An unexpected glimmer of light

27 February 2014

Jane Harrisby Jane Harris

In one way, today was a bleak day for everyone who cares about disability. The National Audit Office reported that people are waiting 100 days or more to find out if they can get disability benefits.

That means people unlucky enough to get MS or have a stroke or be in a car crash struggle for months to pay for basics like food, housing and electricity.

That is simply unacceptable. The British public wants a disability benefits system that is kind, compassionate and efficient. The current state of affairs doesn’t pass any of those tests.

But in another corner of disability policy, there is some light.

We all know that disabled people are struggling to get care as well as enough income to live. Earlier this year, the Care and Support Alliance (of which we’re a member) released figures that showed almost half a million disabled and older people who would have got care five years ago now receive nothing.

And last month the UK Homecare Association found that only a handful of councils were paying enough for homecare to cover the minimum wage for care workers.

No wonder we’ve seen an increase in shocking 15-minute care visits, which we’ve been protesting about again this week. We simply can’t go on like this without leaving disabled people stranded.

So, where’s the light? Well, this massive problem facing the country has been recognised today in an unexpected source.

The Low Pay Commission has recommended an increase in the national minimum wage (NWM), which is good news for many people working in the care sector — people who deserve more recognition and respect for the amazing work they do day in, day out.

And what’s more, they recognised that the government needs to spend more on care to give care workers better pay. It won’t be possible to increase wages without this extra funding. Or as they put it:

‘We are concerned about the extra pressure the increase will place on the largely government-funded care sectors. We urge the government to ensure funding is available to meet the extra pressure the NMW rise will place on the care sectors.’

Ultimately, we need both benefits and care systems that we would be happy to rely on ourselves.

We need politicians, journalists, benefits assessors, civil servants — everyone involved — to adopt what the philosopher John Rawls called a ‘veil of ignorance’. They need to imagine themselves in need of care and disability benefits just to do the basics in life: to get out of bed, have a cup of tea, go to the loo, or travel to see friends.

If we all do that now — if we all imagine ourselves needing help to do the basics in life — can we really say the current state of disability benefits and care in the UK is fair?

If you want fairer, better care for disabled people, send a message to your MP now.

Jane Harris is managing director of campaigns and engagement at Leonard Cheshire Disability. She tweets at @jane_harris77.

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