NFBUK has campaigned for many years to ensure that blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind people receive welfare benefits to cover the extra costs that their disability incurs.
As a result of NFBUK’s campaign for a blindness allowance throughout the 1980’s, in 1991 the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was introduced with two components, one to cover the cost of care and daily living costs, at three levels, a lower rate, a middle rate and a high rate, and a mobility component which would only be paid at the lower rate for blind and partially sighted people. Most deaf-blind people would qualify for the higher rate of the mobility component. This was to be paid to blind and partially sighted people under the age of 65, but people would be able to keep this benefit, beyond age 65 if awarded before they were 65.
In 2011 the regulations were changed, after a campaign which was initiated by NFBUK, to extend the higher rate of the mobility allowance to registered blind people. Unfortunately, this did not include those blind people who were already over the age of 65, and in receipt of the lower rate of the mobility allowance. NFBUK sees this as discrimination against older blind people, whose mobility needs are often greater than those of younger blind people. For example, older blind people find it more difficult to walk long distances, and travel on public transport, especially when bus services are few and far between, and have to pay for expensive taxis.
In 2011 it was decided that the DLA would be replaced by a new benefit entitled the Personal Independence Payment benefit (PIP). NFBUK did not agree with the change of benefit, as all that was wrong with the DLA was the poor administration of the benefit by the Department for Work and Pensions.
From July 2016 all people in receipt of the DLA will be transferred over to the new PIP benefit. Every person will receive a letter informing them that their DLA benefit will be stopped within so many weeks, and they must fill in a long form to apply for PIP. This is not an easy process, as most blind people will need help to complete this form, and with cutbacks affecting benefit rights advice services and Citizens’ Advice Bureau, blind people are having to wait to have the help to fill in their forms. This can delay their benefits being renewed, and we would advise the following: on receipt of your letter from the DWP, acknowledge the letter and say that you may have to wait to have the form filled in, and request an extension of time to allow this to be done.
We are currently represented on a group to establish that all correspondence from the DWP is provided in alternative formats, and we would advise that when making contact with the DWP, inform them of which format you want your correspondence, ie, large print, Braille, audio or email.
Over the past few years we have been trying to persuade the DWP to use a password to ensure a secure and safe way of communicating with a blind or partially sighted person. Although promised by various Ministers for the Disabled, to date this has not yet been agreed.
These benefits, as well as the Employment and Support Allowance which is paid to people of working age who are unable to get a job, only go some way to compensate for the extra costs of blindness. Although there have been annual increases to these benefits, for the first time this year, 2016, this did not happen. Pensioners’ benefits have been ring-fenced and receive their annual increase, but people on disability benefits did not receive any increase.
Most blind people will have to pay for special equipment for their communication needs, help with household maintenance and gardening, shopping and cleaning. NFBUK urges the Government to increase these financial benefits to a realistic amount to ensure that blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind people can have a quality of life equal to their sighted counterparts.