Tuesday marked the end of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), which has helped disabled people live an active life in their communities rather than being hidden away in residential care. Its demise comes despite immense protest, including one last week by campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) in the lobby of the House of Commons, supported by Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn.
ILF is not the only fund that is under attack. I am in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), without which I would certainly struggle. It’s thanks to DSA-provided equipment, such as a laptop with speech recognition software and an audio recorder, that I can succeed in my degree despite a physical disability. But I could end up graduating and then struggling to make ends meet because the extra costs I have as a disabled person would no longer be covered due to cuts to the Personal Independence Payment (Pip) and disability benefits being taxed. The prime minister has refused to rule this out in his mission to find a further £12bn savings in the welfare budget.
The idea is purportedly to encourage disabled people to work, yet David Cameron seems to misunderstand: Pip is not an out-of-work benefit but provides payments designed to level the playing field between disabled and non-disabled people on the same income. Additional costs incurred through having a disability include, for example, petrol for frequent hospital visits, medications, and adaptations for the home. The Extra Costs Commission has found that disabled people are paying over the odds for many of these goods and services.
The disability minister, Justin Tomlinson, claims the government is getting more disabled people into work, but it is cutting Access to Work grants, which help make a job possible for many disabled people. Likewise the Access to Elected Office fund, which aimed to help disabled people participate in governance, was closed in March. Perhaps that explains why the number of MPs identifying as disabled has dwindled to two; a parliament representative of the UK population would have more than 100 disabled MPs.
Taxing Pip would save £915m, according to analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but a tax on Pip would leave many on low wages worse off financially if they got a job, disincentivising work and failing to produce the expected savings.
DSA came under threat last year with much of the cost of supporting disabled students shifted to already underfunded educational institutions. Likewise, ILF claimants will now have to turn to hard-pressed local authorities, which have said they will not be able to provide the same level of support.
My fear is that these attacks on our financial support will lead to an increasingly negative attitude towards disabled people, shutting down the careers of young people like myself before we even get started.