RNIB celebrates succesful campaign to increase mobility benefit

The RNIB has hailed the value of its “sustained” campaign encouraging the government to end its opposition to excluding blind people from £1,500 a year in mobility benefits.

Last week, following a two-and-a-half-year campaign by the charity and others, ministers backed the extension of the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance, currently worth £46.75 a week, to people with severe sight loss.

Increase in benefit

The move, brought in through an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill and due to come into force in 2011, will help an estimated 20,000 people, who receive the £17.75 lower rate.

Ministers had previously opposed the measure on cost grounds. The policy will cost an estimated £45m in its first year, in addition to a £12m administrative cost, which would then fall to £2m a year.

But last week disability minister Jonathan Shaw said the costs were “not inconsiderable” while the reform would bring “considerable economic and social benefits to severely sight-impaired people”.

MPs threaten rebellion

The RNIB’s head of campaigns Steve Winyard said some Labour MPs had indicated before last week’s vote that they would rebel against the government if it continued to oppose the measure. More than 300 MPs from all parties – almost half the total – had previously backed two early day motions.

Winyard said “sustained engagement over a period of time” on the issue by campaigners had paid dividends in persuading MPs of the need for reform.

Parliamentary lobbies

The RNIB led two lobbies of parliament, one in December 2006 and a second bigger one in October 2008. “People understood that we weren’t going to go away,” said Winyard.

MPs were also sent audio diaries of the impact on blind people of their exclusion from the benefit and illustrating the difference an extra £29 a week would make.

Currently, the higher rate is only open to people who are unable to walk or for whom walking outside would be dangerous people who are deaf, blind and need assistance outside and those with significant care needs who are severely mentally impaired with severe behavioural problems.

Winyard added: “What MPs recognised was a massive anomaly that we have this higher rate mobility component but the group that have the greatest mobility difficulties couldn’t claim it.”

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