Disabled people face “one of the most savage onslaughts” on their livelihoods in many years due to coalition welfare reforms, a leading disability campaigner has warned on his retirement.
John Knight, who steps down today as director of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said plans to reassess all incapacity benefit claimants on their fitness to work and introduce medical assessments for disability living allowance could reverse “a decade of relative progress” in opportunities for disabled people.
Incapacity benefit claimants assessed as fit to work will lose up to £25 a week in benefits and face tougher requirements to seek work, while the government estimates introducing medical assessments for new and existing disability living allowance claimants will cut caseloads by 20%. Knight, who is disabled himself, said he feared the government could go even further in making welfare cuts for the disabled in the comprehensive spending review, which will set public spending limits for 2011-15 and decide the future of the Independent Living Fund.
Chancellor George Osborne has said there would be a trade-off between making cuts to services and further welfare cuts. Knight said: “When the government comes to see it can’t realise the savings from services that it wants to make it will go back again to the welfare reform budget and hit the poorest.”
Knight vowed he would “not be silent” on this issue. He is retiring after 16 years at Leonard Cheshire on health grounds, though will retain roles on the board of the Charity Commission and as a magistrate.
He said career highlights included building up the charity’s policy function “from scratch” and setting up campaign action groups to help disabled people lobby on local issues.
Knight also cited his spell on the board of the Commission for Social Care Inspection from 2004-9, under chair Denise Platt, during which “service users were central to everything we did”.