April, the time of daffodils and that optimistic springtime feeling, is this year being viewed with dread by many who will be affected by further cuts and reforms. The disability sector is one where all the various reforms will impact people who are already in a vulnerable position.
Social care is in crisis; and while the government is deciding what to do about care for older people, it seems to have forgotten that a third of those receiving social care are disabled people. Last month, Mencap, Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the National Autistic Society, and Sense released a report showing the crisis in social care. The research found that almost 4 in 10 disabled people who receive social care support are not having their basic needs met—including eating, washing, dressing and getting out of the house.
For many disabled people whose local authority is not providing them with adequate care, their only recourse is to court to force the local authority to do so. Unfortunately, in April, changes to legal aid mean that this will be much harder. A typical case could cost somewhere between £2,000 to £15,000 in lawyer’s fees, out of reach for most people if they cannot access legal aid. Given the pressure on local authority budgets, is it really believable that further squeezes on social care will not happen given how much harder it will be for disabled people to fight them?
At the same time there are changes to disability living allowance.The government’s own impact assessment of the changes says that 428,000 people will no longer qualify for the payments to lease an adapted car. This will make them much more isolated, and possibly heighten their social care needs. And of course, there are changes to NHS commissioning, so that those disabled people who get support paid for by the NHS are concerned that they will not get the care they need.
The charities and funders helping disabled people are trying to figure out how to operate in the new environment. Do funders have to change their funding guidelines so that they can fund legal cases that have generally been previously out of scope? Is there anything that charities can do to provide lower cost support to enable people to fight cases themselves? With six weeks to go, it certainly looks bleak.