Work and Disability Confident.

My final remark is that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark is absolutely right: this is down to Government choices. The Government have tried—and I say tried—to regenerate the economy on the back of the poor and disabled. Instead of denigrating social security, we should value it. Like our NHS, the social security system is based on the principles of inclusion, support and security for all, ensuring all of us dignity in the basics of life should any one of us become ill or disabled, or fall on hard times. The Government need to remember that that is the case and stop their attacks on disabled people.

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