Letter: Welfare bonfire

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Congratulations to Dave Brown for his powerful cartoon on 5 November. But not only are the disabled being sacrificed on the bonfire of "welfare reform," their families are too.

The wider implications of means-testing disability benefits have not been properly thought through. For when someone under 65 becomes so disabled that they cannot work, so often the spouse or partner also gives up work in order to give them round-the-clock care. If either partner is entitled to an occupational pension, then that, too, is naturally reduced. So already, earning capacity, full pension entitlement and living standards have been sacrificed.

But the crunch comes when the disabled person requires nursing home care - costing in the region of pounds 450 a week. At the moment, half the patient's occupational pension and all his benefits go towards that bill; social services will only support on a sliding scale when the patient's savings are (rapidly) reduced to pounds 16,000.

And now, it is proposed that the benefits should be means-tested against occupational pensions. So someone in my husband's position, aged 59 with a small occupational pension, would lose pounds 131 benefit per week. So who now should pay that weekly shortfall in his nursing home fees - which amounts to over pounds 6,000 a year?

Not social services, for sure. They are already stretched beyond their limits. In any case, is it right for the Benefits Agency to dump its responsibilities on to the local authority? That is simply shifting the taxation from national to local level. Have we paid our National Insurance contributions all these years to no avail?

Or do I, as the patient's wife, have to pick up the tab? If that becomes the case, then the new system would make me substantially poorer than if I were a widow. On to the bonfire I would now have to throw not only my career, my earning capacity and part of my personal pension but also a large chunk of my own savings, once earmarked to protect me into my old age.


Thriplow, Cambridgeshire