A two-and-a-half-year RNIB-led campaign to end the “unfair” exclusion of severely blind people from a key mobility benefit succeeded last night after the government backed the measure.
In a debate on the Welfare Reform Bill, disability minister Jonathan Shaw said the government would support allowing people who are blind to claim the £46.75 a week higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance.
The government’s backing meant an amendment to the bill, tabled by Labour MP John Robertson, was passed by the House of Commons.
Lesley-Anne Alexander, chief executive of RNIB, said: “We are overjoyed by this announcement. It is a fantastic victory for people with severe visual impairment and for everybody who has supported RNIB’s two-and-a-half-year campaign to end this longstanding injustice.
“The extra £29 a week really will change lives, giving people with severe visual impairment greater opportunities for employment, further education and social activities previous denied to them. It’s a key to their greater independence, safety and quality of life.”
Currently, people with severe sight loss are only eligible for the lower rate of £17.75, unless they are also unable to walk or are deaf and need assistance to move around outside the home.
The RNIB, other charities and campaigning MPs have long argued that this is unjust as people with severe sight loss often have mobility problems on a par with those who cannot walk, who are granted the higher rate.
In last night’s debate, Robertson said: “There is no good reason for discriminating between someone who faces physical barriers to mobility and someone who is unable to move around safely and independently due to blindness.”
The government had hitherto resisted the measure on financial grounds, despite agreeing with the RNIB that the policy would cost £45m a year to implement, with a £12m administrative cost in the first year, falling to £2m a year after that.
Costs ‘not inconsiderable’
Shaw said last night: “The costs are not inconsiderable and a commitment to change must be taken in the broader context of stabilising the economy and helping people remain in, or return to, work. We have considered this measure in the context of these issues, and recognise that it will bring about considerable economic and social benefits to severely sight-impaired people.”
Speaking before Shaw, former work and pensions secretary David Blunkett, a vice-president of the RNIB, told the Commons: “There has been the most incredible collective campaign that I have experienced for a long time…Tonight may be an occasion for rejoicing and for saying a big ‘thank you’ to the chancellor of the exchequer and the chief secretary [to the Treasury], not for generosity but for their foresight.”
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