In this year’s Budget, the Chancellor set out his spending plans for the year ahead. While the Budget goes some way in addressing the issues faced by blind and partially sighted people, Thomas Pocklington Trust remains concerned that more needs to be done.
Cuts to social care in recent years have impacted on vision rehabilitation and other services needed to support blind and partially sighted people to live independently.
With three quarters of blind and partially sighted people of working age not in work, individuals need to know they can have a roof over their head and food on the table as they seek employment. A system which addresses barriers to employment and provides financial support when needed is vital.
Support in education is simply not working for children with vision impairment with far too many not receiving the equipment and support they need to achieve their full potential.
This year’s budget presented an opportunity for the Chancellor to address these issues. Sadly, we feel it is an opportunity which was missed.
We welcome the announcement by the Chancellor of the allocation of an additional £650m into social care funding for English councils plus £45m for the Disabled Facilities Grant, but with a £1.5bn gap in 2019/20, more funding is needed. We remain worried about what continued austerity in local government means for blind and partially sighted people. This is at a time when we know vital services including vision rehabilitation, which enable people with sight loss to regain their independence, remain under threat and provisions set out in the Care Act are often not met due to constrained budgets.
The Chancellor announced that the Green Paper on adult social care was due shortly and we urge the Government to confirm a date soon, as we await its publication with interest. Support to enable independence for thousands of blind and partially sighted people depends on fair funding and the Green Paper must deliver.
The Chancellor promised “new protections” will go some of the way towards mitigating the issues of the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC), by extending the two-week Housing Benefit run-on to means-tested Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support (although not until July 2020). But we believe this still leaves a gap of several weeks – and the risk that the complex UC claims process will not be completed at all.
We reiterate our previous statement that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should not proceed with ‘managed migration’ to UC next year, until the many outstanding problems have been analysed and addressed. Managed migration will affect around three million people (over two million claimants and their families) and as matters stand, it seems certain that large numbers will experience serious difficulties.
While the DWP tackles these systemic issues, there should be no further roll-out of current new UC claims from people on existing benefits whose circumstances change – as has already been conceded for those receiving the Severe Disability Premium. This will safeguard claimants from disadvantage while the proposed problem-solving review is in progress.
As and when managed migration takes place, there should be no ending of existing benefits until an award of UC has been determined.
The delay in making a first payment of UC should be removed, as follows:
- For claimants in work, their last month’s earnings should constitute their assessed income for their first UC payment
- For those out of work, their current “legacy benefits” should be converted to UC.
This would be achievable through an orderly review process. There would be a financial cost to removing this gap, but it is preferable that this should be borne by the Treasury rather than by people on low incomes, some of whom are among the most vulnerable in society.
Disability organisations, including TPT, have also been critical of cuts to Universal Credit that have put the new benefit on the wrong footing from its early stages. The reduction of work allowances – amounts that can be earned before UC is reduced – was one of these. The Chancellor proposes to put some of this back, increasing work allowances by £1,000 per year to “benefit 2.4 million working families with children and people with disabilities by £630 per year”. This is welcome as far as it goes, and further detail is awaited.
With three quarters of blind and partially sighted people of working age not in employment, we need a benefits system which is able to provide support at their time of need. This needs to be combined with a meaningful and supportive approach to reducing the disability employment gap to enable people to find employment and reach their full potential.
The Chancellor also announced a £400m in-year bonus to help schools buy the “little extras” they need, averaging £10,000 per primary school and £50,000 per secondary school.
While we welcome extra funding into education, we are extremely disappointed that the Chancellor did not go further and announce measures to address the issues faced by many children with vision impairment. We need to protect funding for children and young people with vision impairment due to the very specific support they require from a specialist which comes from Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) budgets. It is hugely disappointing that SEND underfunding has not been addressed. Children and young people with vision impairment are being let down now, and we as a country cannot see another year of them leaving education without the support they needed to achieve their full potential, realise their aspirations and to enable them to live independently in our wider society. We do not believe the ‘little extras’ will help to address this.
In his speech the Chancellor said this was “an economy working not for the few, nor even for the many, an economy working for everyone.” We believe there is a long way to go before that statement can realise its ambition.
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