New benefit cuts are set to put an unacceptable strain on many visually impaired people, who already find it hard to meet their material and social needs.
A report being launched by national sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust at Westminster on Wednesday 20th June found that state benefits, such as Personal Independence Payments, do not in most cases fully cover the additional cost of being visually impaired. These benefits have often been previously topped up by disability-related premiums in Employment and Support Allowance, but these are due to be discontinued under Universal Credit.
Research undertaken by the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) at Loughborough University identified the minimum income needed by visually impaired people to achieve an acceptable standard of living compared to benefit levels.
The report ‘Experiences of Living with Visual Impairment: Matching Income with Needs’ investigates the experiences of visually impaired people living at or below the Minimum Income Standard and the impact on their lives.
It found that those living on a low income must prioritise their stretched budget to meet basic needs, such as getting food on the table and keeping the home warm.
The ability of participants in the study to meet other needs, allowing them to participate in society and avoid isolation, varied considerably. Some were able to live a varied social life, particularly if supported by family and friends. Some received help from social services or from voluntary organisations that helped them tackle some of the practical challenges of everyday living. However, some also found life tough, especially where they lived in rural areas, had other health conditions or did not receive support from local networks.
Visually impaired people on low incomes are also often unable to afford the high up-front costs of assistive technology that can massively increase their independence. Many have limited savings, and suffer from financial insecurity. Participants in the study voiced strong anxiety about the prospect of cuts to services and their benefits being reassessed, and the uncertainty that this brings to their lives.
Only one in four working age visually impaired people are in work. Many rely on benefits to try to achieve a fulfilling life. Thomas Pocklington Trust is calling on the government to reconsider cuts in the benefits system to ensure that it meets the needs of visually impaired people.
Phil Ambler, Director of Evidence and Policy at Thomas Pocklington Trust, said: “We urge the government to ensure the benefit system effectively supports visually impaired people. The government must take their needs into account when setting policies in areas such as benefit rates and minimum wages. The proposed benefits cuts are likely to seriously impact the quality of life for many visually impaired people.”
Katherine Hill, lead author of the report, said: “Visually impaired people on low incomes draw on many different resources to try to maintain a reasonable living standard and take part in society. Some get a lot of help from family and friends or from voluntary organisations, but others are less well plugged in to these networks. Disability benefits have provided an essential lifeline, and reassessment causes anxiety and uncertainty among some of those we talked to. A system that provides a stable and adequate income is essential to help them maintain their independence.”
Two examples of cuts to disability benefits highlighted by the research are:
A loss of the severe disability premium, presently worth £64.30 a week, for new claimants of Universal Credit, making them much worse off than eligible claimants of previous benefits.
A loss of £29.05 in the rate of Employment and support Allowance paid to those starting claims after 1 April 2017 who are required to carry out work-related activity, which will also feed forward into Universal Credit.
These two cuts will make some disabled future claimants of Universal Credit over £90 a week worse off than under the old system, falling far short of what they need for a minimum standard of living.
About Thomas Pocklington Trust
Thomas Pocklington Trust identifies and meets the needs and aspirations of blind and partially sighted people across the UK, by funding and supporting our strategic partners.
About the Centre for Research in Social Policy
The Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University carries out the research on A Minimum Income Standard for the United Kingdom, including research on the additional cost of disability.