500 Blind People March On Parliament

The biggest “blind” lobby ever will take place today as 500 angry blind and partially sighted people from across the UK march on Parliament. The action is in support of the campaign3 led by the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) for blind people to be able to claim the same level of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefit as wheelchair users.

RNIB is calling for people with serious sight loss to be eligible to claim the higher ‘mobility rate’ of DLA worth £43.45 per week. Currently blind people, despite having problems getting about, are only eligible to claim the lower rate of just £16.50 per week.

Steve Winyard, RNIB’s Head of Campaigns, said: “It’s not surprising that blind people, who can’t drive and often find public transport impossible, feel cheated by not being allowed to claim the same level of benefit as other disabled people. Many have become virtual prisoners in their own homes because the low level of benefit they receive doesn’t cover the cost of taxis.

“RNIB welcomes the support of the Liberal Democrat Party for our campaign and we further welcome the support of 90 MPs from all parties who, in just one week, signed an Early Day Motion supporting our call.”

Jenny Burgess, 52, from Powys, is visually impaired and was a volunteer worker for a disability support group made up of people with physical disabilities. She couldn’t get to work without a lift from a colleague with physical disabilities who drove his own car.

Jenny said: “None of my colleagues at the disability support group were visually impaired. They all had physical disabilities and most of them drove cars. I was the only person with a serious mobility problem. I depended on a colleague with physical disabilities who drove a car to give me a lift to work – otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get there. I considered myself then, and still consider myself now, as having far greater mobility problems than most people with physical disabilities who can drive a car – but I receive less benefit.  It’s unfair and it’s unjust.”

This cash shortfall leaves blind people, who rely on but often can’t afford taxis, with much greater problems getting about than other disabled people. Many are missing out on job and learning opportunities, hospital appointments, visits to family, friends, shopping and even voting at elections.

“What about walking?” – a Government survey of 300 visually impaired people found all had had an accident walking, over half sustaining injuries. Injury and the fear of being injured when walking has prompted many blind people to call city pavements “minefields”. Equally in rural areas, a lack of any sort of pavement is a frightening deterrent to blind and even sighted people.

Steve Winyard added: “RNIB wants the Government to stop giving blind people stick and to allow them eligibility to claim the higher rate of DLA mobility component – in exactly the same way as other disabled people who can’t get about independently. We will work with the Government to achieve this.”  

People with sight problems are also missing out on concessions designed to assist all disabled people. Not being able to afford the cost of taxis has led blind people to say: “Why bother when it’s more expensive to get there than to get in?”

RNIB’s ‘Taken for a Ride’ report, published last August said the Government’s estimated cost to change the eligibility criteria would be just £61 million per year. RNIB estimates this as less than 0.05 per cent of the Government’s social security budget.