Thursday, 30 November 2017

Tough times continue for those with disabilities

There has been some improvement in the way disability is perceived by the general public. However, we still have a long way to go to address issues for those with disabilities in terms of access to services and with managing financial difficulties. 

A survey conducted by Scope, a national disability charity, indicated that the percentage of disabled students bullied at school declined from 47% in 1994 to 38% in 2014. However, the same survey found that there had been an increase in the percentage of those with disabilities turned away from public places from 34% in 1994 to 49% in 2014. A similar concern arose in terms of those with disabilities expressing concerns about being unable to makes ends meet - 39% in 1994 rising to 49% in 2014. 
Many have turned to the use of credit cards and loans to pay for essential items such as food and clothing. There has also been considerable use of food banks to meet basic nutritional need. It is well documented evidence that those with disabilities spend on average £550 more per month on disability related costs such as increased heating bills, purchasing privately sourced equipment to aid mobility and paying for taxis to help with getting about due to the lack of or inadequacies of community transport services. 


In my previous article, I outlined the steps the current Conservative government has taken to reduce the national debt. The consequence of such a deficit reduction strategy on individuals has no doubt affected by disability. These groups are affected in two different ways due to austerity measures: cuts in their benefit by the Department of Work and Pension (DWP) and the reduction of social care support provided by local authorities. 

The Welfare Reform Act 2012 introduced major changes to the benefits system. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was introduced as a means tested benefit to assist with the extra costs associated with disability for those aged 16-64. It was introduced to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The result has also made it mandatory for existing DLA claimants to undergo medical assessments to determine eligibility in an often inhumane manner with grossly inequitable and unjust results. 

The Act also introduced Universal Credit which has led to rent arrears and evictions for those in receipt of this benefit. 

Furthermore, the draconian Welfare Reform Act 2016 abolished the Work Related Activity Component of the means tested Employment Support Allowance for new claimants from 3/4/17.  Thus, at a stroke new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group lost £29.05 weekly. 

The inequity of the benefits system is highlighted by data relating to Tribunal cases in the first half of 2016 which indicate the DWP lost 62% of ESA cases. During the second half of 2016 65% of DWP PIP decisions were overturned by Tribunals. 

Funding to support short term packages aimed at rehabilitation and fostering independence, post acute episodes of ill health, in order to support people at home, cannot keep pace with an ageing and vulnerable population. Similarly, ongoing care packages are being reduced or declined as a result of the same financial pressures. Thus, there is increased pressure on family and carers to fill the gap in care and support. 

A further impact of the cuts to local authority funding is the closure of care homes due to their inability to continue financially. They report their inability to continue in business on the basis of the rates that the local authority can afford to pay weekly to place vulnerable people in their homes, in light of the significantly reduced budgets as a result of government austerity measures. According to the BBC, 70 care homes had closed down in the first three months of 2017.

It was within this austere context that I interviewed Helen Hicklin on the Money Matters Show on East London Radio. She had approached Toynbee Hall for advice regarding repayment of her student loan debt. Her health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and slipped disc had made it impossible to continue with debt repayments. She used her PIP to lease a mobility vehicle without which she would not be able to access the community, its services and would risk becoming socially isolated. 

With debt advice and advocacy Helen’s debt was written off after my intervention under Toynbee Hall’s auspices.  


To conclude, while there may have been some positive development in public perceptions of disability, there remain major issues in terms of access to social care, public access to buildings for those with disabilities, as well as access to benefits and debt advice and many other factors. All of which have major implications for social inclusion for those with disabilities in wider society. As such a huge battle continues to be fought in local communities and in Parliament and the courts in order to shape and improve support, advice and social inclusion for those vulnerable and financially impoverished members of society and their families and carers.

I am Ripon Ray, a qualified Debt Advisor for the last 5 years.  This is my personal blog, all views are my own but the content is based on factual data available at the time of writing.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Be guarded in times of austerity by being careful with your money!

