Now that the Government has come clean that its motivation for moving people on to Personal Independence Payments is getting the benefits bill down, Peter White says it has forgotten the day-to-day extra costs disabled people face.
Is Britain broke or not?
One minute we’re being told to pull up the drawbridge, pull in our horns; not to expect handouts; it’s all the fault of those pesky Chinese, not expanding as fast as they should be to provide us all with money for our goods. The next – when there’s a big occasion in parliament – it’s all okay again; some of us have paid up more of our taxes than was expected, and George Osborne has found some more cash in an old biscuit-tin he’d forgotten to look in – and the sun is shining.
And, as if to prove it, I get a cash present from the Government. Obviously they don’t call it a present. They say it’s to help me with my fuel bill, but I know that can’t be right because although no-one likes paying the extortionate bills for gas and electricity, I’m not having any more trouble with that than anyone else.
Of course there are disabled people who are – those whose health conditions and inability to move around as freely mean they need to use more energy to keep warm – but I’m not one of them; it’s just that I qualify on grounds of age and disability. So should I hand it back?
Three things stop me: it’s rude to hand back a Christmas present; it goes against the grain to give money back to the Government, but, most tellingly, I reflect that the money I and many other disabled people do need is increasingly coming under question, so who knows when I will need it?
The fact is that Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), which have replaced what’s being characterised as the “outdated” Disability Living Allowance (DLA), seem to be constantly under threat. The declared purpose of DLA, and its successor PIP, is to help disabled people with the added costs of disability.
But the Government has made no secret of the fact that the point of “migrating” people from DLA to PIP was to cut the cost; by at least 20%.
Now I’m no economist, but even I can see there are only two ways in which you can achieve that: either cut the number of people to whom you give it, or cut the amount you give to each recipient. And what seems to be coming under question is the very principle of the benefit: the added cost of disability. Just before Christmas a press release went out from the Department of Work and Pensions suggesting that disabled people weren’t spending their PIPs on aids and appliances specifically required for help with disability. It particularly drew attention to stuff such as chairs and beds; and the main argument here seemed to be that if you used one of these chairs or beds, it was fulfilling the same role of a more standard chair or bed that you would have needed anyway.
Quite apart from the fact that some of this equipment can be more expensive anyway, it seems to me to miss the whole point of what the added costs of disability are. Yes, there is some special equipment we need, but the real added costs, experienced by people with most kinds of impairments or conditions, are endemic to the situation. However capable we try to be, many of the routine costs of living are higher. As a blind person there are many jobs I have to pay people to do which if I could see I would try to do myself: decorating, household repairs, gardening, managing finances.
Yes, we all know super-crips who take on these tasks without a care in the world, but the honest truth is that for most disabled people even if you can tackle them, they take longer, and you do them less well. And then there’s the whole business of being able to shop around to get the best bargains. We increasingly live in an age where price is negotiable: stores compete with each other by price; banks compete with each other with concessionary rates.
We are in nowhere near as good a position to cruise the high street looking for such deals or find them on the internet.
Increasingly there are benefits to be had by doing your business in a particular way, such as online, which is not as available to disabled people. Then there’s the matter of going places where you need a guide or a helper. You may pay them directly to go shopping, or accompany you to a theatre or a sports event; or you may buy their ticket, share some of their holiday costs or show appreciation in other ways; but it will almost certainly cost you money in one way or another. I could go on. There are few aspects of life that don’t actually cost you more if you have a disability, and it varies from person to person dependent on their needs and their interests. It’s not always easy to quantify; that’s the whole point of a benefit like this: to arrive at a notional cost which is as fair as you can make it.
It just may be that we’ve lost sight of quite a simple principle: that disability costs money, as true now, if not truer, than when the so-called outdated Disability Living Allowance was introduced in the 1990s.