British debate disability benefits

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Prince William and Kate Middleton are standing together with her arm linked in his. He is wearing a smart suit and tie and she is wearing an elegant dress. William also has a crown upon his head. Around their feet are posters that proclaim the various cuts to services, including the NHS, housing benefit, disability benefits and education. William is saying: “Let them eat wedding cake!”

Let Them Eat Wedding Cake

As Britain’s new coalition government continues to push far-reaching budget cuts during its first year in office, reductions to disability programs, potentially affecting more than a million individuals, remain in the spotlight.

In October, Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition proposed slashing about £2 billion from the £12 billion budget for its Disability Living Allowance program. The proposal aims to cut benefits for about 20 percent of the program’s recipients. The Disability Living Allowance fund provides a maximum of £70 a week for almost three million people with disabilities. The Disability Living Allowance fund would be replaced with a Personal Independence Payment system, which aims to simplify the process and provide people with disabilities greater choice and control.

While fears about the sustainability of Britain’s budget deficit are high across the country, many fear that the government’s proposals go too far and disproportionately harm those with low incomes and disabilities. On March 26, more than a quarter of a million people took to the street to protest the austerity measures. A widely read recent report showed that the decades-long increase in welfare benefits is not due to lax benefit rules and another recent survey showed that hundreds of thousands of British citizens have been wrongly denied benefits.

Disability right groups are also concerned about cuts to housing benefits that go into effect in April 2013, which could potentially affect as many as 450,000 people with disabilities.

In response to pressure from the Liberal Democrats, the smaller party in the coalition, Cameron’s Conservative Party in February put on hold a proposal to end mobility payments for individuals with disabilities. The payments, which provide up to £50 a month for about 80,000 individuals, cover wheelchairs, taxis and other forms of transportation that allow individuals to live independently in their homes.

If eventually approved, “This measure will substantially reduce the independence of disabled people who are being cared for in residential accommodation, which goes against the stated aim of the reform of DLA [the disability living allowance] to support ‘disabled people to lead independent and active lives’,” according to a report from Britain’s independent social security advisory committee.