Battle lost on welfare cuts for deaf people

The Department for Work and Pensions’ have succeeded in their plans to replace Disability Living Allowance with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for disabled people over 16. The regulations were debated and voted through by Parliament around a month ago. And now many deaf people will lose out.

A response from the National Deaf Children’s Society is online and sets out their anger and disappointment.

I think what makes me most angry is the way the Government have gone about making this cut without being open about the consequences. Lots of members of the public and a few MPs and peers have raised concerns about the impact of these changes on deaf people. They have all been largely fobbed by the Department for Work and Pensions in several different insidious ways.

For example, the Department have been prone to engage in rhetoric about supporting those “most in need” when asked how deaf people will be affected.

Note the implication that that deafness isn’t that big a deal. If the Department think this, they should come out and say so. They’ve had ample opportunity.

And since when did it become OK for the Department for Work and Pensions to turn disability into some kind of big competition, pitting different groups of disabled people against each other to see who is ‘most’ disabled? I thought the just thing to do was to support everyone who needs help. It’s brazen and shameless divide and rule.

Another example of how the Department have batted away concerns is through refusing to identify how many deaf people will lose out. They say the Department can’t monitor the impact on deaf people. Everyone’s needs need to be looked at individually, they say. I find this curious because the Department can come up with a very specific figure of 608,000 people who will be affected by these changes. That’s 608,000 individuals who have already been judged to not be disabled enough. They can also breakdown figures in terms of who is on different rates of DLA. I rather suspect the Department can work out the differential impact but have made a conscious decision not to do so.

And finally, and probably what annoys me most, is some rather disingenuous use of definitions. For example, the dividing line between those deaf people who will and won’t get PIP is whether they have difficulties understanding basic or complex verbal information without communication support. So if you can’t understand basic information, you qualify. If you can understand basic but not complex you won’t.

When someone says ‘complex’ information, I assume they’re talking about the philosophy of Nietzsche or the budget for the European Commission. In fact, ‘complex’ anything that takes more than a sentence. This isn’t complex information at all – it’s everyday communication. And now deaf people who can understand yes or no but who struggle with everyday communication will lose out. So much for promoting personal independence.

The changes come into force from April. Reassessments for anyone who is currently claiming DLA will start from October – including deaf children who have just turned 16. You can expect a letter in the post. If you currently have a lifetime award, this isn’t going to make a difference, you will still undergo reassessment. In most cases, you will probably be called to a face to face assessment.

It now seems likely that the Department for Work and Pensions will turn their attention to DLA for children. Will the Department attempt to cut support to those children it deems to not disabled enough? If so, they’re going to have a hell of a fight on their hands.


Does the Government know what they’re doing on benefits and disabled children?

Time for a confession – I’m what the tabloid newspapers would call a benefits scrounger. Yes, I receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Been receiving it since I was a child.

So what do I use my DLA for? Well, obviously, I use it for to pay for wild reckless parties, luxury holidays, a 5 a day in the pub and a dirty dozen daily Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I sometimes wonder why I bother going to work – with that £14 a week I get being on the sick, I could be totally living the dream!

Not really. Instead, I use my DLA to pay for special equipment like flashing fire alarms in my home. A special digital recorder thing so I can watch and record TV with subtitles and be able to chat about modern stuff with my friends. A decent phone to help me communicate with people on the go. And various other things to help me handle the horrors of what I call the “hearing” world. *shudder*

I may even get a textphone one day if relay services improve and make use of technology that was developed after I was born 30 years ago.

Though I sometimes ask myself whether I really deserve it, I value the fact that I live in a society that recognises that disability comes with extra costs and that it is just that disabled people should receive financial support to cover the costs of this.

I may not be living in such a society for much longer. The Government is planning to abolish DLA and replace it for adults with something called PIPS -Personal Independent Payments. They also plan to cut the costs of the benefit by 20%. Though they can’t say what it is, there’s obviously a clear rationale for the 20% figure – the Government would never just pluck a number out of thin air when it comes to vital benefits for disabled people. Ahem.

Image courtesy of NDCS

If I lost my DLA or it was reduced, I’d manage and get by. I might even write an angry blog about it. I can defend myself. But what worries me is what will happen to deaf children, for many of whom the benefit is vital. Lots of parents of deaf children have been writing in to NDCS to explain how important the benefit is to their families and helping their deaf child lead an independent life.

So what is happening to DLA for disabled children?

Well… nobody really knows. Despite the fact that the Government has legislation going through Parliament now that will abolish DLA, they haven’t yet said what they’re replacing it with for children.

Just a small detail. I’m sure they’ll explain their intentions at some point. Maybe before they’ve abolished DLA. It’s not as if the Government is just making it up as they go along and treating deaf and other disabled children, some of the most vulnerable children in society, as an afterthought.

If you, like me, would prefer to see some answers sooner rather than later and make sure that welfare reform doesn’t disadvantage deaf children, NDCS has set up a campaign action whereby you can email your MP. The action is urgent as MPs are debating the Welfare Reform Bill this week on Wednesday.