The Simon Heng column

    Over the past few weeks, there have been several government
    proposals from various departments which seem to acknowledge the
    particular needs of disabled people. But they also challenge us to
    take more responsibility for our own lives and for our place in

    The proposed changes in incapacity benefit mean the most
    severely disabled would receive higher rates of payment. Those less
    disabled would be given help to build their confidence and skills
    to find jobs, and an extra £40 a week to ease the transition
    from benefits to paid employment.

    This, it seems to me, recognises that some of us can never
    sustain full-time employment, and could use a little extra money to
    make the rest of our lives fractionally easier (poverty is, after
    all, one of the biggest signifiers of social exclusion), while the
    government tries to make it possible for many to be helped out of
    financial dependency in a sympathetic way.

    The proposed establishment of an Office for Disabilities is
    recognition that disability issues don’t conveniently fit into the
    pigeonholes of government departments. A place in government where
    policy can be co-ordinated might even lead to a greater
    understanding of disability issues.

    The recent idea that adult service users should have individual
    care budgets, for which they are personally responsible, is an
    extension of the direct payments scheme.

    Although I’ve had my concerns about direct payments, I can see
    that they are aimed at giving disabled people the greatest possible
    degree of choice about the help they need, and real responsibility
    for managing it. I believe that people are going to find this
    difficult to manage without the right preparation and support – but
    if this is understood, and planned for, many of us might be able to
    stop calling ourselves service users.

    We might even feel less stigmatised, more responsible and equal
    members of our communities – social inclusion indeed.


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