For Ella Findlay, the £400 a month in welfare payments she receives from the state is the difference between life and death. With the money she is able to live alone, work as an employment adviser and pay for a specially modified car.
Diagnosed as a teenager with progressive multiple sclerosis, Findlay is among 1.8 million disabled people of working age that the government is targeting in its aim to reduce by a fifth the £5bn cost of disability living allowance (DLA).
A consultation on that plan ends this week and despite criticism by disability groups, the government has remained unmoved, saying it wants everyone receiving DLA to be "re-assessed".
For 31-year-old Findlay, state support represents a lifeline, allowing her the freedom to exist independently. If it was taken away, Findlay said she would kill herself. "When I am not able to live independently then there's nothing to live for," she said. "I'll be leaving people behind that love me and I love them, but at the same time they understand that I don't want to be in position where I cannot do things for myself."
Disability charities say Findlay represents a small but disturbing number of disabled people saying they will kill themselves if their benefits are cut. Last month a poll for campaign group Disability Alliance, found that 9% of recipients said losing DLA "may make life not worth living".
Ministers appear to be preparing a crackdown on disability payments, likely to be one of the most contentious of the coalition's welfare reforms. Last week in a headline the Daily Mail described state support as "the great disability benefit free-for-all".
Findlay works 20 hours a week and her take-home pay is less than £10,000 a year. But with the state cash she pays for carers to come in twice a day to prepare meals, and for twice-weekly visits to a physiotherapist. The rest goes on her car, which is almost certain to go if the government slashes her benefits.
Findlay said she decided long ago to take her own life at some stage because the inexorable spread of her disease meant that she would end up a "cabbage with a heartbeat". The loss of DLA money would hasten that decision. "I don't want people mourning me before I die," she said.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in a consultation paper last December said it was paying out "a lot more than expected" to disabled people. Including children and pensioners puts DLA costs at over £12bn, with 30% more people receiving the benefit than eight years ago.
Neil Coyle, policy director for Disability Alliance, said cutting DLA will affect more than 800,000 people. "The government's announced a huge cut without telling people exactly how it will be implemented. That has created real fear and panic among many people."
He added that three economy measures specifically related to disabled people – cutting DLA, limiting employment support to sick claimants and disabled people to one year and removing monies for a car if a disabled person is in a state-funded care home – would raise £3.5bn, about £1bn more than the banking levy.
Charities and campaigners say that direct action is needed. Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People's Council, said that the sight of disabled protesters throwing red paint at Downing Street and handcuffing themselves to Westminster's railings, last seen in the first year of the Blair premiership, could once again fill television screens.
"We are organising marches on Westminster. Obviously it is up to individuals but there's a real fury about the fact the government just is not listening to us."
In a statement DWP said consultation over DLA would end this week but declined to discuss the impact on people's lives. "Our reforms will make DLA easier to understand. We are working with disabled people and disability organisations on our reforms to make sure we get them right."
Monday, February 14, 2011
The Guardian in the UK:
Posted by BA Haller at 11:48 AM