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Baroness Thomas: Government should be empowering working age disabled people

3 min read

The Government should investigate the impact that their current policy changes are having on disabled people and their ability to live independently, says Baroness Thomas.

What does independent living mean exactly?  Doesn’t it mean sad, disabled people who live alone, rather than in a residential home, and who therefore expect everyone to run round for them? No, that is not what it means; it is about being in control of your life yourself, with people helping you when you want help. It is about the empowering of disabled people being able to play their part in society – in other words, giving back as well as taking. But they need help to do this.

It is good, for example, that the Government want to halve the number of disabled people out of work, but they have to make sure the infrastructure is in place for this to happen.

First, there must be somewhere suitable for a disabled person to live which is not too far from employment opportunities. Supported housing is in very short supply.  It is also important for disabled people to have the care they need, whether it is twenty-four hour care or part-time care.  

Many disabled people have had their care needs cut by local councils since the closure of the Independent Living Fund two years ago. Accessible transport should also be available.  Buses may be plentiful and accessible in the big cities, but in many other places, either buses are few and far between or they are not wheelchair accessible. As for taxis and minicabs outside London, it’s the same story, particularly at weekends. 

What about the disability benefit, PIP, which is the gateway to access to a Motability vehicle if a claimant receives enhanced rate mobility? At present, the shocking number of 900 of these cars are being handed back each week because of the infamous 20/50 metre rule which means that only a claimant who cannot walk more than 20 metres (two London bus lengths), aided or unaided, is entitled to lease a car. The distance used to be 50 metres – a much fairer test – but was cut to save the DWP money. And often the claimant has to hand back a vehicle before their appeal is heard. If this is successful, the whole process has to start again.  

As for work, how many employers know about the Access to Work Fund? It is far from perfect but helps disabled people get to and from work and can help adapt a workplace.  But all too often it is a well-kept secret. And why not allow it to be used for job interviews? Cutting the Employment and Support Allowance for those in the work-related activity group from April back to the Jobseekers Allowance level is certainly not going to act as an incentive to get disabled people to work.

The Government should be taking a holistic view of independent living, and I urge them, as a start, to conduct a cumulative impact assessment to see how their policies over the last few years have affected disabled people, particularly those of working age.

Baroness Thomas is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords

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