To me, the current debate around the UK government’s Welfare Reform bill is fascinating, both in terms of the proposals in the bill and the fact that the disability movement has united around a cause in a way that I have not seen before. This was shown on Saturday (22nd October) when I, along with about 1000 other disabled people, attended the Hardest Hit Rally in Edinburgh to show the Government our opposition to the proposals.
I am against the proposals because they will have a direct impact on the way I live my life in both long term and the short term. In the long term, it may affect the way I manage my disability. At the moment I receive the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), for which there is a care component and a mobility component to help me pay extra costs associated with my disability. I use the care component to pay for my home help and the mobility component to pay for taxis to places which are too far for me to push myself to or when the bus stop is too far away. These two examples may seem small but they make a big difference to my life. My home helps me keep on top of my household chores and takes me shopping while the trips in the taxi take me to meet my friends and to appointments. So if the amount I receive changes, this could have a major impact on things I need help with through no fault of my own. My disability is obvious but my fear is that the changes to disability benefit will have a major impact on people with unseen disabilities or conditions that fluctuate.
The other concern I have about Welfare Reform is the pressure that is put on people to get off welfare and into work. I do not object to finding people employment to get off benefits but I do think it is unrealistic in the current economic climate for people to be able to find work in a set time frame. It can take a lot longer as the competition increases for fewer jobs.
The short-term impact from the welfare reform proposals is to do with finding employment. On Friday, it will be one year since I have had paid employment. I have a degree, which I studied for because I wanted a good job. Many of the jobs advertised in the job centre are for skilled trades such as chefs or for military roles, which I cannot do because of my disability. Other advertised jobs are ones which I could do but am over qualified for, though this does not help the people who have fewer qualifications either. In my view, the government should transform the Job Centre into a careers service, which caters for graduates and not as qualified people, so that everyone is helped.
As I mentioned, people go to university because it is meant to be the way to get a better job but I believe many will be put off by the potential debt and the fact that the job market is so tough.
The government paused its health proposals to talk more to NHS staff and the public. I urge the government take a similar pause and listen to the views of those who took part in the Hardest Hit marches across country.