Memorandum submitted by Bruce Birchall
I submitted a 10-page response from the Writers
Guild Disability Issues Committee to the consultation the Strategy
Unit organised in response to the Improving the Life-Chances of
Disabled People initial report. This focused on the unemployment
of disabled writers and actors and suggested an employment initiative
was needed akin to the Federal Theatre Project, run under Roosevelt's
New Deal in the 1930s.
This rather more modest report looks at the
Poverty Trap and how it acts as a disincentive for disable people
who are only capable of part-time work to do any paid work above
£20 a week. At part-time rates of pay, they will never earn
enough to escape the Poverty Trap whereby for every £1 of
earnings, 65p is clawed back from Housing Benefit and 20p from
Council Tax Benefit. This is especially true in London where rents
are so much higher than elsewhere in the country.
I raised this in questions from the floor to
the new Minister when she spoke to the TUC Disability Conference
on 25 May 2005. She undertook to raise it with Civil Servants
at the DWP.
I put my question in the context of the recent
Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report into poverty amongst disabled
people, because of the extra costs of disability. Given that the
original Rowntree Foundation research into poverty in York in
the 1930s fed directly into the Beveridge Report and the concept
of a guaranteed minimum income to escape poverty that was the
foundation stone of the Welfare State, this latterday Rowntree
Foundation research into poverty amongst disabled people will
have a similar huge importance as creating a basis for new thinking
about the social policy issues it addresses.
The Report the Foundation issued indicates that
in every impairment group studied, the shortfall between the costs
disabled people will incur to meet the extra costs of disability
and the benefits portfolio currently available to them is of the
order of £200-£250 a week. Prominent among the costs
incurred are equipment (a power wheelchair and a wheelchair accessible
van to transport it eg) and the cost of Personal Assistants (to
operate that equipment eg).
It seemed to me therefore that a motion was
needed to the 2006 TUC Disability Conference that explored this
issue in a little more depth. The word-count permitted for motions
will limit the detail that the motion can go into, but it will
kick-start a process whereby other research starts to inform the
writing of the draft legislation that would be needed.
So let's start the ball rolling by looking at
the motion I drafted and the Writers Guild Disability Issues Committee
discussed at a recent meeting (I am its Chair). It will next be
discussed at the TUC Disability Committee on 1 November and I
am circulating it to the Executive Committee of TUDA, the Trade
Union Disability Alliance, on which I sit, for comment and feedback.
There is also a one-day Conference, called On
The Edge, about part-time, casual and agency workers at the TUC
which I am attending on 14 October, which will inform the debate
usefully, too. The name suggests how such workers are marginalised
and seen as peripheral in the workforce, and the conference is
predicated on the notion that the Trade Union Movement needs to
lend these atypical workers its protection and mainstream their
Draft Motion that the WGGB Disability Issues
Committee is proposing (subject to revision after consultation)
putting forwards to the TUC Disability Conference in May 2006.
The DWP's plans to encourage disabled people
into work are underpinned by the assumption it is full-time long-term
work that they want, are capable of undertaking and is available.
Yet many disabled people are only capable of
doing part-time work, and hourly rates available are insufficient
to escape the Poverty Trap, whereby loss of Housing and Council
Tax Benefits creates a high marginal rate of taxation, such that
it is hardly worth accepting work they do obtain.
Yet because of the extra costs of disability,
disabled people need to work and to save. Yet limits on earnings
of £20 a week and on savings of £3,000, are imposed.
Yet with Wheelchair Accesible Vans costing upwards
of £18,000, if they cannot earn and keep the money and cannot
save, how are disabled people's extra costs to be met?
Conference therefore calls for a radical overhaul
of the tax, benefits and credits system that would abolish the
Poverty Trap, abolish Care Charges, and establish the principle
that working and saving towards meeting the extra costs of disability
should not incur income tax or loss of benefits and should be
treated as Direct Payments are, ie it's not personal money.
It seemed obvious to me that this money would
be kept in a separate account and that the disabled person would
need to keep accounts of money raised and how it was spent on
the extra costs of disability for such a scheme to be acceptable
to the DWP. I then had the flash of intuition/insight that this
meant it would be handled in the same way as Direct Payments.
Indeed, for those in receipt of Middle or Higher Rate of the Care
Component of DLA, most councils require disabled recipients of
care packages to make a contribution from their Care Component
towards the total costs of the Care Package. In the case of Kensington
& Chelsea, where I live, the Council wants disabled people
to put 37.5% of their Middle/Higher Rate of Care Component into
I am against Care Charges, as there is a postcode
lottery involved. The logic of clawing back say £30 a week
eludes me, when the Rowntree Foundation has demonstrated that
disabled people have a £200-£250 weekly shortfall of
income from benefits as compared to the costs they incur if they
were to meet their needs in full. All that that clawback does
is make it a £230-£280 shortfall, and the logic that
Councils use to justify their charges ("You can afford it,
you get all that extra benefit!") is clearly spurious (the
riposte has to be "No, we can't afford it, we get £200-£250
a week less than we need!").
It seems to me that the DWP Select Committee
has to confront the fact that disabled people are living £200-£250
a week below the Poverty Line and that the conceptual basis of
the Beveridge Report 60 years ago was to establish a minimum level
of income, below which no citizen is allowed to fall. What was
it Tony Blair promised on coming to power, that he would abolish
poverty in 20 years? Well, that means there are only 12 years
left and the clock is ticking.
