Disabled people’s organisations react to the Spring Budget

Today’s Spring Budget brought some welcome confirmations like fuel duty remaining frozen, the energy price cap staying at the same level until the end of June, and changes to the cost of energy for households with pre-payment meters, but the new changes to the benefits system have left disabled people’s organisations with questions about the future of support. 

The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt outlined changes to disability benefits, notably the abolishment of Work Capability Assessments and funding for up to 50,000 places on a new, voluntary scheme to help disabled people back into work. More information on these points will be available in the Disability White Paper also published today. Parents receiving Universal Credit will also now receive £951 each month towards the cost of childcare for one child and £1,630 for two children, and this will be paid upfront. 

Disabled people’s organisations and charities have been reacting to the announcements, and sharing their concerns. 


Sarah White, head of policy at Sense, says:

“Everyone is affected by rising costs, but some are affected more than others. Disabled households are at breaking point, and it’s disappointing that the government haven’t recognised this.

The decision to extend the Energy Price Guarantee will do little to ease the pressure on disabled households struggling to cope with the cost-of-living crisis.  Whilst it’s often called a ‘cap’, people who use more energy still pay more.   Disabled households need dedicated support to cover the unavoidable costs they face running specialist equipment such as breathing machines, feeding machines and powered wheelchairs.

The decision to reconsider the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is long overdue. Assessments often fail to provide a true reflection of an individual’s capabilities or limitations and the experience is stressful, and at times, traumatic.

But getting rid of it alone won’t fix a broken system. We need reform and a culture-shift.  

Whilst many of todays’ announcements have the potential to be positive for disabled people the government needs to make the system fairer today and not in several years’ time. 

We need to create systems, that disabled people have helped design, that puts the emphasis on what people can do with the right support, and doesn’t lead them to being pressured into work when it’s not right for them.

Personalised employment support programmes that are tailored for disabled people can help identify the barriers, and better support people into the job market. Ultimately, people must be supported and not penalised. We hope that the newly announced Universal Support programme will take steps to achieve this.”


Tim Cooper, chief executive of national disability charity United Response, says:

“It is unthinkable that a focus on supporting the labour market ignores the ongoing workforce crisis which is hitting the social care sector. This does not have to be a missed opportunity, the government can and must invest in this vital sector to ensure a sustainable system fit for current needs.

To reflect the importance of social care the government needs to ensure pay parity between social care and NHS staff and class social care as a special occupation, which would allow people in these roles to work more than 16 hours and still be eligible for benefits. The Government should ensure that agency costs for social care are VAT free, as they already are for the NHS.

The funding to support young people with special educational needs into work is a welcome step forward in our campaign for an inclusive education, employment and skills system.”


Anastasia Berry, policy co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and policy manager at the MS Society, says:

“Today’s Budget contains some of the biggest changes to disability benefits seen in a decade. The scrapping of the Work Capability Assessment, seen by many as stressful and unnecessary, will be seen as a positive. However, it’s removal confirms many of disabled people’s worst fears, that in future more people will be forced into inappropriatework-related activity or face the threat of losing their financial support.

These changes will mean Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments will become the only way for disabled people to receive disability benefits. Yet PIP is a broken system which often denies support to those who need it by putting unnecessary barriers, like the 20metre rule, in the way. Without reform, the assessments will leave many terrified about the prospect of losing all their disability benefits in the midst of a cost of living crisis if their claim is unsuccessful.  

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) talk about trust, but if they push ahead with these plans, they risk diminishing trust even further.  The DWP must remove the threat of losing benefits by improving PIP assessments. Also, employers should face more formal requirements which would remove barriers for disabled people looking for and already in work, rather than forcing disabled people to enter work. And to truly reform the benefits system they must urgently raise benefits rates.”


Sophie Dodgeon, head of policy and public affairs at RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), says:

“The employment rate of blind and partially sighted people is unacceptably low, with 11,000 currently looking for work in the UK. We’ll need to wait and see if today’s announced measures will genuinely address the specific challenges faced by people with sight loss in finding and staying in work.

Any drive to support blind and partially sighted people in employment must include the Department of Work and Pensions making drastic improvements to the existing Access to Work scheme it runs to support disabled people to stay in work. We need to see comprehensive action to finally reduce the appalling delays that thousands are experiencing, and help, as they have said today, to get people working.

Too many blind and partially sighted people experience frustrating and humiliating benefit assessments where assessors simply don’t know enough about sight loss, resulting in people being unfairly rejected for support. Changes to assessment processes for benefits, announced today, are long overdue. It’s absolutely critical.”


Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive of Care England, says:

“The Autumn Statement announced £7.5 billion for the social care sector over the next two years, aimed at creating an additional 200,000 new care packages, supporting the discharge of people from hospital to ease NHS backlog, whilst also being split across adult and child services. Care England’s recent Fair Cost of Care analysis shows that, even with this funding, the deficit for older person’s residential and nursing home stands at around £2bn per annum. While the £7.5bn represented a step in the right direction, the Spring Budget was an opportunity to reinforce this progress and move towards a sustainable funding settlement for the sector. It was an opportunity that, unfortunately, the Government did not take, with a notable lack of any announcements targeted at the sector. Against the backdrop of a workforce crisis and rising vacancies, the rising cost of living and increasing energy costs, the stabilisation of the adult social care sector should be the Government’s priority in the coming months. The NHS cannot survive in the long term if the social care sector is unsustainable. A political consensus must be forged on how to fund and support our vital sector sustainably over the long term.

