The RNIB has welcomed the government’s commitment in principle this week to end the exclusion of blind people from a benefit for people with significant mobility problems.
But the charity, which has fought a two-and-a-half year campaign on the issue, declared its disappointment after disability minister Jonathan Shaw said the policy could not be pursued currently on cost grounds.
In a debate on the Welfare Reform Bill this week, Shaw said the government was “sympathetic to the call” to extend the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance – worth £46.75 – to blind people.
Restrictions for blind
Most blind claimants receive the lower rate of £17.75, with only those who are also unable to walk or virtually deaf and needing assistance getting around outside or unable to walk eligible for the extra £29 a week.
The RNIB has calculated that it would cost £45m a year to extend the higher rate to people with significant sight loss. Shaw told the committee considering the Welfare Reform Bill this week that the government agreed with this figure, though he said administrative costs in the first year would add £12m to the total.
However, he added that the government could not support the measure currently on funding grounds, as its priority was to “stabilise the economy and help people remain in or return to work”.
RNIB head of campaigns Steve Winyard said he welcomed Shaw’s commitment but said the RNIB was “disappointed that the minister also said that the Government is currently unable to find the funding for the changes”.
Winyard added: “£45 million for blind people is a tiny sum when set against the billions that has been found for banks.”
Following the debate, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We understand the need to look at this important change to the disability living allowance mobility component. We are working with the RNIB and others to look at how we can take this forward. However the government is operating in an extremely difficult financial climate and this will also need to be taken into account.”
Issue to return
Robertson withdrew his amendment during the committee stage of the bill, but has pledged to re-table it at the report stage in the House of Commons, which takes place on 17 March.