By the same token, the logic of permitted work,
whereby all income above £20 a week means that the same amount
is lost in benefits, is equally spurious. How can anyone justify
depriving someone who is £200-£250 a week short of what
they need because they are disabled, of what they can scrape together
by part-time work to bridge that gap? Let alone criminalise them,
and call it fraud, if they try to bridge the gap and retain the
money, by not declaring the income.
The logic of saying that the Savings Limit should
be £3,000 for a disabled person, the same level as it is
for a non-disabled person, also eludes me. The state recognises
some of the extra costs of disability by awarding DLA Mobility
and Care Components. Why should disabled people not be allowed
a correspondingly higher Savings Limit?
I would propose a £30,000 Savings Limit
for anyone getting the Higher Rate of Mobility Componentgiven
that a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle can cost £18,000-£30,000
and given that Motability can charge 20% pa interest on any loan
made a disabled person to purchase a vehicle (a huge disincentive
to buy on credit) it should be obvious that saving up for outright
purchase makes better economic sense. But doing that is penalised
by loss of benefits, such that you will take even longer to save
£30,000 as you are forced to dig into it to live!
As it stands, saving £40 a week (Higher
Rate of DLA Mobility Component in round figures) would mean it
would take 15 years @ £2,000 a year to save £30,000
to buy a top of the range WAV, by when of course they would cost
far more than £30,000 to purchase.
Therefore, logically, disabled people need to
earn the majority of that £30,000. Yet for many disabled
people, stamina issues mean they can only work part-time. With
the Rowntree Foundation suggesting a £10,000-£12,500
a year shortfall is incurred, it would seem logical to suggest
that the income limit is similarly raised tenfold to £200
a week, £10,000 a year or to £250 a week, £12,500
In effect this means a threshold for Income
Tax for disabled people of this kind of level on top of the £4,000
or so Personal Allowance they are entitled to. Or it could be
done by a tax credit. These are details that the systematic review
of the tax benefits and credits system that the motion calls for,
would look into. I hope to have the assistance of the TUC's research
team that helps draft proposed legislation in that endeavour.
What I do need to impress upon the DWP Select
Committee, at this stage, however is that tenfold increases in
the Income and Savings Limits are the sort of order of magnitude
we need to be looking at, if we are to get disabled people out
of the Poverty Trap.
How long is it since the £3,000 savings
limit (before tapered loss of benefits starts to occur) was last
reviewed and what has inflation done to the purchasing power of
that £3,000, in the meantime?
Similarly, how long is it since the £20
a week earnings limit (before tapered loss of benefits starts
to occur) was last reviewed and what has inflation done to the
purchasing power of that £20 a week, in the meantime?
I hope to make a further written submission
when the Green Paper is published and a further consultation opportunity
is offered, that would start to put flesh on the bones of this
NOW, I WANT
(a) In the arts media and entertainment
industries, freelance work is the majority form of employment.
Very few repertory theatre companies hire actors
for a season of ten plays any more. Most actors are hired by the
production, which in rep might mean three weeks of rehearsal and
three weeks of performances. In touring companies, perhaps 10
weeks of performances.
So it is a casualised industry. You might work
for six weeks or three months and then have as long again before
another opportunity arises. 86% of Equity's 35,000 members pay
the minimum sub of £90 a year. Subs are calculated as 1%
of earnings from the fields of work that Equity organises. so
this means that 86% of actors earn less than £9,000 pa. Equity
minimum is just over £300 a week, and an actor in work for
26 weeks a year would make just under £9,000 a year. And
obviously the effort needed for a disabled actor to exceed this
total would be considerable.
If a writer wrote two full-length shows a year
the WGGB contracts would mean that their income per play would
be of the order of £5,000 a play ie £10,000 pa would
be about their limit. ie it is not just a casualised industry
but a low-paid one, too within which disabled writers seeking
to work part-time would be competing for work.
(b) The reason why the TUC is getting interested
in the wages and conditions of atypical workers, eg home workers,
is their low pay and poor conditions.
Typically disabled people in other industries
may not have accessible transport to get them to a workplace and
may therefore have little choice but to work from home. As writers
This is a topic on which I also made a submission
to the Strategy Unit.
The odds are stacked against disabled people
trying to work from home: many RSLs don't house disabled people
adequately for their needs, don't allow any tenant to work from
home and don't provide the extra space you need to work from home.
And being on a low income, disabled people live in social housing
not in owner-occupation.
So a progressive disability housing policy is
needed to facilitate working from home and if the Select Committee
recognise that working from home, as stamina permits is the most
that many disabled people can aspire to, then it needs to take
on board what such a housing policy might entail.
Which brings me to my other draft motion to
go to the TUC Disability Conference:
The only realistic work option for disabled
people with stamina or transport issues is to work from home.
Accessible housing of a sufficient size for all their needs is
Storage for specialist equipment, garaging for
a mobility scooter, an extra bedroom for a carer; space for a
District Nurses' Treatment Area and their medical supplies can
all mean extra space is required.
The TUC should campaign for:
(1) All new housing to be built to Lifetime
Homes Standards, in Scotland and England outside London.
(2) All new homes to be built flush to the
street with no internal steps, no steps at the entrance and no
(3) All Lifetime Homes to be a minimum of
(4) The Decent Homes Standard to be revised
to take account of disabled people's needs.
(5) Social landlords to allow running a
business from home and to provide accessible live-work spaces
for this purpose.
(6) Planning as to what mix of one- two-
and three or more-bedroom homes are needed in a Local Authority
area, to take account of disabled people's need for extra space
(7) Accessible Housing Registers and Choice-Based
Lettings Schemes to be developed in all local authority areas.
3 October 2005