Social care is vital for the future of local people and local economies. It supports some of society’s most vulnerable, often living with lifelong conditions and is a source of employment for millions of hardworking, dedicated people across England. Social care must become a priority for the country. With an ageing population and demand for services to increase, the Government requires a sustainable roadmap for the social care sector that will meet the country’s social needs and support the NHS in reducing waiting lists. Care England will continue to work pragmatically to present solutions which seek to resolve the issues faced by all those within the sector and those who draw on care and support. Investment in the sector is key and will only be achieved with a clear long-term care strategy which is properly funded, and we hope that the forthcoming Implementation Plan, due to be published in Spring, delivers on this.”
 


Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of communication, advocacy and activism at learning disability charity Mencap, says:

“Today’s budget included absolutely nothing to tackle the dire state of social care and the NHS. Instead the Chancellor prioritised crumbling roads over the crumbling social care and health system. 

The extended energy support announced in today’s budget is welcome, but the Government should commit to long-term targeted support and introduce a discounted social energy tariff. 

The Disability White Paper promises some positive changes for people with a learning disability, like the removal of the Work Capability Assessment, but as always the devil is in the detail. The government continues to focus on threats and financial sanctions, rather than addressing inadequate benefit rates and investing in supporting people into work. These priorities reflect a lack of understanding of the experience of people with a learning disability.”


Tim Nicholls, head of influencing and research at the National Autistic Society, says:

“Autistic people and their families face huge delays and long fights to get support across all aspects of their lives, including diagnosis, health, education and social care. Today’s budget did nothing to tackle these. We are really worried the Government has missed another opportunity to fund its all-important Autism Strategy to make an difference to autistic people’s lives. It’s beyond time to invest in autistic people’s futures. 

We are pleased that in the Health and Disability White Paper, published at the same time, the Government proposes to abolish the Universal Credit Work Capability Assessment. Although this will take several years to be implemented, it removes one of the big obstacles autistic people face when applying for benefits. The Government must work closely with autistic and disabled people to make sure the new system is more supportive and respectful. Poor autism understanding from benefits assessors has undermined the welfare system for years, so we welcome the commitment to pilot new specialist assessors. We call on the Government to make sure this initiative covers autistic people. Proper autism understanding in the benefits system can’t come soon enough.”


Gemma Hope, director of policy at Leonard Cheshire, says:

On cost of living and energy
“Although the Energy Price Guarantee remains at the same level, disabled people are still left out in the cold. Many disabled people are high energy users as they need warm homes to manage their conditions and they must charge vital disability equipment. In the year ahead, disabled people whose conditions necessitate high energy use will still face bills that are nearly £1000 more than the average household The Budget fails to deliver targeted support for disabled high energy users. The government has missed an opportunity to introduce a Social Tariff – a concept supported by Ofgem, Energy UK and the majority of organisations working with people struggling with energy bills. Current  support is simply not enough to cover these sky-high costs. The government must ensure disabled people are supported and not pushed into financial hardship.”

On social care
“The social care system is still on its knees with no extra funding announced when it is desperately needed. Disabled people of all ages are still left without vital support, due to the ongoing workforce crisis and years of inadequate funding. Every disabled person has a right to high-quality social care tailored to their needs. The government’s White Paper said it will put “people at the heart of care”. Now it must provide funding to deliver on that vision.”

On ending the Work Capability Assessment 
“Ending the punitive Work Capability Assessment is a positive sign that the government has finally listened to disabled people. However, the newly proposed Universal Credit health element could potentially leave some disabled people at risk of unfairly receiving lower payments, being forced to look for work when they can’t, as well as facing ineffective sanctions. The government must consult disabled people and those with health conditions when designing new systems, which must not penalise people who are unable to work.”


Business Disability Forum’s Head of Policy, Angela Matthews, says:

“The contribution that disabled people make to the economy and growth is often overlooked. Therefore, we welcome mention of the workforce inclusion of disabled people in the Chancellor’s budget statement as well as the publication of the Health and Disability White Paper.

Disabled people can experience financial disadvantage when moving into employment because pay from an employer and payments from benefits simply don’t sync. We are pleased that the benefits system has been reviewed to ensure disabled people can retain some of their benefits in work while they financially readjust. 

The discussion on occupational health in the budget and the white paper is also positive. We know that quality occupational health support can make a significant difference to the working lives of disabled people but often a more collaborative approach between occupational health providers, employers and employees is needed. Occupational health, however, needs to be one of many workplace health interventions available so that people can get access to what works for their situation at the right time.

The Chancellor said that the budget is about ‘breaking down barriers that stop people working.’ While we welcome many of the measures, we do not believe today’s announcements go far enough to achieve this for employees and potential employees with disability and long-term conditions.

People cannot work – get work or stay in work – if their conditions are not ongoingly supported and managed by the appropriate NHS interventions. Employees working in our member organisations are still on NHS waiting lists and are off sick while medical procedures are still being postponed.

The support available for people who experience life-changing illness or disability is often limited and fragmented once they leave hospital. Work and health settings must join up and provide better, more work-ready effective interventions to ensure people can supportively and safely phase back into employment.

For many disabled people receiving support from the Government’s Access to Work scheme has made having a job possible. Yet, Access to Work only currently supports people already in work or who have an interview arranged. A ‘back to work’ investment must include Access to Work being available to anyone with a disability who is looking or who wants to look for employment. Access to Work is currently overwhelmed and under-resourced, but investment to expand it could make a huge difference, both to the inclusion of disabled people in the labour market, and for the wider economy. We were disappointed not to see this mentioned in the Budget or White Paper.

We will continue to discuss the measures announced with our Members and to assess their impact on disabled people and employers.”


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