“I’ve had more e-mail traffic about this than anything for a long time.”
That is John Adams, general secretary of the umbrella body the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, on plans to cut the mobility component of disability living allowance for state-funded care home residents.
In the week since chancellor George Osborne announced the policy out of the blue in the comprehensive spending review (CSR), disabled people, their families and charities have risen up in protest.
They claim it will leave the 60,000 affected people stuck in care homes, unable to get out, stripped of their independence and with reduced quality of life – all to save £135m a year, 0.2% of the public spending cuts announced in the CSR.
The major disability charities, including Leonard Cheshire Disability, Scope and Mencap, are joining forces in a bid to reverse the policy, while a grassroots campaign – the Broken of Britain – has been forged online by disabled bloggers against this and other cuts.
“Our service users and carers are up in arms against this”, says Esther Foreman, campaigns and policy manager at Mencap.
“People rely on this money to get them to hospital appointments or to the dentist. The government is [effectively] saying ‘you’re disabled, you stay in your home’.”
The Department for Work and Pensions initially put forward two rationales for the policy: that removing DLA mobility after four weeks for state-funded residents brings them into line with hospital in-patients; and that the money duplicates funding provided by councils for transport.
Both arguments are vigorously contested.
“To draw that comparison between hospital in-patients and care home residents just isn’t appropriate and is totally inaccurate,” says Rebecca Rennison, senior policy officer at Leonard Cheshire Disability. “Do people behind the policy really understand what residential care is – do they realise that people want to go out to the pub, visit friends or see their family?”
Rennison also says that local authority funding for transport for care home residents is highly variable and only covers outings for groups.
“The key word is independence,” she says. “Councils don’t pay for individuals to get out.”
The DWP appears to have shifted its line, saying that local authorities should be paying for transport, if they do not already.
Disability minister Maria Miller said: “Local authority contracts with care homes are designed to cover services to meet all a resident’s assessed needs, including any mobility needs. So an individual’s care, support and mobility needs should be met by residential care providers from social care funding.”
However, this view is not shared by John Nawrockyi, joint chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ physical disabilities network. “Local authorities can’t help fill that gap. It’s a state benefits issue,” he says.
With councils facing a 28% cut in government funding over the next four years they will struggle to maintain existing services, let alone fund new ones.
Nawrockyi says he can see why the government took the decision but warns: “[The message is], just because you live in a care home you won’t get certain benefits, and that’s a difficult message in terms of institutionalising people.”
Reversing the policy will not be easy but could be achieved with the support of the Opposition parties and Liberal Democrat backbenchers, who have already voiced concerns over other benefit cuts.
The campaigners are also pressing the DWP for an equality impact assessment into the policy to gauge its impact on disabled people.
The charities will be hoping to hold the coalition to its pledge to ensure that its deficit-reduction plan protects those in most need.
“They’ve picked on some of the most vulnerable people, who don’t have a voice,” says Foreman. “Does this pass the government’s fairness test? No it doesn’t.”
Simon Greenwood is one of 60,000 people who could lose their benefit
CASE STUDY: Relying on the mobility component for visits to the park
Vincent Greenwood says he cannot understand why any government would cut the mobility component of disability living allowance for care home residents.
His son Simon, who is severely learning disabled and has autism, is one of the 60,000 who could lose the benefit.
Like most of the others, he claims it at the higher rate of £49.85 a week. It funds a car through the Motability scheme. “He can be taken to the park, go on picnics or go to the pub in the evenings for a Coke,” says Vincent.
“He enjoys just being out. It also brings him home to visit us.”
Vincent and his wife are determined that Simon should not lose out from any cut and would move from their home in Staffordshire closer to Simon’s care home in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, to transport him themselves, if necessary.
But Vincent adds: “It’s almost unbelievable that something like this could be taken away from someone like Simon. It’s such a help to his life.”
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