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Removing independence

Disabled people will be hardest hit in government cuts, says Baroness Wilkins

Since becoming a member of the House of Lords few issues have flooded my email inbox and post bag like the government's proposals in the Welfare Reform bill. Having been involved in disability politics all my adult life and as a Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Disability I obviously want to represent the views and needs of disabled people. I also have a personal interest having received the Disability Living Allowance since its inception. Luckily, now I am 65, I will escape the Government's proposals, for the time being.

The bill threatens to take away the independence disabled people have fought for in recent decades. When I became disabled in the mid-1960s, just about the only disability support on offer to take part in everyday life was an invalid trike - the blue Noddy car. For me, that symbolises what was then the extent of expected integration. Little was expected of disabled people and unless your family had money and resources you led a very limited life. Disabled people had low expectations and were not much in evidence.

Over the following years, political pressure slowly increased with the rise of the disability movement, the range of support needed by disabled people to become contributing citizens began to be addressed. The Noddy trike morphed into the mobility allowance, then into DLA, which added personal care, and that developed into incorporating people with communication needs and learning difficulties, lacking arm movement and so on, until most recently when blind people became entitled to the higher rate for mobility and care.

Disabled people rely on Disability Living Allowance to cope with the extra costs of living with an impairment – costs like care and support needs, specially adapted transport, and home adaptations. The money helps us retain our independence and quality of life. The Government wants to cut the DLA budget by only granting it to ‘those with the greatest need' and introducing an assessment to determine who has the greatest need.

It was support like the DLA which has enabled disabled people to work and contribute to their communities. It is why you see disabled people on the streets, living independent lives. We now expect to be treated as equal citizens. The lengthy DLA claim may not be simple but it represents progress. It reflects the very real complexity and diversity of the extra support needs of disabled people's lives. Disability living allowance is a complex benefit because disability is hugely complex.

There are many aspects of the Bill which will have a disproportionate impact on disabled people. In particular proposals for a household cap on benefits in addition to the local housing allowance caps already introduced. According to leaks from a government department, officials estimate that this will make 20,000 families homeless, forcing people to move away from their support networks, moving children from school and pushing families to places with lower rents - lower rents because there are fewer jobs. This will disproportionately affect disabled people.

Two-thirds of the people who will be effected are disabled, which is almost 500,000 people, according to the equality impact assessment. With disability come large items of vital equipment: mobile hoists, bulky wheelchairs and their spares; exercise equipment; oxygen storage; and boxes of incontinence supplies. Where are they to be put if a couple has just one bedroom? What of disabled people who need an overnight carer? It is estimated that 100,000 of the disabled people who will be affected currently live in homes that have been specially adapted for their needs. If they are forced to move, new adaptations will have to be paid for, if they are not to be homeless, so what saving would the Government be making from this measure?

Disabled people have every reason to fear this bill. Its most alarming aspect is the Government's willingness to risk the consequences of such a massive change.