Disabled People Demand Basic Rights

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Last May’s march in London against benefit cuts for the disabled
Last May’s march in London against benefit cuts for the disabled

Disabled People will be protesting outside the DWP offices, Caxton House, 6-12 Tothill Street, London SW1 from 2.00pm next Monday, February 13.

Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) said on Monday: ‘The government’s ill-thought through plans to scrap the Independent Living Fund (ILF) from 2015 will not only wreck disabled people’s lives but potentially push them into residential institutions rather than being able to live in the community.

‘This is in spite of these rights being guaranteed by the ratification of a United Nations Convention.

‘The planned changes will cost taxpayers millions of pounds more every year by forcing disabled people back into institutions, and by creating greater ill-health leading to a greater drain on the NHS all at public cost.

‘The ILF supports independent living for some 20,000 disabled people with the highest support needs across the UK, enabling real choice and control over how they live their lives and creating employment. It contributes to UK tax gains and public savings.

‘Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, announced the permanent closure of the ILF to new applications in December 2010. Her statement then, and her recent statement of December 2011, point to the permanent closure of the ILF by 2015.

‘A Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) led campaign is being launched on February 13 when Jamie Bolling, Executive Director of European Network for Independent Living (ENIL), will be flying in from Sweden to support UK campaigners.

‘Jamie says “Cuts across Europe must stop! They are breaches of human rights and are taking the lives of disabled people. Without the ILF there will be no choice for disabled people and choice is a right.”

‘Campaigners plan to deliver a letter signed by over 70 of the country’s major user-led disabled people’s organisations as well as around 400 individual disabled people and others to Maria Miller.

‘The letter calls for the continuation after 2015 of a nationally transportable, ring-fenced funding stream to meet the additional costs of care and support for those with the highest needs.

Anne Novis who was awarded an MBE for her work on disability hate crimes said: ‘As an ILF user I have been in fear and anxiety for over a year wondering how I will manage to have any life after the ILF closes down.

‘I have sought information, something that would reassure me my voice and that of the thousands of ILF users would be heard, but we have had nothing.

‘With all the other threats and cuts in care support and welfare those most in need, as we are defined by this government, have absolutely no reassurance that our needs will be met because we see and hear each day of another disabled person kill themselves, be penalised, demonised and impoverished simply for being disabled.’

Another fund user said: ‘The support from the ILF has made the difference from having very basic support to having a life.

‘It has played an immeasurably positive role in the lives of disabled people with significant support needs and their families.’

The campaign is also supported by Mark Serwotka general secretary of the PCS union.

In adding his signature, Serwotka said: ‘This government’s treatment of disabled people reveals the true face of the Tories, who are seeking to make the most disadvantaged and least culpable pay the highest price for economic problems caused by the failures of a financial and political elite.

‘Recent exposure of ministers’ attempts to mislead parliament about the extent of opposition to their cruel and unnecessary cuts shows they fear the excellent campaigns being run by Disabled People Against Cuts and others, which we support fully.’

DPAC noted: ‘ILF allows ‘severely’ disabled people to live in the community, to go to university and in many cases to work and pay taxes. The Personal Assistants employed through this funding also pay taxes and contribute economically.

‘We believe that Maria Miller is wrong to say this fund is financially unsustainable as the ILF saves the state on average £37,888 per annum per person eligible for such funding. (the difference between the average ILF payment and cost of residential care at 2010 prices)

‘The cost to the state of scrapping ILF to save a mere £330 million will be a minimum of paying £757,760,000 a year in residential care costs.

‘That is more than double the current cost but this figure still excludes the loss of tax revenue as disabled people will no longer be able to work or employ PAs.

‘It also excludes the extra costs which are likely to be generated for the NHS as hugely increased numbers of disabled people are likely to be denied overnight care and left instead with only incontinence pads, or as support deteriorates lead to more health problems.

‘Most importantly for those disabled people who will lose this financial support they will lose any independence and choice in their lives.

‘For those with complex support needs which is the case for those in receipt of ILF funding the cost of residential care according to the Scottish government’s estimate is £72,000 per annum.’

• Meanwhile, the GMB supported appeals against the government’s indexation changes will take place on February 20 in the Court of Appeal.

There are two separate appeals against a High Court ruling last year backing the decision to use the Consumer Prices Index rather than the Retail Prices Index to uprate pension benefits.

They will be heard together on February 20 in the Court of Appeal.

GMB with Prospect, the FDA, and National Union of Teachers, together with the Civil Service Pensioner’s Alliance, and a group of six unions lodged the appeals last month.

Brian Strutton GMB National Secretary for Public Services said: ‘GMB consider that the High Court was wrong in fact and in law regarding this change to long-standing employment contracts which cuts pensions in payment by 15 per cent and more.

‘That is the reason GMB, with the other unions, is mounting this robust legal challenge to that decision.’

• Plans announced on Monday about collecting the money owed to government will mean more private companies profiting from public debt, the Public and Commercial Services union warns.

A Cabinet Office report makes it clear that an ongoing review by ministers will almost certainly lead to an increased use of private debt collectors.

The union says this will do nothing to solve the scandal of more than £120 billion being lost to our public finances every year, mostly through tax evasion and avoidance by the very wealthy, and that this should be the government’s central focus.

There is a growing use of debt collection agencies in the civil service, with 10 companies now holding contracts with HM Revenue and Customs to chase £1 billion worth of debt ranging from PAYE and self-assessed tax to national insurance and tax credit overpayments.

The proposals come as tens of thousands of civil service jobs are being cut, including experienced staff who work in debt management in HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and the courts service.

Private agencies are being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds from the money collected from taxpayers, but the union says they often lack the knowledge and expertise required to understand the complex tax and benefits systems.

The £6.5 billion written off through debt last year across all central government departments is dwarfed by the £16 billion in benefits and tax credits that are unclaimed, the union adds.

Yet ministers are making no concerted effort to address this problem.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘It is important that the money owed to the government is paid, but ministers are cutting public sector jobs at the same time as inviting more private companies in to profit from debt.

‘It is also telling that ministers are not making a similar effort to address the much larger problem of people not claiming the benefits and tax credits to which they are entitled.

‘Instead of insisting that the only way to collect debt, including the tens of billions in tax avoided and evaded, is through more private agencies, ministers should be creating jobs and investing in their own staff.’