Disabled people ‘could lose out’ under social care shake-up plan

DISABLED people in Wales would lose more than £130m a year under UK Government plans to reorganise social care, figures released today by Plaid Cymru suggest.

A UK Government Green Paper published in July recommended a “national care service” that could replace Attendance Allowance (AA) and other disability benefits, with a new benefits system administered by councils.

Wales has a higher proportion of disabled pensioners and other disabled people, who collectively receive around 8% of AA pay-outs across the UK. But because Wales is allocated money via the Barnett formula, the Assembly Government would only receive a population share of that money if the shake-up goes ahead, which would be less than 6%.

Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood, who has raised her concerns about the proposed changes with the First Minister and the Social Services Minister, said: “When I first saw these plans, I was appalled that the New Labour Government is planning to abolish AA. This would be a significant cut to the incomes of disabled pensioners. Our research shows that the impact in Wales could be even worse, with tens of millions lost to the Welsh economy because of the way Wales is funded by the Government in London.

“The higher number of disability benefit claimants in Wales is partly the result of Thatcher’s deliberate policy to massage the jobless figures: moving workers, many of whom lost their jobs in the Tory mine closures, off the dole.”

Plaid MP Hywel Williams added: “There are nearly 115,000 people in Wales who receive AA and they are very concerned by the effect of the proposals to do away with this.

“The issue of AA is a very difficult one for many elderly and disabled people who receive this support, and rely on it to meet costs that they incur because of their situation.

“Health care is devolved to Wales – but the health-care benefits system is not, and this has left a gaping hole in the UK Government’s plans.”

Assembly Deputy Social Services Minister Gwenda Thomas said in a letter to Ms Wood: “There is likely to be considerable opposition to this proposal from some Welsh stakeholders, and I believe that it is important that our own Green Paper, which will be published next month, gives an opportunity for all interests to discuss the implications of this for Wales so that we can present the UK Government with an informed view.”

Sarah Rochira, director of the Royal Institute for the Blind Cymru, said: “We are extremely concerned by plans to scrap AA. These plans would leave vulnerable blind and partially-sighted people without vital services and not able to afford essential support services, taxis to the doctors or help with their daily living.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “This is still at consultation stage. There may be a case for bringing some disability benefits and the new care-and-support system together into a single system, as a better way of providing support.

“We will only do this if we can better support the needs of older and disabled people.

“Whatever the outcome of the consultation, we want to ensure that people receiving any of the relevant benefits at the time of reform would continue to receive an equivalent level of support and protection, under a new and better care-and-support system.”