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Disability Living Allowance: a PERSONAL VIEW of government cuts

The coalition government are pushing through Parliament reforms to the Disability Living Allowance. They want to take 500,000 people off this benefit by 2015 and cut the costs of assisting the most seriously disabled by twenty per cent.
Max Preston is a freelance journalist who lives in Lockeridge.  A recent graduate of Leeds University’s broadcast journalism programme, he uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy and currently receives Disability Living Allowance. This is his personal view.

When the Tory-Lib Dem coalition took office in 2010, I – unlike a great many of my generation – held out some degree of hope.  Under Labour, dealing with the various implementing entities for disability-related policy had been an unnecessarily bureaucratic chore made all the worse by startlingly frequent passive aggression on the part of their administrators.

It is still beyond me as to quite why I – with a diagnosis of quadriplegic cerebral palsy (CP) confining me to a wheelchair for life – needed to check in with these people on at least a semi-annual basis to reassure them that I was, indeed, still profoundly disabled and really-rather-put-out-about-it. Having said that, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)  themselves have been – more often than not – courteous, helpful and disarmingly cognisant of how much of a pain-in-the-backside it is to have to deal with their paperwork.

After the election, I had hoped that the Lib Dems would provide a moderating influence on disability-related policy by offering a counterweight to Tory right-wingers, that efforts to cut back red tape would not be made merely for their own sake, and that David Cameron’s empathy thanks to his experiences with his own late son, Ivan (whose degree of CP was far more severe than mine), would win the day. Thus far, my optimism has not borne fruit.

Among other things, I use Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to fund a specially-adapted car which is driven for me to hospital appointments, grocery shopping excursions and – perhaps most importantly for a recent graduate – job interviews. In fact, it also pays for part of my food bills, as eating healthily (and therefore more expensively) is absolutely crucial for someone with as sedentary a lifestyle as mine.

Without DLA, I could not have gone to university and laid the foundations for what I hope will be a productive and fulfilling career in journalism. 

Whilst I understand that the government wishes to substantially reduce the number of people in receipt of this type of benefit, a far more sensible course was suggested in the House of Lords by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, formerly of Paralympic fame and now a steadfast crossbench advocate for the disabled.

In short, it was grossly irresponsible of peers to vote down her motion that DLA’s putative replacement – the Personal Independence Payment (or, unfortunately, PIP) – be extensively piloted before it is launched.

In its quest to make what are admittedly necessary cuts across many facets of British life, the government has lost sight of perhaps its most fundamental mandate, one to which every government is beholden: to take care of the most-vulnerable among us first. To invoke what is probably a well-worn cliché: this is not an issue of left-and-right, but of right-and-wrong.

People do abuse DLA, but this attempt to stamp out such wrongdoing appears to cut first and ask questions later, simply in order to appease the need for overall fiscal stability.

The coalition’s most fundamental mistake with regard to benefits policy precisely and dangerously mirrors that of recent Labour governments. Namely, there appears to be a presumption of guilt – that you’re trying to get one over on them – rather than innocence.

That mind-set starts from an unhelpful, even noxious place that makes staff unnecessarily hostile, gives recipients an unduly guilty conscience and renders politicians apathetic at best and cold-hearted at worst.

Admittedly, with a condition as severe as mine, one would like to believe that any reduction in my own benefits would be minimal. But having lost the support of even The Daily Mail on this issue, Messrs. Cameron and Clegg must pause to consider what they want their legacy to be.

They had an opportunity to take a commendable, non-partisan moral stand, just as they did alongside Joanna Lumley and the Ghurkhas, even as Gordon Brown refused to join them – and they have inexcusably failed to do so. Now, the DWP will have to screw up PIP before they can put it right, and hundreds of thousands of already disadvantaged people will find themselves even more marginalised and overburdened as a result.

It is worth remembering that while his premature death was undoubtedly a tragedy, Ivan Cameron was a child of privilege, and the support system that his parents rightly placed around him would have always ensured him the best-possible standard of care... because they could afford it.

The Prime Minister has, in the past, earnestly put himself forward as someone with first-hand experience of dealing with the travails of disability. As it stands, however, he has entirely abrogated the responsibility due to his own son’s memory - and he should be ashamed.

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