March 22, 2012 by sharonbrennan
Yesterday’s budget contained a kick in the teeth for disabled people, quickly followed by a punch in the face.
The Chancellor’s retreat on child benefit, moving the threshold for ineligibility from those earning over £43,000 to those earning over £60,000, was a bare-faced example of the Government looking after its own voters. When the planned benefit cut was announced last year there were howls of outrage amongst higher rate earners, and the Tories, mindful an election has to be fought in perhaps two years time, decided to try and save their own skins.
How is this relevant to disabled people?
When the recent Welfare reform Bill passed through the House of Lords, three defeats were enacted on the Government as the Lords chose to make changes that they believed would safe-guard some of the most sick and disabled in the country. One of those changes was to extend the length of time that people on contributory-based Employment Support Allowance could claim the benefit. The Government proposed that those people place in the Working Capability Group of ESA (so claimants who are too ill to work but should be able to in the future) could only claim the benefit for a year. The Lords voted to extend this to two years to ensure that people had enough time to get better before being forced into work. Macmillan cancer support for example argued that annually 7.000 cancer patients, routinely placed in the Working group of ESA, take longer than 12 months to recover.
Although the Lords followed due democratic process to enact these changes, they have not come into force. The Government used ‘financial privilege’ to block these amendments. In short, MPs cried “Sorry, no money!” and did so in a way that has seen no precedent.
But suddenly come budget day, the Government discovered a stash of cash to save the child benefit of higher rate tax-payers, those who are doing ok in life, and yet still no money to extend ESA for those who are too sick to work through no fault of their own. More worryingly for democracy, the Government places greater value on the opinion of its voters then on the democratic process of a Bill being passed into law.
The second fear hidden in the budget was Osborne’s casual mention that Ian Duncan Smith would have to find a further £10 billion of welfare cuts on top of the £18 billion already slashed from these bills. The biggest slice of welfare is spent on old age – with today’s vicious headlines about a granny tax I can’t see the Government making any further cuts to pensioners. Child benefit cuts now seem completely off the table, a decision that Ian Duncan Smith may come to resent Osborne for as he frantically tries to cut £10 billion.
So where can more cuts be found? Housing benefit perhaps, childcare credits even, but a clear forerunner would be disability benefits. Disability Living Allowance is already scheduled to be scrapped next year, and replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP). In the Government’s last spending review it arbitrarily decided to cut recipients of PIP by 20%, before it had even decided the criteria for eligibility or assessed the needs of a single disabled person.
What’s the betting that in the next spending review the Government decides to save 25% or even 30% from the PIP bill? I for one am very worried.