A cruel cut below the rest

By Norma Brier, January 20, 2011
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Jenny lives in a Norwood residential home at Ravenswood Village, in Berkshire. She loves to visit her relatives, some 70 miles away, by travelling regularly in an adapted wheelchair. During the week, she attends college locally and in the evenings goes to the cinema or to friends. All these activities and her summer holidays are possible only with specialised transportation.

The Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with its mobility component, was introduced by the Conservative government in 1992, to contribute towards disability-related costs. It is given only to those people whose mobility is severely impaired and is used to pay for specialised transport, electric wheelchairs and other associated expenses to enable people to access communal facilities.

Jenny uses her mobility allowance to make choices, which has helped to increase her independence and prevent her from becoming housebound with the consequential physical and mental health risks.

Last week, Mencap launched a report - Don't Limit Mobility - highlighting the potential impact of the government's intention to withdraw the mobility allowance from severely disabled people under-65 in state-funded care homes. About 80,000 people will be affected nationally. For such people, it has been a lifeline enabling them to get out and about in the community, funding as it does the costs of adapted vehicles and other support.

A government committed to fairness surely cannot allow this proposal

Dan, a Norwood resident in Stanmore, loves to be taken to Golders Green for a kosher meal. Without a taxi or use of the home's adapted vehicle, this would be impossible. His support worker says that Dan's social activities keep his epilepsy stable; otherwise, with a more sedentary lifestyle, it deteriorates.

Having access to the community, visiting family and friends and going on holidays are enjoyable activities that people without disabilities take for granted. This is not so for disabled people, who may live in residential care homes some distance from local amenities. That is why the mobility allowance is so crucial to their well-being. The eligibility criteria are very strict but, once received, it gives a sense of freedom to people whose lives are already confined through their disability and living circumstances. It offers the only means to pay for expensive, specialised transport that can provide access to these desirable activities.

So why is the Government making this cruel cut in 2012? In the attempt to save £18 billion in the welfare benefit bill, the Minister for disabled people argues that it can take £135 million of mobility allowances away from people like Jenny and Dan as they already receive a transport allowance through their local-authority funding.

However, this is factually incorrect. Norwood supports 250 adults in residential care homes; 186 of them currently receive the mobility allowance and use their money to pay for adapted vehicles and taxi rides, to get out and about with the assistance they need.

Only a handful of these residents receive funding towards transport from their local authorities and, when they do, the maximum weekly contribution is only £8.50, not even enough to cover the cost of a visit to the dentist in an adapted vehicle. Generally, nothing is paid by local authorities towards transport costs as they argue that this should be paid for through the government mobility allowance!

This benefit payment currently enables Jenny, Dan and thousands of other younger people with disabilities who live in care homes, to engage more fully in their communities than ever before, living their lives to the full, with dignity, self-respect and independence.

It is surely inconceivable that a government that claims to be committed to fairness and equality would progress a proposal with such dire consequences if they fully understood the facts. This cut would be penalise people who already have so many obstacles to overcome in their day-to-day lives.

Norma Brier is Norwood chief executive

    Last updated: 10:44am, January 20 2011