The Simon Heng column

Over the past few weeks, there have been several government
proposals from various departments which seem to acknowledge the
particular needs of disabled people. But they also challenge us to
take more responsibility for our own lives and for our place in

The proposed changes in incapacity benefit mean the most
severely disabled would receive higher rates of payment. Those less
disabled would be given help to build their confidence and skills
to find jobs, and an extra £40 a week to ease the transition
from benefits to paid employment.

This, it seems to me, recognises that some of us can never
sustain full-time employment, and could use a little extra money to
make the rest of our lives fractionally easier (poverty is, after
all, one of the biggest signifiers of social exclusion), while the
government tries to make it possible for many to be helped out of
financial dependency in a sympathetic way.

The proposed establishment of an Office for Disabilities is
recognition that disability issues don’t conveniently fit into the
pigeonholes of government departments. A place in government where
policy can be co-ordinated might even lead to a greater
understanding of disability issues.

The recent idea that adult service users should have individual
care budgets, for which they are personally responsible, is an
extension of the direct payments scheme.

Although I’ve had my concerns about direct payments, I can see
that they are aimed at giving disabled people the greatest possible
degree of choice about the help they need, and real responsibility
for managing it. I believe that people are going to find this
difficult to manage without the right preparation and support – but
if this is understood, and planned for, many of us might be able to
stop calling ourselves service users.

We might even feel less stigmatised, more responsible and equal
members of our communities – social inclusion indeed.


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