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Posted on 7 July 2010 at 2:18 GMT

Cuts to disability benefits will increase misery

In the short time since the Tory/Liberal budget, the full realisation of what these vicious cuts will mean is dawning on disabled and older people and family carers.

This includes the fact that David Cameron and Nick Clegg are prepared to go much further in dismantling the welfare state than Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ever dared.

Employment and Support Allowance claimant

Plans to save 11 billion from the welfare budget will include: driving more than a million disabled or sick adults claiming incapacity benefits on to Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) in the next three years; forcing most disabled and sick people remaining on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to look for work or do vocational training with the loss of benefits hanging over them if they don't; and cutting Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by 1.4 billion in the next four years.

DLA provides financial support to 1.8 million disabled children and adults under 65 who rely on this benefit to meet the extra daily living and transport costs associated with disability.

A feature of the Tory/Liberal attacks will be the use of functional tests to reduce or remove eligibility for DLA.

A similar method is being used in the Work Capability Assessments undertaken by ESA claimants. This is a much stricter assessment than the one for incapacity benefits. 69% taking it are found to be fit for work. Citizens Advice Bureau found that: "People with serious illnesses and disabilities who could not reasonably be expected to work are being found fit for work".

This is particularly true for those with serious mental health issues. This same method is to be introduced into social care by the odious Personal Care At Home Act, introduced in the last weeks of Brown's administration.

To be eligible for free personal care those with critical needs will be assessed to see what they can do for themselves.

The budget was, however, silent on the future of Attendance Allowance, a tax-free benefit for people aged 65 or over who need someone to help look after them because they are physically or learning disabled.

New Labour had proposed to abolish this, with the intention of using the billions stolen from older people to plug some of the huge underfunding of social care and primary care services. So there may be more to come in the autumn spending review.

Social issues

Whilst there are claims that the 'most vulnerable in society' will be protected, the budget did nothing to address the social issues affecting this layer.

The underfunding of local authorities by central government means eligibility for social care services has contracted to the point where many councils are now, in practice, only providing support to those with critical needs, ie those that would die without support being provided.

This means family carers, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s, are forced to fill the gaps.

There are also no plans in place to provide the resources needed to address the scandal of child labour.

More than 200,000 children under 16 provide physical support and emotional assistance to parents and siblings who are disabled (20,000 of whom care for more than 50 hours a week) - help that should be provided in many cases by adult social care workers or family carers of working age who are paid a living wage.

Cuts of 15-20% to the Supporting People programme will also remove housing related support for tens of thousands over the next two years.

And the continued underfunding of housing adaptations means thousands experience delays of months, and sometimes years, before the changes they need to their homes are made.

A draconian means-test also results in those severely disabled people 'lucky' enough to be in work sometimes having to find tens of thousands of pounds to fund their own adaptations or do without.

Whilst New Labour politicians are condemning these Tory/Liberal welfare budget cuts, the foundation stone for these attacks is the welfare reform agenda developed by Blair and Brown and their cronies such as James Purnell.

Their policy was set to reduce the numbers on incapacity benefits by one million in this Parliament.

Disabled and older people and family carers and their organisations need to be encouraged to be an active part of the anti-cuts campaigns being developed to resist the attacks on the public sector and service users.

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