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A measure announced in this week’s budget could lead to a further increase in disability hate crime, campaigners have warned.
There has been considerable alarm at plans laid out in George Osborne’s budget speech to send annual statements to 20 million tax-payers, from 2014, showing how their taxes are being spent.
Osborne said the statements would show how much of their own tax bill funds “healthcare, education, or welfare, and how much is spent on servicing interest payments on the national debt”.
He added: “People will know what they are paying, and what they are paying it for.”
The Treasury wants to send out “pie charts” showing total government expenditure divided into slices of a pie that represent spending in departments such as health and education, with the largest slice by far likely to be labelled simply “welfare”.
But there were real concerns this week that this could suggest to some people that disability benefits are far higher than they are and lead to more of the disablist hostility that has been stirred up by frequent coalition attacks on alleged benefit fraud and dependency.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said the plans outlined so far were “pretty shoddy” in how they would present welfare spending.
He said the statements would “most probably” increase “lower impact” disability hate crime, as had happened in recent months because of the rhetoric around the government’s welfare reforms.
Henrietta Doyle, Inclusion London’s policy officer, said she feared the annual statements would stir up hostility, even though disability benefits were a small proportion of welfare spending.
She said: “Because of the level of coverage in the media the public have been linking over and over disabled people and welfare benefits.
“They just automatically put the two together, which could increase the antagonism against disabled people, and may lead to more harassment.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman refused to comment on whether it would ask the Treasury to take measures to ensure the annual statements did not stir up more hostility towards disabled people.
He said: “It would not be for one department to comment on another department’s policies.”
But there was some better news in the budget, with the announcement of an extra £20 million for voluntary sector advice organisations in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, to “support the sector as it adapts to changes in the way that it is funded”.
The government is pushing through plans to cut £350 million from the legal aid budget, and confirmed in December that it would not be replacing millions of pounds in grants formerly provided by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to organisations that provide expert legal support for discrimination cases.
Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK, said he was “excited to learn of £20 million per year for advice services”, but said the money would simply be “a plaster over legal aid cuts”.