Thomas Pocklington Trust today responded to a Budget that, for blind and partially sighted people, was as notable for what was omitted as for what was there.
It is disappointing that the ambition to increase employment among disabled people (a 1 million uplift in the next ten years is the Government target) received no mention. It should be central to discussion of economic development and employment policies. The employment rate for blind and partially sighted people of working age is around 25 per cent and falling.
The increases in the “National Living Wage” and minimum wage for under-25s are welcome as far as they go. But the increase in the income tax threshold to £11,850 is a relatively inefficient way of helping low-paid workers, as the gains are spread right up the income scale; and for low-paid workers receiving in-work benefits, most of the gains are lost through reduction of those benefits as net pay rises. Reversal of cuts in those benefits would have been a far better spend for the low-paid.
There was no mention of mitigating benefit cuts in general (including the freeze in benefit rates, which is biting harder as inflation rises).
In the controversial area of Universal Credit (UC), the reduction of the minimum waiting time for a first payment from six weeks to five weeks helps, but does not do a lot to solve the problem. Also advance payments in the form of loans are a mixed blessing, as they have to be repaid, although the extension of the repayment period to a year spreads the impact.
The two-week run-on for Housing Benefit following a UC claim again helps, but does not solve the problem of rent arrears generated by UC waiting times.
These limited changes to UC, combined with the repetition of the standard (and highly questionable) statement that UC simplifies the system and makes work pay, suggest that there is still a reluctance in Government to engage with the detail of how the new benefit actually works.
The commitment to build 300,000 new homes per year recognises a serious problem of housing supply, but there is no analysis of affordability, other than a vague idea that increased numbers will moderate prices. We also need an assurance that accessibility for disabled people will be central to design.
Social care was another gap in the Chancellor’s speech. Adrift from the mainstream NHS and caught within the local government funding crisis, there is an urgent need for a strategy. This must embrace also associated areas such as rehabilitation services for disabled people.
For more information on TPT’s response, please contact us: E&A@pocklington-trust.org.uk.