PLANNED changes to the benefits system will have a “devastating impact on disabled people”, Wales’ social justice minister has warned.
Jane Hutt said reforms to the workplace capability assessment announced by the UK Chancellor will push more disabled people into poverty.
She told the Senedd the “latest assault” could see disabled people lose £4,680 a year, threatened with the removal of entitlements, such as legal aid, and forced into work.
The minister, during a statement in the Senedd on 5 November, said: “The claimants deemed fit for work but who fail to take steps to find employment, could face mandatory work placements
“And if they don’t find employment or refuse work placements, they will not only lose their benefit – but will also be cut off from accessing other services.”
Ms Hutt argued that sanctions are not the right way to support people into work, saying Westminster’s Work and Pensions Committee found it is harmful and counterproductive.
She added: “13 years of austerity has resulted in appalling socio-economic impacts on disabled people.”
Altaf Hussain, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, said too many barriers are preventing disabled people reaching their potential.
He asked: “How can we honestly say we are creating a more equal Wales when wheelchair users are denied bus transport because there’s no room for their wheelchair?
“How is it equal when, in 2023, disabled people have to book train travel ahead of time when the rest of us can just show up and get on board?”
Ms Hutt said Lee Waters, the deputy minister for climate change, attended a meeting of the disability rights taskforce that focused on public transport.
Mr Hussain also called for a full independent public Covid inquiry in Wales which could take account of the inequalities faced by disabled people.
Sioned Williams, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister, told MSs that the cost-of-living crisis is having a disproportionate impact on disabled people.
“Life is more expensive for disabled people and their families,” she said.
“They have to spend more on essential goods and services, like heating, specialist equipment, transport, specialist food and therapies.”
She said four in 10 disabled people, whose condition limits them a lot, have gone without heating and 46 per cent have skipped a meal, according to the Bevan Foundation.
Ms Williams pressed the minister on an expert group’s call for the introduction of a cost-of-living payment for low-income disabled people.
Ms Hutt said ministers have not been able to make funding available due to real-terms cuts to the Welsh Government’s budget.