NEED TO CHANGE DISABILITY BENEFIT SYSTEM: Too many people with disabilities continue to face uphill struggle

Yesterday was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. While much has been done for disabled people over the last decade, the current system on benefits and sheltered employment needs to be improved significantly to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy equal opportunities and best possible quality of life.” said Daniel Feetham, adding that the party will be raising these issues in Parliament to lobby for effective changes.

One constant theme that features in our political surgeries with people with disabilities or their families, is the way in which Disability Benefit is awarded and operates. The benefit is awarded at the discretion of the Director for Social Security who is advised by an assessment panel as to whether an applicant’s disability “severely and adversely affects” their daily life.

He went on to say: Our experience from listening and helping people who are disabled, is that the test is being interpreted and applied too narrowly. The party also questions whether that test is compatible with the definition of disability in the Disability Act 2017 which defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities”. Our view is that if you come within the definition of disabled because your disability “has a substantial and long-term adverse effect [on your] ability to carry out day-to-day activities” you should not have to demonstrate your disability “severely” affects your daily life. It is a higher and unnecessary threshold.

The GSD believes the application process and criteria for Disability Benefit needs to be examined with a view to improving the system and we need to ensure it is brought into line with the Disability Act 2017 and applied properly. There also needs to be greater transparency and clarity in how the benefit is awarded and administered, so that people understand why decisions are taken and why the benefit is awarded in some cases but not others.

Further, in 2012 the Government took the decision to reduce levels of Disability Benefit awarded when a disabled person is employed and earning a wage. One constituent who has been in an employment sheltered scheme for the last nine years earning the minimum wage had his Disability Benefit substantially reduced as a consequence. That is not the position in the UK where Personal Independence Payments are not means tested and they are paid whether someone is working full-time, part-time or not at all. They are designed to help with the extra costs of disability or long-term health conditions for people aged 16 and over. As in the UK people with disabilities in Gibraltar face higher costs of living and disparity in wages and opportunities, they should not be penalised further by the reduction of their benefits.

"Finally, we have also expressed the view on many occasions that more sheltered employment opportunities should be provided to disabled people. In this regard it will be recalled that the Government stopped providing further sheltered employment opportunities prior to the last election with the promise that they would reintroduce the scheme should they be elected. The GSD hopes this promise will be fulfilled soon. Too many people with disabilities continue to face an uphill struggle in finding and getting employment in Gibraltar," Mr Feetham concluded.