The book is based on my work as a volunteer advocate for Cornwall Advocacy. Its aim is to show how adults with a learning disability have been affected by UK government austerity measures since 2010 and to bring their situation into the open. It concentrates on five men in Cornwall with a learning disability, precisely comparing their income and spending with national and county averages so that the extent to which they have been left behind becomes clear. It also examines their quality of life as the support they are given shrinks.
In those five case studies, the men’s spending is compared with the Minimum Income Standard of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as well as UK and Cornwall medians. Their spending averages 48% of the UK median, 55% of the Cornwall median and 71% of the Minimum Income Standard. It goes without saying that their income is below the relative poverty threshold. From the case studies, other common features emerge as well as relative poverty. • All have had their support hours at home or their day centre attendance cut.
Three of the men who have support hours have seen them cut by an average of 27%. The other two attend day centres: one now has his place only half-funded; the other has had Adult Social Care funding removed completely. • When the book was published, two of the five men had had their benefits cut. One failed to have his DLA transferred to PIP. The other, a man called Danny who suffered a life-changing brain injury in 1980, was suddenly deemed 36 years later to miraculously have changed and therefore be fit for work without his Employment and Support Allowance. Since publication, one more man has fallen foul of the system.
To state the obvious, their quality of life has suffered. Most of them lack the friends that we all take for granted and so loneliness is a real problem. For all the men in the book, their lives fall a long way short of the ‘wellbeing’ the 2014 Care Act says they should be experiencing. One component of ‘wellbeing’ is ‘personal dignity’. If you read the chapter on Danny and his Work Capability Assessment, his tears at the initial outcome showed how little ‘respect’ (another word from the Care Act) was shown to him. ‘Personal dignity’ doesn’t even come into it.
(1)What was your motivation for writing about austerity and the impact upon vulnerable adults?
My initial motivation for writing was an impression I had in my first months working as a volunteer advocate for people with a learning disability. As I went to different day centres or visited people at home almost everyone seemed poor, as if poverty was an inevitable part of having a learning disability.
(2) Did anything surprise you about your findings when doing research for your book?
I was surprised at how far the standard of living of the people in my case studies lagged behind what most of us enjoy. I was also shocked by the extent of the social isolation they (and others) experience.
(3) What type of system would you like to see replace the current one.
There are a number of steps that need to be taken: redress government cuts to council funding; carry out a cumulative impact assessment of the effects of austerity on people with a learning disability; lift them out of relative poverty by raising benefit levels; reform radically the operation of the DWP; and take a holistic approach to each individual.
(4) How did the 5 men feel that their ‘voice’ was finally heard?
They were delighted with the end product. Throughout, I had made sure that they understood what I was doing by explaining it to them, their support workers, families or day centres (whichever was appropriate) and emphasising the anonymity that would be maintained by changing their names and locations. From the start, the men were happy to be involved and all of them (or their representatives) checked what I had written to see they were still happy.
(5) What would you like to see happen as a result of your book?
I don’t for a second think that my book will change everything. I do, however, believe it can have an impact by getting through to two different audiences. The first is made up of people who are already aware of the problems – for them the book provides invaluable evidence in the fight against the injustice experienced by so many. The second audience is made up of those who know nothing about living with a learning disability and whose eyes should be opened by what they read. So far, the impact on that second audience has been striking, with ‘I’m ashamed to live in a country that treats people like this’ being a typical reaction.
(6) Since the book has been published has there been any update to the different scenarios you examined for the better or worse?
The key area has been a deterioration in the benefits the men in the case studies received. Two of them have had adverse decisions which have needed to be challenged, one of them all the way to a tribunal. In both cases, the decisions were overturned in the men’s favour but they (and their families) experienced a huge amount of stress along the way. This is typical of a wider deterioration in benefits which I am seeing with other people who have a learning disability.
(7) Do you have any plans for other books as a follow up?
I’m thinking of a book which focuses on the experiences of families of people with a learning disability – in particular, the different lifelong struggles which they undergo. Returning to ‘Austerity’s Victims’, however, I am speaking at the Leicester Book Festival to talk about my book. It’s on Saturday 5 October 4-6pm at Leicester Central Library, Bishop St, Leicester, LE1 6AA. to attend click the photo below