A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

Disabled People Get Cold Too…

In Uncategorized on June 14, 2010 at 5:50 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

George Osborne has a small but important opportunity to underline the coalition government’s committment to fairness in his upcoming budget. Part of this budget, undoubtedly, with Iain Duncan-Smith at the helm at DWP, will be benefit and welfare reform. One benefit that is in need of some reform is the winter fuel payment. This is made to OAPs who are house-bound to help them heat their homes, since they are often less wealthy than other groups in society and more vulnerable to afflictions like pneumonia.

However, severely disabled people are also house-bound and vulnerable to these afflictions, yet don’t receive this payment. Many severely disabled people are dependent on incapacity benefit to support themselves and on their carers, who, again, are often drawn from the poorer sections of society, as caring for a severely disabled person is a full-time job. By contrast, some OAPs are extremely wealthy and need no additional help in heating their homes, or live in sheltered accomodation where heating costs are kept flat throughout the year. Meanwhile, there are heart-rending stories of severely disabled people still paying off their debts from last winter, and struggling to find the money to stay warm through the next one. Those receiving the higher-rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance account for 1.6% of the population; around 1 million disabled people, incorporating 21,000 disabled children and young people.

Therefore, Osborne should consider making this winter fuel payment means-tested, or raising the age threshold for the payment to 65 (as in the Liberal manifesto), thus saving money, and direct some of the savings to providing a similar winter fuel payment to severely disabled people. This would sit well with Nick Clegg’s call for more disabled MPs, the Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge to move severely disabled people onto the winter fuel payments and show that the coalition government did actually care for fairness, the disabled and the poor. At the time of writing, Nick Clegg has not publicly expressed his support for this campaign.

The last government became notorious for its raising of winter fuel payments on the eve of crucial elections, in order to stop pensioners voting for the Lib Dems’ proposed pensions increases or being attracted by the Tories’ social conservativism. The benefit, while a sound principle, needs review. It needs to be and be seen to be a benefit for society and the poor, not the government. Osborne has the chance to make this happen in his upcoming budget. Let’s hope that he agrees with Nick on disabled people.

More details of this campaign can be acquired from the Papworth Trust (http://www.papworthtrust.org.uk/campaigns) and their Facebook page.

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  1. Excellent highlight of what is an important issue for the government, in ensuring that cutting the structural deficit does not hurt the least well off, whilst giving an account of their ‘compassionate conservatism’.

    Whilst I definitely agree with the analysis, that we should seek to extend WFP to the disabled, I strongly disagree with your solution, which is to make it means tested. I do not want to see severely disabled people having to be put through tests, or filling in paperwork, and there have been several cases reported of those who seem severely disabled not receiving certain benefits (disabled parking bays spring to mind). I think means tested benefits in any situation are a poor substitute for dealing with the more fundamental problem of lifting these kind of people out of fuel poverty and into a comfortable standard of living.

    My proposed solution would instead be a Universal Basic Income, of say £12000, paid to every person without any form of means-testing, paid by general taxation, particularly of the better off to balance off equality. This would ensure hopefully enough money for everyone, including OAPs and the disabled, to be able to afford fuel payments in the winter. Since everyone gets it, and everyone has a basic need to warmth, no-one can complain that they deserve more money than someone else.

    Since a UBI is unlikely to happen under a Conservative government, I’ll be interested to see what Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne have in mind next week.

    • Thanks for the compliments. It is a serious concern. At the moment, disabled people are already tested to great length as regards to their physical and mental capacity, to determine the level of the relevant benefits they receive. Financial information for the severely disabled would not be an excessively difficult ask, and it would find most severely disabled people in need of the benefit, as they are unable to do, or cannot find, appropriate work. A not insignificant amount of OAPs could do without the benefit, being rich enough. Or, seeing as 60 is now relatively young, we could raise the age to 65; both pay amply for the extension, leaving money over to partially rectify the deficit, which also hurts the poor. Such a large allowance for each individual would necessitate incredibly high tax, and likely means testing anyway – or would there be a £12000 p/a stipend to each and every citizen? That’s a welfare budget of £720 billion. Means testing is the way forward – though there are holes, it ensures those who are actually poor and/or needy receive the funds they need while shrinking the welfare budget, and reducing the country’s dependence on state support.

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