See It My Way: Jury’s out on welfare bill

2011 saw national and local protests, rallies and lobbies all over the country under the banner of “The Hardest Hit.”

In May, around 8,000 people, including myself, carers and organisations paraded past Parliament and lobbied MPs as the welfare reform bill reached a critical point in the House of Commons.

Then about six months later, as the bill moved into the House of Lords, thousands of disabled people, family, friends and carers again took to the streets across the United Kingdom protesting against cuts to disability benefits and vital services.

Just last month the bill was finally passed into law, but the fact of the matter is visually impaired people are only a little wiser on the effect this might have on their entitlement.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which many people have received since it was introduced in 1992 to cover the added costs of daily living will now be swept away and replaced with something called personal independent payments (PIP’S).

That will mean everyone currently receiving benefit will be reassessed after a personal interview and a point scoring system will be used to evaluate your need and eligibility, but the RNIB are saying they are concerned with the Government’s often stated intention to remove a billion from expenditure on this benefit and to reduce its numbers on it by at least 20pc many people may lose out.

I recognise and understand the need to save money, and to be fair they have done quite a lot of work so far and have listened to many organisations, but it is just not enough. The lack of knowledge in regards to disabilities, impairments or long term conditions is now clear, as the medical assessment form fails to show certain areas, and elements are not covered.

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Currently there are 3.2m people claiming DLA, and the proportion of that figure represents visually impaired people and that total is only just over 70,000.

However, the majority of people living with sight loss will more than likely see their vision deteriorate over a period of time and they will never regain their sight.

Financially, the DLA is a small recognition that at least some of these hurdles can be overcome with a little extra money. Yet DLA, which is not an out-of-work benefit, is now threatened with a cut of over 20pc by 2013.

The section of the medical assessment form that includes personal care is a step in the right direction because it includes washing and bathing, nevertheless, there are concerns with the inadequate criteria of grooming, which should comprise of shaving, make-up, styling hair and also other aspects of physical appearance. Visually impaired people may need assistance with cutting nails.

Coincidentally I wrote two articles on fashion and make-up not that long ago and then found the medical assessment form fails to acknowledge the daily task of make-up, within bathing and grooming.

I feel the Government has a long way to go in assuring myself and other visually impaired people that they will carry on evaluating and continue working with us on the medical assessment form to make sure its fair, and allow wrongly assessed claimants their benefit and back dated too.