Carly Tait, a sprint wheelchair racer, is four months away from trials to represent Great Britain at this summer’s Paralympics in Rio – but she now finds herself at the sharp end of the government’s controversial cuts to disability benefits. The 30-year-old from Wythenshawe, south Manchester, who has cerebral palsy, received a lifetime award of disability living allowance (DLA) when she was 18 and for the last 12 years has used part of the benefit to lease an accessible car.
Tait describes the car as her “lifeline”. She says it has allowed her to attend university, have a job, get to two training sessions a day in Stockport, about 10 miles from home, and compete in track events around the country. But after being assessed in February for personal independence payments (PIP) – the government’s “points-based” benefit introduced to replace DLA – Tait has been told she will lose her car, which is provided by the Motability charity scheme.
In today’s Guardian, I speak to Tait – and report how tens of thousands of other disabled people are having their cars and wheelchairs taken away.
The government’s bid to cap housing benefit for social rented properties is one of those policies that sounds, in its dry wording, almost painless. But listen to Becky Elton talk about the child abuse victims she sees, who are struggling with their mental health, or the veterans who have been sleeping rough, and you get an idea of some of those who will be affected by this nasty cut.
Elton, 39, is director of housing at Changing Lives – a charity that runs supported accommodation throughout the north-east. The service has 262 beds, and helps more than a thousand people each year: women fleeing domestic violence with their children; severely ill people leaving hospital who don’t have an address to be discharged to, because their landlord threw them out or they were homeless to begin with; young people – 16 or 17 years old – fresh out of children’s homes or whose foster families are no longer willing to care for them. Supported housing provides not only a roof over people’s heads but anything from counselling to job coaches.
“These people aren’t just people who need ‘putting in a house’,” explains Elton. “They need help.”
The government had intended the cap to come into effect from next month – it will bring housing benefit for social housing tenants in line with the private sector. This means that because rents in supported housing tend to be higher to reflect the extra facilities and resources involved, they could be left with huge shortfalls. But after an outcry from landlords the Conservatives announced a temporary stay: supported and sheltered housing will be exempt from the cut for a year while a review takes place.
For this week’s Guardian austerity column, I look at the very human cost of the supported housing cut.
Watching Stephen Crabb and Labour battle over the cuts to disability benefits in the House of Commons on Monday, one thing was striking: the lack of disabled people in the room. As both party leaders and secretaries of work and pensions spoke, and as backbench MPs got up to ask questions, it struck me over and over: none of them had a visible disability.
That’s one of those things that’s so normalised your brain often forgets to notice it, in the same way you can use a wheelchair every day but it takes a step in a restaurant to remind you that you’re not viewed as an equal.
With each mention in the Commons of “disabled people” – what we need, what we feel, what we want – the scene felt more and more patronising. There is something deeply distasteful about having a room of non-disabled politicians casting judgment on how to live with a disability, a fact that is becoming ever clearer as disability cuts receive more attention.
Read The Guardian column in full here.
Over the past five years, I’ve spoken to people who have genuinely dreamed of the day Iain Duncan Smith would resign: mothers forced to live off toast to keep a roof over their child’s head because of the bedroom tax, Parkinson’s patients reduced to tears during a “fit for work” assessment, sisters grieving for brothers who died after having their benefits taken.
That’s the power of the man we can now finally call the former work and pensions secretary: a politician who not only embodied the Conservative government’s most zealous cuts to Britain’s welfare state but who became a hate figure – a source of daily fear – to people whom he will never even meet.
Read my Guardian reaction to Duncan Smith’s resignation in full here.
I can’t decide what is most disturbing: that more than 85% of allegations of benefit fraud put forward by the public over the past five years have been false, or that this is about almost 900,000 out of more than a million cases.
That isn’t a handful of mistaken or malicious individuals. It’s a widespread anti-benefit mindset that – over five years of austerity – has rooted itself in British culture: through Benefits Street type-television, the rhetoric of politicians, and the pages of national newspapers.
In this climate, a “benefit cheat” and a person on benefits is one and the same. It has not only become quite natural to be suspicious of your disabled neighbour when he drives by your house in a new car – but to report him to the authorities for it.
Read my latest Guardian disability column in full here.
“Matthew’s bed at home’s been empty for six months,” Isabelle Garnett says from the family house in south London as she tells me about her son. “I can’t walk by his bedroom.”
Since September 2015, 15-year-old Matthew Garnett – who has autism, ADHD and anxiety – has been held two hours’ drive away from his home in a secure mental health treatment unit in Woking, Surrey. Or as his mum puts it to me, “the equivalent of being left on an A&E trolley for six months”.
Isabelle and Robin, Matthew’s dad, struggling to cope as their son became violent towards them and knowing he needed help, agreed for Matthew to be detained at the unit while a suitable clinical placement within the NHS could be found. But six months later, Matthew is still there – and the family say he hasn’t been treated or even assessed. In desperation, Isabelle started a Change.org petition calling for her son to be given the treatment he needs (at time of writing it has near to 330,000 signatures). “I had to do something for Matthew because no one else will,” she says.
For this week’s Hardworking Britain, I looked at Matthew’s case – and the other children failed by our mental health services.
Since 2009, Karen Lowry has been a care worker in her hometown. Out of the house at 6.30am to medicate, wash and feed elderly people in their home. Over the past three years, she has witnessed first hand what she describes to me as “the change”: outsourced care, neglect, and cut corners.
“A lot of the elderly haven’t got a voice,” Lowry, 43, says. “But what’s going on… it’s disgusting. Someone needs to talk about it.”
Karen Lowry is not her real name (she’s afraid of being identified) but – as the Conservatives gut £4.5bn from the sector – this is the disturbing reality of social care under austerity.
Read this week’s Hardworking Britain column in full here.