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Date posted: 16th March 2023
On 15 March, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered the Spring Budget – his first Budget as Chancellor.
We’ve been campaigning on a number of issues to ensure blind and partially sighted people get the deal they deserve.
Mike Bell, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns at Thomas Pocklington Trust said: “The budget this year has included some big proposed reforms to disability benefits and employment support. We welcome government efforts to enable more disabled people to get into and keep work. However, they must learn the lessons from previous reforms and ensure that support – particularly for blind and partially sighted people – is targeted, appropriate and about removing barriers, not adding to them.”
Here is a summary of some of the key headlines from the Budget that affect blind and partially sighted people.
Following a strong campaign led by Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis and supported by organisations, including TPT, the Energy Price Guarantee will not now increase as planned in April. This means that average energy bills will remain capped at £2,500 instead of going up to £3,000. However, the £400 energy support payment that has been automatically deducted from bills over the winter at a rate of £67 per month will end this month, so bills could still rise.
We are continuing to urge the Government to introduce a new form of social tariffs for energy, as exist in water services and the telephony sector, to give permanently lower energy bills to the most vulnerable households. We had also asked the Chancellor to offer further one-off support for disabled people with cost-of-living pressures, but this has not happened. We will keep pushing on this.
For more information on support available to deal with the cost of living, our cost-of-living hub aims to provide blind and partially sighted people with help on how to find help to deal with these challenges.
As part of the budget papers, the government published a new White Paper on disability benefit reforms including removing the work capability assessment. This means that in the future there will be only one health and disability assessment – the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment. We welcome the long overdue abolition of the work capability assessment, but we know that the PIP system too is broken.
The government will need to listen carefully to feedback from blind and partially sighted people and others to get this right. We know that many have a poor experience of PIP assessments where assessors have no understanding of the implications of sight loss on a person’s life.
It is important to note that the government has not published a timetable for the introduction of benefits reforms, so we don’t know the final form this will take or when it will be implemented.
We will contribute to the debate on the White Paper and help to secure strong outcomes for blind and partially sighted people, including a review of disability benefit rates to make sure they reflect the true costs of living for blind and partially sighted people.
The Chancellor announced that a new voluntary employment scheme for disabled people and those with health conditions called Universal Support will be funded in England and Wales. The government will spend up to £4,000 per person to find them a suitable role and cater to their needs, supporting 50,000 places per year once fully rolled out.
We welcome this new programme of targeted support to help those blind and partially sighted people who are able to and want to work to do so. However, without reforms to the Access To Work scheme to make sure it delivers the support needed in a timely and efficient way, support through JobCentres and Work Coaches can only have limited effect.
We will continue to campaign to persuade the government to fix Access To Work and to encourage employers to deliver on their legal responsibilities to enable disabled people to contribute to the workplace.