Monday, 26 May 2014

One Nation includes disabled and mentally ill citizens

To plagiarise Oscar Wilde, this Government seems to know the cost of everything and the value of no-one. Its treatment of disabled people shows just how fixated it has become on reducing the role of the State and on cutting expenditure, at the expense of people’s well-being. If profit is not attached, expenditure has no point to them.

Attacks on Disability Support Allowance; arbitrary assessment of disabled people as Work Ready; the threatened closure of the Independent Living Fund; withdrawal of support for moderate disabilities; the Bedroom Tax; slashing of adult social care budgets. These are just some of the ways in which the Coalition has focussed its ideologies against citizens. Yet as citizens, all have rights and needs. Just as people’s needs for education, healthcare or transport differ – yet are accepted as entitlements to a degree – disabled people’s needs should not be the focus of this clearly deliberate attack, which smacks of “untermensch”-ism. It seems that Tories regard all claimants as scroungers to be deprived of social security entitlements.

Whatever the ideological basis for these cuts, whether reduction in the size of the State or, worse, a deliberate demonisation of people unfortunate enough already, this has little to do with economics and rides roughshod over rights. There is a failure of joined-up thinking to be overcome, as those cast aside from, for example, educational support, are left less likely to find jobs, which the Tories seem to regard as a panacea. Labour must ride to the rescue of disabled people and restore their right as citizens to public services, both as a moral issue and a pragmatic one. These are voters, after all and a significant minority in need of championing [11.6 million people have a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability in Great Britain (Office for Disability Issues, 2014)]. The mantra of “independent living” sounds great but lack of support at home for disabled people can leave them having recourse to GPs or A&E at far greater cost to the exchequer. Personal Assistant support, essential for prolonged independence, is under-funded and lacks mandatory standards.

Where parties do agree is on the desirability of integrated, personalised health and care, to maximise independent living. This is a genuine win-win model, being better for the user and more cost effective. But even here, Labour must not follow the Coalition path, which has led already to thousands being outside social security, either by virtue of changes in eligibility criteria, harsh sanctioning or by falling outside the radar, perhaps through loss or a carer. Anyone can become disabled; but their ability to deal with the consequences depends on availability of resources. So far, disabled citizens have been hit disproportionately harder by cuts than most. Labour must listen to them; ensure their individual needs are assessed; then be their advocate and rescuer. Labour must ensure that it reinvests in effective public services, provided to acceptable standards. What higher duty does a State have than the well-being of its citizens?
Tom Serpell

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