17/05/2011 - Are Cameron and Clegg Proud of Themselves?

ON MONDAY of last week, Solidarity General Secretary Pat Harrington urged as many trade unionists as possible to protest against plans to stop paying the mobility component to disabled people in residential care.  This idea – contained in the proposed Welfare Reform Bill – would hit around 80,000 people.  It would mean that they would have their transport costs slashed – leaving many of them trapped in their homes without any independent means of travel.

On Wednesday around 5,000 people with disabilities, and their families, carers and supporters march through central London.  They were there to support The Hardest Hit march and Lobby of Parliament.

At the demonstration it was pointed out that disabled people will really be hit by changes to welfare eligibility and cuts to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), while local authorities are also squeezing the amount of funds available for carers and services.

It was also noted that when the Con-Dem Government scrap DLA - and replace it with a new Personal Independence Payment - people claiming the new benefit will need to have experienced a disability for longer before they can apply.  Claimants will also be reassessed more often.

On the subject of cuts, in mid-February we looked at how the voluntary sector would be hit by the proposed Con-Dem cuts.  We reported that we’d heard whispers that “the grant cuts to charities could be around the 25% mark.”

Cuts on such a devastating level would force many charities “to make heartbreaking choices.  If they decide to maintain their current service levels – with reduced funding – they’ll have to make some workers redundant.  However, if they want to keep their workers on they’ll have to reduce the services they provide.”

One of the first groups to have to make such a daunting choice is Scottish charity Quarriers.

According to its web-site Quarriers was “founded by William Quarrier over 130 years ago to give homes to orphaned and destitute children in Scotland.”

It has 100 projects in the UK and employs around 2000 staff who help to support and care for adults with disabilities, children and families, people with epilepsy and young adults.

However, due to "'unprecedented economic challenges'  it has had to start a 90-day consultation with workers to discuss alterations to terms of employment in an effort to protect "current service provision and ensure long-term future growth".

According to a Press Association report, these adjustments may include “a pay reduction for all staff, amending the sick pay scheme to no sick pay for the first three days of illness, and maternity, paternity and adoption pay will be reduced to the statutory minimum.”

It is also thought that employees on the final salary pension scheme would be asked to increase contributions by 3%.  There may also be changes to its redeployment policy by removing excess travel payments and salary protection.

Quarriers, said the moves reflected cuts to its main funders - local councils. Confirming Solidarity’s belief that the voluntary sector sector will really be hit hard, Quarriers chief executive, Paul Moore, said: "Many organisations are struggling due to the increased financial pressures faced by local authorities, who are their main sources of funding.”

Another group facing an uncertain future is Artability (NI) Ltd.  According to the local Shankill Mirror, it’s a “well established cross community organisation whose existence is critical to improving social integration between people with and without disabilities from all communities across North and West Belfast.”

The group – who have over 20 years experience working with children, youth and adults with physical disabilities, learning difficulties and mental health issues and those who are able bodied – suddenly had their funding cut for their after schools project.  To add insult to injury, Artability were only provided with one week’s notice of the termination of funding. 

Parents and trade unionists will be lobbying Northern Ireland’s new Stormont Assembly to get this decision reversed.  However, in the meantime it looks like Artability’s after schools project will remain another victim of the Con-Dem cuts.

We hope that Cameron and Clegg are really proud of the cuts they’ve instituted.  As usual they pick on the most vulnerable and needy in society –those who’re unable to defend themselves - like adults and children with learning and physical disabilities.