We asked Steve McIntosh, Policy & Public Affairs Manager at Carers UK:With disability benefits in the headlines, do the well-publicised defeats of the Government in the House of Lords mean that families can breathe easy?
Since we were set up in the 1960s, Carers UK has been struggling to get caring and disability into the media spotlight. The last few weeks have seen a huge amount of coverage, and it has been strange to hear journalists and politicians talking so much about the things which carers deal with every day, but so rarely hear about in the press - disability benefits, the extra costs of disability and caring, how hard it is to get home adaptations or how tough it is for disabled people to work.
Unfortunately all this publicity has been in the context of the Government’s plans for big cuts to disability benefits. Lots of figures have been flying about – but Scope and thinktank DEMOS have done the sums, and came up with the total of £9 billion of cuts to disability benefits. Alongside national deficit figures of over £100 billion or bankers’ bonuses which read like telephone numbers; it is difficult to put these stats in context or know what such big sums will actually mean for families.
We are starting to build a picture of the impact – 500,000 fewer people will be entitled to DLA when it is replaced by Personal Independence Payments; 5,000 carers will have their benefits capped ; and over 100,000 people face losing Employment and Support Allowance this year because it is being time-limited.
Carers UK has joined with disability charities to send a clear message via the Hardest Hit campaign – these cuts would be devastating for disabled people and must stop. We have also grown increasingly frustrated that the Government has still not published details of the full impact on carers. We have said this clearly in our meetings with civil servants and Ministers, and MPs and Peers have stood up in Parliament and read out the stories of our members who could be affected, alongside the shocking results of our research into carer ill-health and poverty.
One thing is clear - the proposed cuts are causing a huge amount of anxiety and fear for families who simply don’t know how they would cope without the benefits which pay their basic household bills.
That is why many of our members took heart when they heard on the news that the Government was defeated, not just once, but seven times in the House of Lords as they debated the Welfare Reform Bill.
However what has been less well publicised is that these defeats are not binding. We did not win and the Government has announced that it plans to ignore the House of Lords and continue with the cuts. This is possible because MPs have the final say and can overrule the House of Lords.
This isn’t to say that our work has been for nothing. All our briefings and meetings; the online campaigning, letters and emails from our members and activists have got these issues into the media and have won some victories – in particular the Government’s u-turn on taking DLA away from disabled people in residential care.
However the Government is pressing ahead with all the policies the House of Lords opposed: stripping some disabled people of sickness benefits after a year; removing entitlement to disability benefits from half a million more; refusing to protect disabled children’s benefits from the cuts and capping household benefits. We still have a big fight on our hands.
Many of our members know that being a carer automatically involves being a campaigner (alongside everything else - pharmacist, nurse, taxi driver, physio, accountant …). And we know just how tired many carers are of having to fight every day, for everything - but these cuts represent one of the biggest threats carers and their families have faced for years. We need carers help to keep fighting them.
We are currently planning the next steps for the Hardest Hit campaign. If you are signed up to our e-newsletter we will be in touch soon with details of what the campaign will do next.
But one step carers can take straight away is to write to or email their MP.
We’ve heard from MPs that they hear more about local planning decisions, forests being cut down or fishing boats throwing fish back into the sea than they do about disability and caring. Let’s change that!
Carers can find their MP’s email address at www.writetothem.org right now, and write to them saying why disability and carers’ benefits are essential to their family, what the impact of cutting them would be and that they need them to speak up for carers.
For Carers UK’s guide to what welfare reform means for carers, please click here.
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