Our new minister for disabled people must stand up for uprating benefits and funding social care
Two weeks after Rishi Sunak took over as prime minister, we’ve finally found out who the new minister of state for disabled people is. Tom Pursglove will be the third minister for disabled people in as many months.
Why the minister for disabled people is such an important role
Ideally, there’d be no need for a specific minister for disabled people. Disability shouldn’t be seen mainly as the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions either.
Yes, benefits are a lifeline to many disabled people and their families. Yet there is so much more to making sure that every disabled person can lead an independent and meaningful life.
We cannot simply see disability issues through the prism of welfare reform. Our perspective needs to be broader, recognising that people have needs spanning every area of government policy.
Health, social care, employment, benefits, housing… There is no area of policy that doesn’t have the potential to affect the lives of disabled people for the better – or for the worse.
Every government department and every minister should be responsible for tackling the barriers faced by disabled people in their day-to-day lives.
But until that is a reality – until disability is more than an afterthought in the minds of policy-makers – disabled people deserve to have a champion in government who is willing to fight their corner.
With the autumn statement coming up on Thursday, it’s particularly important that the new minister makes sure that things don’t get even worse for disabled people.
The government must do more for disabled people in the cost of living crisis
Last month, Sense research found that, even before the cost of living crisis, a quarter of people with complex disabilities could not keep their homes adequately warm – three times the rate for non-disabled people.
As a result, the rising prices that have affected everyone have had a disproportionate impact on disabled people. The people we support are facing choices no one should have to make.
Last week, the BBC reported the story of Rosey, who is being supported by Sense. Rising energy bills mean that her mother, Yvette, may have no choice but to put Rosey into care. This cannot be right.
While we welcome the cost of living payments announced earlier this year, one-off support won’t stop disabled people and their families from facing unacceptable decisions like this.
Some commentators and politicians have said that work is the answer to the cost of living crisis. But almost 30% of people with complex disabilities are on Universal Credit. This compares to just 5% of non-disabled people.
Disabled people, and particularly those with complex disabilities, face significant barriers to entering employment or working more hours. So do many carers.
That’s why the government needs to do more.
What we want to see in this week’s autumn statement
As a first step, the chancellor should uprate benefits in line with inflation – just as the current prime minister promised he would do when back when he was the one holding the red box.
For months, disabled people have been trying to pay today’s bills with benefits based on last year’s prices. Uprating benefits in line with inflation would only be making sure that they kept the same value as prices rise. Failure to do so would mean a long-term cut in real terms, even if benefits rose in line with inflation next year.
It was back in October that Liz Truss first declined to rule out a real terms cut in benefits. Two months later, and we’re none the wiser about what will happen to benefits. Despite some promising reports that the new government may increase benefits in line with inflation, it hasn’t been officially announced yet.
I’ll be hoping to see a commitment to do the right thing in this week’s autumn statement. But that’s not the only thing I’ll be looking out for.
Spending cuts have been the talk of the political town since Jeremy Hunt first took up the top job at the treasury almost a month ago. So far, it’s only been that – talk. We’ve no idea yet what “Austerity 2.0” will look like. Both below-inflation rises and full-on budget cuts would have a profound impact on disabled people – particularly in the midst of the cost of living crisis.
Take social care, for example. For decades, our badly funded social care system has left disabled people without the right care – or no care at all. Faced with rising costs and a workforce crisis, the sector is under more pressure than ever before.
If the social care budget does not rise in line with inflation, even more disabled people will be forced to go without care – just as the cost of living crisis is already making it harder for them to lead independent and meaningful lives.
As the government finalises how it will spend its money over the coming years, it is vital that it considers everyone who is affected by it – including disabled people.
We’ll know on Thursday whether they have.