Politics and the Paralympics: Voters are against cuts to disability benefits

Coalition praises athletes but overlooks others, says survey

Four in 10 people believe the Government is not doing enough to support people with disabilities, as ministers face charges of hypocrisy for talking up the Paralympic Games at the same time as implementing sweeping changes to the welfare state.

Three-quarters of people think that people with disabilities often experience prejudice or discrimination in society, wihile almost the same proportion think disabled people are invisible in the media outside the Paralympics.

But it is the suggestion, by 41 per cent of people, that the Government could do more to help that will reverberate in Westminster at a time when the public has been gripped by the spectacle of the Paralympics. The pollsters ComRes were commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation to conduct the survey before the Games, with the expectation that the public would demand better support for the disabled as the gold medal rush continues.

Ministers insist reforms are designed to help more people with disabilities into work, ensure only those who need help get it, and end benefits dependency. But critics are concerned that the sight of elite Paralympic athletes on the world stage will put pressure on all disabled people to defend themselves against charges of being "scroungers".

There are also fears that spending cuts across Whitehall and town halls are hitting disability charities, which would otherwise be able to provide help if state assistance is cut. Almost three in four people said it is important to donate to charities that support people with disabilities, while 44 per cent say the Paralympic Games will make them more likely to give to good causes.

John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said: "The Paralympic effect is already helping to change attitudes and make people think more positively about disabled people. That is great news. They are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to celebrate and get behind elite disabled athletes on British soil – surely this will change the way we think and cause us to reappraise how we can give our time and money to support the causes we care about."

The Government has heaped praise on the Paralympics, hailing them as even more impressive and inspirational than the Olympics. But with reforms aimed at savings billions of pounds from the bill for disability allowances, ministers know they could come under pressure to do more for the athletes they have been applauding.

David Cameron hinted at this unease in interviews before the Paralympics last week. "There's always more we can do," he said. "And I'm sure there will be plenty of requests this week and the next for more. I think we can be proud of our record. But, more than any funding can do, I think the Paralympics will really demonstrate to people some things about disability, some things about what these incredible people can achieve which can change their views and inspire a whole generation of people."

But writing today in The Independent on Sunday, comedian Francesca Martinez, who has cerebral palsy, said his remarks were "pure hypocrisy" at a time when the Government "carefully erodes the welfare system that helped many of the same athletes to achieve their dreams".

The list of changes to funding support for people with disabilities is long. Replacing disability living allowance with the personal independence payment (PIP) is expected to save £1bn a year from 2014, by reassessing claimants and focusing on those with the greatest need. Ministers estimate that £600m a year is paid out to people who no longer qualify. Half a million fewer people are expected to receive help as a result of the switch to PIP, while a further 1.5m people claiming incapacity benefit are to be reassessed to see if they are fit for work.

The new employment and support allowance, which covers 700,000 claimants, will be paid for a limited time – 12 months – saving £1.7bn. The move to a new universal credit, replacing a raft of state support, will mean claimants with severe disabilities will receive more help, while others will lose out.

Liam Byrne, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "Labour had a bold vision in office, which was to deliver equality for disabled people by 2025. We remain more determined than ever to make rights a reality for disabled people, and the Paralympics are an incredible inspiration for that cause."

On Friday, activists protested at the Department for Work and Pensions against Atos, the IT firm and sponsor of the Paralympics which is carrying out the Government's "fit for work" assessments. Opponents claim that these assessments are "damaging and distressing".

Defending the changes, Maria Miller, the minister for disability, told the BBC: "We have been working hard to make sure that we get the changes in the assessment right and, most importantly of all, making sure that this benefit is all about helping individuals live an independent life, not simply categorising them based on their impairment."

Tales of heroism, courage – and cuts

The Paralympics hopefully will challenge negative stereotypes. Until now, coverage of disability has either painted negative scroungers or cited triumph-over-adversity-heroism stories, which are both too extreme. Neither is helpful.

Guy Parckar; Head of policy and campaigns, Leonard Cheshire Disability

The Government is riding on the sunshine of this, and not answering questions about cuts to disability living allowance. I have no doubt that next year some athletes will have their achievements used against them when it comes to DLA reassessment.

Shannon Murray; Trainee lawyer, the world's first disabled model and a television actress

Disabled people are experiencing a reduction in support – with further government reductions due in 2013. Paralympians have described the difference such support has made: there is a real risk of disability rights slipping dramatically backwards.

Neil Coyle; Director of policy and campaigns at Disability Rights UK

Once the Paralympic circus leaves town, things will go back to pretty much normal. The same government with the same zeal towards reforming benefits will still be in power. Many of us will continue to live in relative poverty.

Ian Macrae; Editor, Disability Now

The impact on the lives of non-sporting disabled people will be dependent on whether attitudes are changed by the achievements of those competing. My hope is that this will be the lasting legacy, and it will transform both social lives and employment prospects.

David Blunkett; Former Labour cabinet minister

Once personal independent payments replaces disability living allowance, don't expect the right to live independently any more. Local authority care packages are being slashed. Many of us fear being up a certain creek... What kind of Paralympic legacy is that?

Sophie Partridge; Disabled writer, actress, workshop artist, who took part in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony

The public puts disabled people into one of two categories: great sportsman, or victim, please donate now. Perceptions are changing, but we're moving two steps back: how is anybody with long-term severe disability meant to contribute if they don't have the money to exist?

Mark Beer; UK's first disabled television presenter and actor, who has cerebral palsy

Despite 40 years of change, many disabled people still can't get on a local bus or into gyms, mainstream schools and universities aren't always accessible. The worry would be that people see disabled people winning medals and then think that it is possible for all disabled people when it isn't.

Rhian Davies; Chief executive, Disability Wales

I think [the impact] has been overblown. One of my worst problems is attitudes: a woman came over in a restaurant and, without asking, kissed my cheek and said 'Isn't it amazing that she's out?'. Funding is also becoming a real problem.

Dr Christine Barton MBE, 67, from Sheffield is a wheelchair user with MS

A significant proportion of elite athletes are people who've acquired disabilities, and that's a really important distinction. People with disabilities aren't just you and me without limbs.

Dr Graham Jowett; Spokesman, Treloar Trust

Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories