What price independent lives? – launched on the United Nations Day of Disabled People – highlights the combined effect of a range of benefit cuts on disabled people’s incomes and the particular threat this poses to independent living.
Analysis of Habinteg’s detailed tenancy data at a six month point after the introduction of benefit cuts revealed the specific financial hardship faced by disabled tenants as a result of benefit restrictions. It shows that two thirds of tenants affected by the bedroom tax are disabled people.
However the impact of this is deepened when the same people face other benefit cuts and variable policies by local authorities. The result is that the ability for disabled people to pay the additional costs associated with living an independent life is being severely restricted.
Key findings of What price independent lives?:
· Two-thirds of Habinteg tenants affected by the bedroom tax are disabled people and of these, after six months of the new rules being in place, only a third had been exempted from paying by local authorities.
· 56 per cent of Habinteg tenants living in wheelchair standard properties have not yet been given exempt status from the bedroom tax.
· Only 15 per cent of tenants who receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) but live in general needs properties have been given bedroom tax exempt status by their local authority raising concerns that disabled people in this group may be faced with additionally reduced income when tested for eligibility for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
· The localised criteria for bedroom tax exemption has created a new postcode lottery for disabled people with an inconsistent and unpredictable approach which varies between local authorities. Such variation reinforces the barriers disabled people face if they want to move, whether for job opportunities or other reasons, and deepens inequality between disabled and non-disabled people.
· Most tenants adversely affected by the bedroom tax are preparing to “stay and pay” in order to keep their existing property. The chronic shortage of wheelchair standard and accessible properties makes moving to downsize simply not an option.
· Where local authorities do not agree exempt status, Habinteg is supporting tenants to apply for financial support under the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) schemes. However, where information is available, it suggests that many disabled people are being refused DHP support. Three out of four case studies in the report have been refused DHPs. Some tenants have been given this support by their local authority while others in similar circumstances have been refused. This inconsistency makes it difficult for housing providers to manage their response and support tenants.
Habinteg is calling for the Government to repeal the bedroom tax, especially in respect of disabled people, review their stance on Universal Credit which will not cover service charging on disability-related adaptations and revise their plans to cut benefit payments under the transfer from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.
Habinteg Chief Executive, Paul Gamble, said: “Our report shows clearly the disproportionate impact from combined welfare reform policies on disabled people and highlights the very serious risk that the basic right to an independent life is threatened by the increased financial burden.
“We want the Government to acknowledge, understand and act on the cumulative impact of its welfare cuts agenda on disabled people. We are calling for the repeal of the bedroom tax, especially in respect of disabled people along with other steps to ensure their on-going right to independence and inclusion in their homes and communities.”
Baroness Rosalie Wilkins, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Disability Group, said: “Habinteg’s new research provides a rallying cry for choice, independence and equality. Independent living is a right not a privilege. The way in which the bedroom tax cuts the incomes of disabled people at a stroke and impinges on their ability to live independently is something that must be challenged.
“I fully endorse Habinteg in their efforts to persuade the government to listen to the evidence, call a halt to the bedroom tax and rethink a welfare benefits programme that is unfairly impacting on disabled people.”
A Habinteg tenant case study from What price independent lives? (who wished to remain anonymous) said: “I can’t begin to explain how stressful this whole process has been. It was a trauma to work out what I was going to do. I kept thinking why would they do this?
“I never believed that moving was an option as the lack of a purpose built one bedroom wheelchair accessible home gave me no choice but to find a way to pay.”
The full report can be found at www.habinteg.org.uk/