Next year, a new benefit – the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – will replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for disabled people between the ages 16 and 64. The government has emphasised the need for reform, focusing on the fact that the number of people claiming DLA has gone up by 30% in the last few years – though this statistic has been challenged.
DLA is designed to contribute to the extra costs that disabled people incur as a result of managing their conditions, and the social and environmental barriers they face. These costs occur in all areas of life – from transport to housing to utility bills – and are often prohibitively high. With half a million people set to lose this support, at the same time as other benefits and services are being cut, many disabled people are facing difficult times.
Rather than accepting that disabled people will incur extra costs, and focusing solely on compensating for these, we need to look at what can be done to remove the barriers – social and environmental – that lead to extra costs. If we can do this, we can reduce the need for PIP.
Living in unsuitable housing is a real issue for many disabled people; it means disabled people spend more not just on housing and utilities, but also on childcare and other costs. We think there are some simple local solutions that could make a real difference to this problem. Councils need to provide information and support to help disabled people understand all their options – whether they want to adapt their own home or find new, more suitable accommodation. By providing quick, efficient help with minor adaptations, and creating a comprehensive and accessible register of adapted housing in the area, councils can help disabled people avoid the extra costs that come with unsuitable housing. Some local authorities are already doing this very well, but provision across the country is patchy.
Another area that leads to extra costs for many disabled people is paying for informal help with every day, practical tasks – whether that’s changing a light bulb, maintaining their home or going to the supermarket. We have come across some really exciting examples of local organisations running mutual or reciprocal support programmes: schemes like time banking or Southwark Circle. Time banking involves individuals ‘depositing’ an hour of their time to help in the community, and in return ‘withdrawing’ an hour’s worth of support from another member. As well as providing access to free practical help, time banking allows its members to make a valuable contribution. With the current uncertainty around the future of social care, there is real potential for more disabled people to get involved in this kind of exchange – allowing people to save money, but also to build vital local networks.
Disabled people are already being hit from all sides by the Government’s cuts; the introduction of PIP could mean some two million people end up on the wrong support. As this begins to take effect next year, we will need to find ways to reduce the barriers they face in the first instance. This will be a big step towards removing some of the extra costs that so often prevent disabled people living the lives they value.