Problem of disabled people living in poverty needs to be addressed

The government’s proposed welfare benefit reforms must address
the problems of disabled people living in poverty, John Knight, the
head of disability charity Leonard Cheshire told a Labour party
conference fringe meeting today, writes Maria Ahmed
from Brighton.

Knight said that the poverty rate among disabled people was
around a “staggering” 61 per cent and called on work and pensions
minister David Blunkett to seize the “golden opportunity” to
substantially increase the basic rate of Incapacity Benefit.

Knight told the meeting: “In essence Incapacity Benefit is a
benefit to replace earnings when a person cannot work because of
disability. As it stands it does no such thing. The average IB
payment is around £84 a week.

“If you imagine that payment as the equivalent of a 9-5
job, this works out at about £2.40 an hour – well under the
minimum wage. How many people feel they could live comfortably with
a job that paid less than £5,000 year?”

Knight added that poverty was exacerbated by additional costs
faced by disabled people including personal case costs or mobility

He said Blunkett’s proposed reforms should “start genuinely
offering security” to those who rely on Incapacity Benefit,
reminding Blunkett of the pledge he made to the conference on

Knight also called for early interventions to stop people
falling out of the labour market, effective mechanisms to support
people back into long-term work, and strategies to address
“endemic” discrimination in the labour market.

Blunkett told the meeting that he hoped welfare reforms would
ensure that people would get an income and support network to allow
them to “live with dignity.”

He admitted that it was “totally confusing” that people on the
higher rate of Incapacity Benefit were not entitled to various
“add-on” benefits and said the government would try to resolve the

John Simpson MP called for a move away from the government’s
with means-testing but predicted that Blunkett would be “in for a
fight” with the Treasury over the proposed reforms to Incapacity

Knight echoed his concerns, adding: “The media are already
licking their lips at the prospect of Incapacity Benefit reform
leading to backbench rebellion, high-pressure late night votes and
maybe even government defeats, but it need not be so.”

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