Who would have thought that in the 21st century we would be having a conversation about whether to get a voucher for a foodbank or not because we are too poor to buy food. According to the Trussell Trust, which runs a network of over 400 foodbanks, 1 in 20 people in Britain have gone without meals because they are unable to afford food, 14% of Britain has cut down on the amount of fresh food they buy in order to save money and 1 in 50 people have used food banks.

Although the data does show the state of the nation via a vis the use of food banks, the real challenge faced by those so impoverished has been caused by many factors. Some have argued the problem has been caused by ‘austerity’. Austerity’ as per Merriam-Webster is as: 

‘Enforced or extreme economy especially on a national scale’

The definition maybe seen as resembling the state of Britain under the current conservative administration whereby there has been a substantial adjustment in public expenditure such that it has had a profound impact upon the local authority service provision for example. 

Borrowing level of the government was at a record high level – £154bn in 2009. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, George Osborne, announced the plan was to reduce it significantly such that in 2010 the debt had fallen down to £144 bn.  At the end of 2017 financial year the deficit had fallen to £52 billion. A reduction in such numbers to balance the state’s balance sheet no doubt has human consequences.

We have seen a number of households worse off due to policy measures introduced by the government since 2010. The introduction of the benefit cap, the roll-out of universal credit, the benefit sanctions by the Department of Work and Pension (DWP) among other things.   According to the DWP, over 150,000 households had their benefit capped between 15 April 2013 as part of the cost cutting measures, when the benefit cap was introduced, and May 2017.

The National Federation of Arm’s-Length Management Organisations (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) undertook a survey to assess the impact of the roll-out of universal credit nationally.  They revealed that three-quarters of universal credit claimants were in rent arrears, owing an average £772 a year. In the context of Job Seekers Allowance claimants, the National Office of Statistics notes that 24% of these individuals received at least 1 sanction between 2010 and 2015, with serious implications for their well-being.

In such an austere climate, managing money is not a matter to be taken lightly, otherwise there maybe serious consequences for those who are already hit by cuts in public spending. Some of these issues were discussed in the radio programme In Conversation with Ripon Ray…the Community Money Matters. During this discussion I asked Farhad Miah, (advice manager from Limehouse Project) what advice he might offer in terms of managing limited resources and he warned listeners that: 

‘Planning your budget requires understanding of your income. Sometimes you might not be getting the right amount or you might be able to get other types of benefits.  It is essential that you do get advice either in terms of how to manage your money, how to get financial support or debt advice. However, once your full time income has been assessed, it is then about identifying your essential expenses to make sure that priority bills are paid beforehand to remove such financial stress and to avoid any negative consequences, before you think about spending on unnecessary things. Food, rent, council tax, fuels, and travel, and essential bills need to be prioritised – lets’ not make any mistakes about this'.

Once essential expenses have been budgeted for, there is the opportunity to save for unforeseen events to avoid getting into debt such as when your washing machine needs replacing.

However, the flip side of budgeting for yourself is the scope for looking for money saving offers. Jo Goodman of the Bromley-By-Advice Centre in the above mentioned in the programme advised: 

‘Although not every product is cheaper online – food for example. It is worth looking at your local corner shop or a vegetable market for vegetables,’ 

In terms of fuel purchase, according to research undertaken by Which?, an additional average sum of £350 per year is being paid as a result of not changing supplier or not renewing a tariff after a fixed term has expired. Jo Goodman further mentioned in the programme that:

switching supplier or entering into a new tariff is essential to saving money. In fact there are local advice services that can help individuals who are struggling to pay fuel debts.’


If you do need help, you need to start thinking about it as soon as you can by visiting your local advice centre as a starting point, such as Toynbee Hall.


Sadly, the necessity for food bank vouchers is evidenced by statistics relating to the numbers dependent upon food banks, whether working or not. Thus, an advice centre can act as a gateway to a range of advice and support services for those struggling with budgeting in the context of austerity.


I am Ripon, a qualified Debt advisor for the last 5 years.  This is my personal blog, all views are my own but the content is based on factual data available at the time of writing.

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