Friday, June 22, 2012

Destination Unknown: Summer 2012 - Guest blog by Eugene Grant

Eugene Grant is a Public Policy Advisor on poverty and welfare for the disability charity Scope


Just before Christmas 2010, David Cameron gave a speech on families and relationships to the counselling service Relate. Families, the Prime Minister asserted, “are immeasurably important” – not just to our personal life, but “important to our national life too”. They are “the building blocks of a strong, cohesive society”. 

At the time, few would have opposed the Government’s commitment to supporting families. But, for disabled people and their families, this principled position has not translated into practical policy. Far from it. Just a month after the speech to Relate and the Government’s commitment was vociferously challenged by Riven Vincent, the mother of a disabled child, in a moving message published on the Mumsnet website in which she wrote: “We simply cannot cope and neither can families up and down the country, just like ours. We are crumbling.”

Sadly, Riven’s family are not alone; many families who care for disabled children are often pushed towards breaking point as they struggle to juggle various demands, from caring for their child, fighting to get the support they need, and living in a society that still isn’t fully accessible for disabled people. The combination of all these factors puts enormous pressures on families. 

Since the May 2010 election, the Government has initiated £18 billion worth of cuts to welfare benefits, including benefits for disabled children. At the same time, it has reduced funding settlements – budgets for social care provision and other vital services – for local authorities across the country. For the last two years, the disability charity Scope and the think tank Demos have been following the plight of six disabled families as these cuts have come into effect. The impact of the cuts on disabled people has been mapped via the report series Destination Unknown.

The fourth and final report is published today – two years on from the Emergency Budget. Among the stories set out within it is that of Aisha and her family. Aisha is four years old. She was born with Cerebral Palsy, and has quadriplegia and epilepsy. She lives with her mother, who is her full-time carer; her father, who works; and her brothers and sisters. While the Government have asserted their commitment to families, the new report reveals that since the Emergency Budget the Government’s welfare reforms have cost Aisha’s families and others like hers over £30 million.

Aisha’s mother struggles to look after her – and the other children – by herself. Aisha’s father, who works, has had to start taking unpaid leave to help out with caring responsibilities. A few months ago he collapsed from the pressure. Aisha’s sister, who is only ten years old, now helps look after the child and take her out. Problems with securing support from local services for Aisha has taken its toll on her mother’s mental health and has caused her to go back onto medication for depression and anxiety. As Aisha’s father is the sole earner in the family, and starts work at 5am, he is often unable to help out with caring for Aisha during the night – the ‘night shift’ as they call it (a term I’m sure many families up and down the country probably know all too well). Because of this, Aisha’s parents have to sleep in different rooms during the whole week so that one is on duty while the other one can sleep. This, Aisha’s mother says, “puts a strain on family and married life” – two things that the Government have always claimed to champion. “Time together is just gone.”

Aisha’s story is not unusual; neither is Riven Vincent’s. If it is to fulfil its commitment to families like Aisha’s, the Government has to understand the full range of pressures disabled families face and the impact that the cuts and changes to support have on their lives. The report concludes with urging the Government to change the way it does impact assessments when introducing new reforms all at once. The Government should not just consider the impact of how many people are affected by one new policy; it must look at the impact on families like Aisha’s of multiple changes – to DLA, ESA, child benefit, etc. – coming into effect all at once. Without this, there is a real risk that families like Riven Vincent’s and Aisha’s will continue to crumble and the true human cost of austerity is overlooked.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I don’t give a flying **** whether the government actively gives me and my disabled son support or not. It’s tough if they don’t, and even tougher when they pull support they’ve given in the past, but I’ll still scrape through somehow.

What grinds me down and pisses me off is in the increasingly wicked, nasty, bullying malevolence of greater and greater sections of society when they come in contact with the vulnerable. It doesn’t matter whether they’re so-called professionals—teachers, social workers, doctors, mental health workers—or the ordinary man and woman in the street.

They all feel increasingly able to intimidate, bully and threaten society’s vulnerable people. It’s ironic that there are a huge number of laws to protect people now and yet the country is riding a wave of vileness. “Ooh, look that kid’s a gimp, let’s beat him up. It’s great fun.”

