The invisible impact of welfare reform
by Eugene Grant
As the British economy emerges from the downturn and enters a new age of austerity, the government has thrown itself wholeheartedly into tackling some of the most significant financial challenges in recent memory. Its programme for reform is ambitious. The cuts to welfare and public services will, as the Prime Minister said, 'change our whole way of life'. We are, George Osborne remarked in a now oft-cited quote, 'all in this together'.
Not quite. Some groups are more in it than others. Disabled people – who as a cohort are more likely to live in poverty and rely on welfare benefits – face particularly treacherous times ahead. They are likely to be disproportionately impacted upon by the measures introduced in the spending review, to be announced later this month. Meanwhile the effects that the policies put forth in the Emergency Budget will have on disabled people is a vital debate that has been largely absent from policymaking circles.
Demos’s new report, Destination Unknown, exposes the real impact the cuts will have on disabled people and their capabilities for independence and autonomy. Using original analysis, we estimate the government’s proposed welfare reforms will cost some 3.2 million disabled people over £9bn by the end of this Parliament. Also presented in our report are a series of case studies, which reveal the true effects that the cuts will have on disabled households over the years ahead.
We do not deny or downplay the scale of the financial challenges facing the Government, nor do we argue that disabled people should be exempt from the reforms proposed – we must all as a society bear the burden.
However, particular aspects of these reforms are cause for concern. Take for example, the Government’s approach to Disability Living Allowance. DLA is the only disability benefit designed to compensate for the extra costs of living with a disability. Yet increasingly it has been mis-represented as an out-of-work benefit and the cuts it will be subject to are supposed to ‘incentivise’ work. This benefit is paid whether people are in or out of work and to class it as a 'scounger’s' benefit stigmatises disabled people.
The grave impact that welfare reforms already announced will have on disabled people is outlined in detail in our report, as are new ideas and recommendations for change. As the belt tightens around the public purse, the government should recognise that enabling disabled people to secure and sustain employment, and avoid becoming trapped in costly ‘no-pay low-pay’ cycles between work and unemployment, would bring greater financial rewards in the long run. Increasing disabled employment rates to the non-disabled average could save the convalescing economy around £13 billion. But moreover, helping to build this cohort’s capabilities to participate in and contribute to society – in and out of formal employment – would represent a radical step towards a better and more inclusive society. After all, 'we’re all in this together'.