The UK government has announced £18 billion of cuts to welfare benefits over the period 2011–15. Independent think tanks such as Demos estimate that £9.2bn of these cuts will fall on households containing a disabled person.
However, the impact in Scotland will be disproportionately large. Altogether, £2bn (11 per cent) of the benefit cuts are falling on Scotland, though we have only just over 8 per cent of the UK population. Over £1bn is being taken from Scottish disabled people and their families.
Why is this? Well, firstly, the UK government has targeted some key benefits paid to disabled people for cuts such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). But other benefit cuts will also have a disproportionate impact, because disabled people are more likely to be reliant on benefits for some or all of their income.
Scotland will suffer more than its fair share of these cuts because we have more people with impairments and health conditions than other areas of the UK. For example, we have the highest rate of multiple sclerosis anywhere in the world. We also have a legacy of industrial disease and injury from the former concentration of heavy industries in Scotland.
Three Scottish local authority areas are among the 20 UK local authorities with the highest proportion of Incapacity Benefit claimants: 12.3 per cent of all working-age adults in Glasgow, 12.2 per cent in Inverclyde and 10.7 per cent in West Dunbartonshire. (ESA is gradually replacing this benefit.) In contrast, only 2–4 per cent of working-age adults claim Incapacity Benefit in large parts of southern England.
By spring 2014, all disabled people currently receiving incapacity benefit will be subjected to a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for ESA. Those assessed as fully capable of work are sent to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support, both paid at a lower rate, or moved off benefits entirely.
Those who cannot work or have limited capability to work move on to ESA. Yet nearly 40 per cent of those who appeal assessments that they are fit for work have that decision overturned on appeal, and the proportion of successful appeals rises to 70 per cent if the disabled person is accompanied by a Citizens Advice Bureau adviser. This has resulted in tens of thousands of disabled people being denied their proper entitlement to benefits and put through months of misery waiting for their appeals to be heard.
The government also proposes to time-limit contributory ESA to 12 months. That, combined with disabled people in a large proportion of cases wrongly being found fit for work, will result in annual losses to Scottish disabled people of £378m by 2014–15. If all those who were in receipt of contributory ESA in May 2011 remain in receipt of the benefit in April 2012, then around 23,700 Scots will lose their entitlement to ESA overnight.
The government also intends to reduce the amount of DLA paid out by 20 per cent. For Scotland, this means benefit losses to claimants of £268m annually. The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will replace DLA in 2013–14. But there is no equivalent under PIP to the lower rate care element of DLA. That means that all current working-age recipients of lower rate care, some 60,000 disabled people, are likely to lose their current entitlement.
From April 2013, housing benefit for working-age people in social rented homes will be linked to the size of property that the government believes they need. The Equality Impact Assessments by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) show that, across the UK, of a total of 670,000 households affected by this change, about 450,000 (66 per cent) will contain a disabled person.
The Scottish government estimates that 95,000 Scottish households will be affected. If the DWP’s two-thirds estimate holds good, then at least 62,000 of those households will contain a disabled person. They are likely to lose an average of £13 per week in housing benefit. Coming on top of the cuts to disabled people’s incomes through losing ESA or DLA, this is likely to lead to thousands of individuals and families becoming homeless as they will not have the means to pay the increased rents.
All in all, the cumulative impact of the welfare reforms that the UK government is imposing will have a devastating impact on tens of thousands of Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens, and there is no doubt that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands will face poverty and destitution. The demand on social and health services due to this human devastation is likely to rise dramatically.
The economic impact on deprived communities is also likely to be immense. Using previous estimates by the Fraser of Allander Institute, Inclusion Scotland believes that the £2bn loss in spending power could result in over 40,000 job losses – mainly in the retail and service sectors.
Perversely, these job losses will fall heaviest on those communities which are already struggling economically, as disabled people and other claimants are concentrated in social housing and communities suffering multiple deprivation.
Inclusion Scotland supports the principle that all disabled people should be empowered to live independently. These heartless benefit cuts will end that hope and replace it with a struggle to live at all.
– Bill Scott is the manager of Inclusion Scotland.