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Disability Benefits - then and now.

Do the proposed changes to Disabled LivingAllowance send us back to the 1930s?

Readers of “Live Eels and Grand Pianos” will be familiar with the stories of Kathy and Charlie Bradford,and the financial struggles that they had to finance the cost of their disabilities. Here are two extracts about their lives in the 1930s. The first extract is about Charlie:

“Charlie was an activist for the rights of the disabled as earlyas the 1930s. He was asked by the Shaftesbury Society (a Christian charity) to helpset up a ‘cripple parlour’ - a kind of self help group – in Edmonton. The group wrote letters to MPs about the financial consequences of disability. He (and countless others like him) couldn’t afford to buy their crutches, leg irons and wheelchairs, so the society gave them lists of wealthy individuals they could write to, to ask them for financial support. In other words he had to write begging letters.”

And this extract is about Kathy

“Kathy was a talented needlewoman. She left school at fourteen and worked as a tailoress until she married. Her first job lasted one year, as did her second job and then her third.  When she was sacked for the third time she asked her employer why she was being dismissed, and she was told that the boss had found out that due to her disability, the employer would have to pay extra national insurance contributions, backdated to the day that she started.

National Insurance in the 1930s was a payment made by the employer to the government to provide compensation for its employees in the event of an industrial injury, and no doubt some government actuary had decided that disabled workers were a higher risk and had to pay higher contributions. Kathy’s employer said that he couldn’t afford to pay that. Somebody else could do the job more cheaply. She had to go. She therefore came to an arrangement that she would reimburse the firm for the extra national insurance stamps . She did this for ten years until the start of World War II, and she recorded all the payments she made in a series of notebooks. In 1938 she attended one of the first meetings of what became the British Polio Fellowship, a self-help organisation for people with her disability. A few years later the Polio Fellowship submitted these notebooks as evidence to the Beveridge Commission, and the national insurance rules werechanged.”

Kathy andCharlie always worked, but the extent of their disabilities prevented them fromearning very much money. It wasn’t until the Chronically Sick and HandicappedPersons Act was passed in 1970 ( by which time Charlie was 64 and Kathy 58) thatthey received any form of state benefit that recognised that because of theirdisabilities they had higher expenses than able-bodied people in similar situations.This meant that they could afford a telephone for the first time.

When they first applied for Attendance Allowances (the forerunner of Disability Living Allowance) they mentioned that they needed a telephone and why they needed it. They were first of all turned down on the basis that Claremont Street (where they lived) “is not an isolated place”. They appealed and in the appeal they mentioned that Charlie often fell down in the house and couldn’t get up without help. Because they didn’t have a phone, Kathy often had to stand at thedoorstep to ask passers-by to come into the house to pick her husband up. They won the appeal and the Attendance Allowance made an immeasurable difference to the quality of their lives.

If theproposed cuts to DLA go ahead then there is a grave danger that we will return to those times. Churches and charities will be compiling lists of “benefactors”to whom “the needy” can write to for support, and thousands of people who currently lead active and fulfilled lives will become isolated. Some of the changes may be counter-productive, as many people who use DLA funding to payfor transport to work and assistance at work will find themselves unable towork, and claim other benefits instead.


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