There are some people who are decent, but even in the professional area they’re in rapid decline and retreat. When professionals who are there to support the vulnerable feel able to tell people they’re skivers and scroungers, openly deride them as worthless, and make other vilent comments, you know we’re in trouble.

At the risk of attracting the trolls who like to quote some silly “law of the net”, I have a number of Jewish relatives who escaped Austria in the 1930s. When I think of their stories of constant, low-level intimidation, harassment, name calling and the like, all by the ordinary, non-official Austrians, the more I see the similarities with the way my son, us as his family, and various disabled friends are treated.

The media is filled with venom. The average punter is filled with venom. Many of the professionals are filled with venom. And they all like to take it out on the vulnerable—those they beleive can’t or won’t fight back.

So, I don’t care much if the Government doesn’t give me active support in coping with difficulties of having a disabled child—or indeed having a disability. But I do care that Government and its associated bodies not only fail to crack down on this burgeoning seam of hatred for the vulnerable, but often looks to be encouraging and condoning it.

As we’ve found, you can have half a dozen professional witnesses to vile incidents and yet they all go dumb when asked to challenge it. At best, someone will mumble “it’s more than my jobs worth to speak up”. At worst, they’ll join in or mutter something about “well, there are good reasons for their attitude”.

How long will it be before someone in authority suggests it’s “more cost effective” and “better value for money” to do away with all the useless scrounging crips who “contribute nothing and take our money”?

Not long, I expect. And there will be a lot of people only to happy to support ideas like that.

misspiggy said...

And this situation, Anonymous, is exactly what the government wants. They are fully aware of the impacts of multiple reforms, and are adding a good dose of hatred and division on top through the media. This will keep everyone insecure, exhausted, fearful and at each other's throats, so they don't look up from the battle for survival and fight for their collective rights.

The government wants most people's wages to go down. The way to do this is force people to work for a pittance because they are terrified that nobody will help them. If people who can't work die in the process, so much the better as far as government is concerned.

It's very clear this is the point of government policy - I don't mean written policy, but the policy implicit in government actions. Remember how nasty the 80s were? That was why.

So I don't really see the point of NGO reports calling for better impact assessment - it was obvious what was going to happen. The only thing NGOs have left to call for (because as UK charities they can't get 'political') is holding government to its obligations under international law.

Avenging_Angel said...

Thank you very much for this excellent post - well done and please keep sounding off.

Clarebelz said...

I was so upset at the palpable fear this week on my social housing estate that I felt I had to set up a blog to speak out: http://welfare-life-reformed.overblog.com/

Most of my neighbours and friends are completely stressed out this week because the housing association were visiting 'under occupiers', not a few who are either seriously ill or who are caring for someone. One person had a really bad fit because of it; I haven't been able to sleep properly for 2 years due to the fear of it.

On top of that, the changes to the rules concerning your contribution towards your care costs have meant that I now have to pay back £3000 per year to the local authority. This has left me with no income that I can save to replace items any more, so if my fridge, washer or dishwasher breaks down now, I've basically had it.

They have clawed back all of the care element of my DLA and part of the disability premium, but the care element of my benefit is supposed to go toward more than actual care. It is for other needs like extra fuel, paying someone to do the garden or any jobs that I cannot do for myself (just about anything).

I just am thankful that last winter was not too cold as I couldn't afford to heat the lounge until tea-time each day. My garden is getting in a mess, and there are many jobs that I need doing around the house, but I just can't afford. For the first time in many years, I did Christmas on the credit card, and no matter how hard I try, I can't pay much off each month now (so stupid I know).

When Universal Credit comes in I'll have to live on much less I'm sure, and with the bedroom tax hit of over £100 per month, plus the council tax cut, life just won't be worth living for me. I too lived in abject poverty in the 80s due to the government splitting the water element of our rent into a separate bill, scrapping housing benefit for the working poor, and introducing the poll tax. I can't go through it again; I don't think that I could physically go through it again now.

There are many many people in much worse circumstances than mine though who have already lost all disability benefits, like an acquaintance of mine. I'm trying to help since the CAB can't get funding for a welfare officer at present, but I can do little while I'm so ill. The woman concerned has £12 per week to live on, and she can't afford food. What have we come to when a government can allow that to happen: she's on morphine, heart/asthma/arthritis medication for f***s sake!

Yes, we're all living in fear, but I guess that's what they wanted.