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Flintshire Mind chief says changes to disability benefits could make people prisoners in their homes

PLANS to cut Government spending on disability benefits by 20% could take away peoples independence and put a major strain on services in Flintshire, according to campaigners.

PLANS to cut Government spending on disability benefits by 20% could take away people’s independence and put a major strain on services in Flintshire, according to campaigners.

There are 9,640 people claiming disability benefits in Flintshire at a cost of £37.2m a year but, if the Government has its way, that figure could be set to plummet.

Plans to replace the current Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) were approved by the House of Lords on Tuesday and could be passed by May.

Jenny Murphy, chief officer of mental health support organisation Flintshire Mind, says the changes could force people with disabilities to become ‘prisoners in their own homes’.

She said: "People are contacting Mind in a state of panic.

"Some people want to work but can’t get a job because of previous mental health problems, others have jobs and need benefits to continue going to work.

"People are terrified they will be left with no income.. "This money is giving people the support they need to live an independent life."

She said the process of changing benefits could cause some people’s conditions to deteriorate.

A national survey by Mind last year showed that for 87% of people the prospect of reforms to the system made them feel anxious, 75% said it made their mental health worse and 45% had already contacted their psychiatrist or GP because it was having an impact.

She added: "We are concerned that people with mental health problems will be worse off because the new assessment isn’t sophisticated enough to recognise the impact of their conditions."

Paralympian Bev Jones from Shotton, who has cerebral palsy, says she has always thought the system was unfair.

She said: "The benefits are very important to me because they allow me to get the support I need for daily tasks.

"I don’t think I have ever had a fair deal, it has always been an unfair system.

"I have to get re-assessed for DLA and have had to appeal decisions even though I was born with my condition and it is never going to get any better.

"The proposals are very worrying because I can’t control what the Government decides to do."

Bev, who competes in the discus and shot, is hoping to qualify for the Paralympics this September but says her condition means it would be hard for her to work.

She said: "People think because I do sport I’m OK but I don’t need the money for my training, I need it for everyday tasks like cooking, or getting taxis because I can’t drive.

"Working in somewhere like a factory would be a struggle for me because I can’t stand up for too long and I wouldn’t be able to work in something like telesales because I have problems with my speech.

"Some people take advantage of the system and get greedy but I don’t ask for much – just for the support that I need."

Bev is friends with fellow Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who has fought to try and delay the proposed changes.

In the House of Lords on Tuesday she called for a pilot project to take place before the system was changed, but lost out on the vote by 16 votes.

Delyn MP David Hanson has also hit out at the reforms branding them as ‘flawed’.

He said: "I voted against the deeply flawed Welfare Reform Bill at third reading in the House of Commons. One of the reasons was that it failed the compassion test – especially in the provisions for disabled people.

"The reform of the Disability Living Allowance has been a shambles and at times has crossed the basic test of fairness and decency - which is why the Government were defeated by the Lords last week in their attempts to cut paid for benefits for cancer patients.

"Whilst it is clear that changes are necessary, this Government has set about reform of DLA in such a way that risks plunging people, who have paid in and need support, into poverty."

But supporters of the system claim it will support a greater proportion of people with the higher rate of benefit.

Maria Miller, Department of Work and Pensions Minister for Disabled People, said: "Figures show that in just one year over £600m was paid out to individuals whose condition had changed and were no longer eligible for the benefit they were receiving.

"Equally concerning is that £190m is not being claimed despite individuals experiencing deteriorating conditions.

"At a time when the country has to cut its debt, we can’t sit back and allow this to continue."

Janet Hudson, office administrator for Flintshire Disability Forum, said they had received a number of calls from people concerned about the reforms.

She said: "I think it will mean people already on a low income will have even less income.

"People are worried because it is difficult to live on benefits already and the payment increases their independence."

Janet said the forum was working with agencies such as Welfare Rights to offer advice.

Cllr Carol Ellis, executive member for social services, said she and executive member for housing Cllr Helen Brown had visited the Welfare Rights office in Flint this week.

She said: "They are doing a lot of work to prepare for picking up the fall-out of the welfare reforms.

"They are expecting to have to help with a lot of tribunals when people appeal decisions made about their benefits.

"At the moment they are giving benefits advice to about 80 people a day. .

"The changes to DLA will have a big impact and will come on top of a lot of other reforms, such as housing benefits, as well increased costs of fuel and food and an increase in people being made redundant.

"The council will have to deal with a lot of the effects of this, more people are likely to become homeless and more people will need access to council services and advice.

"There are people who are claiming who shouldn’t be, but these changes will see genuine cases facing real hardship."