Let an end to threatened cuts for disabled be true Paralympic legacy

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Let an end to threatened cuts for disabled be true Paralympic legacy

18th September 2012

A leading serious injury lawyer has said he hopes that an end to threatened budget cuts and reductions in the level of services available to disabled people across the UK will be the real legacy of the Paralympic Games.

Jonathan Fogerty, who was himself spinally injured as a teenager, said that whilst the success of the London 2012 Paralympics had helped to significantly raise awareness of disability issues both on a national and global basis, what needed to be addressed now was the constant threat to care, services and benefits available to people living with a disability.

“The Paralympics have done great things,” said Jonathan, an associate with Fentons Solicitors LLP and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA), the national organisation supporting people affected by spinal cord injuries. “I think it would be a travesty if, after such an exhilarating and successful exercise in changing people’s perceptions about disabled people in this country and around the world, we continued down the same road of constantly threatening to cut services, budgets and benefits available to those who need them most.”

As recently as December last year, the government was considering plans to cut the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, (DLA) for those in residential care. Although that plan was later abandoned, in April next year the DLA - introduced in 1992 to help disabled people cope with the extra costs they face in their daily lives – will be replaced in its entirety by a new benefit called a Personal Independence Payment.

“All 3.2 million people receiving DLA at the moment, both those in work and out of work, will be reassessed under the new scheme,” said Jonathan. “We still don’t quite know what impact all of the changes will have on the pockets of disabled people in this country, but in the wake of the most successful Paralympic Games ever, I would hope the government carefully considers any further changes to the system that might adversely affect people living with a disability in the UK.’

“I would urge the policymakers to ensure that any proposed changes to care budgets, living cost allowances - or anything else that will impact on the availability of care - are accepted only if they will lead to improvements in the current levels of service.

“The Paralympians, and in particular those members of the GB Paralympics team who earned a place in the nation’s hearts and minds in the past few weeks, have proven that disabled people can not only live independent lives but that they can also become elite athletes,” said Jonathan. “To do well at sport takes a lot of dedication, but to do that and balance a career as well is incredibly difficult. It proves that all disabled people – including Paralympic athletes - need support networks in place, and I think we have to be careful to ensure that people with a disability continue to be supported into the future.”

Jonathan said that if we are to continue leading the way in global disability issues, it was vital that existing support and services were developed and improved, not cut.

“One of the things a television commentator noted at the opening ceremony was the age and condition of the equipment some of the other, developing nations were using,” said Jonathan. “But even in the UK, access to the most appropriate equipment is still not something that every disabled person is fortunate to have.

“I understand that we live in challenging economic times, but I hope that the lasting legacy of these Games will be the continued appraisal of how we as a nation can do more to help those with disabilities, rather than looking at how to cut the services or benefits available to them,” said Jonathan. “Let’s continue with the positive energy from the Paralympic Games, and ensure that people with a disability are supported properly. If we do not do that, I worry about where the next generation of Paralympians will come from. Few of us have the necessary qualities needed to win a gold medal but surely we all should be allowed to fulfil our own potential, whatever that may be.”

For more on the new Personal Independence Payment, see http://www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/disability/personal-independence-payment/