Posted on May 10th, 2015
By Blind Pew
When I was losing my eyesight but still just about able to hold down my job, the worst part of every working day was the journey between the railway station and the office. Even if I managed to avoid the rush hour, crossing roads and even walking in a straight line when there were other pedestrians around was a hazardous challenge. I was physically knocked over three times in the space of a few months because other people were in such a hurry to get to wherever they were going and a partially sighted man with a white stick was just in their way.
I no longer need to do that trip but the thought of even attempting it now that I can’t see anything at all is terrifying. Venturing through busy streets or using public transport when you can’t see is something I simply haven’t been able to adapt to. Some blind people manage it and I applaud them for it because I know how tough it is.
I was lucky enough to work for an organisation which did its best to accommodate my disability as long as possible until I became physically incapable of doing it. One of the things they helped arrange was taxi journeys between the station and the office. This was funded by the Access To Work scheme which met the bulk of the taxi costs so that I could actually afford to travel this way. I think it is fair to say that, had it not been for Access To Work, I would have needed to give up work long before I did simply due to the stress levels involved in negotiating busy streets and coping with other people who didn’t care about the white stick because they were in a hurry. The swearing, insults and furious horn-blowing by car drivers who had to wait a few seconds for me to cross the roads became a daily test of nerve. I coped reasonably well with this hassle but once the Access To Work scheme provided a viable alternative, I realised just how stressful the daily journey had been.
It turns out that most people who make claims under ATW are either visually or hearing impaired. There are just over 35,000 people who use it at a total cost of around £108m, which works out at around £60 per week per beneficiary. Yet this is going to be cut by the Tory Government as part of their ongoing campaign to target the disabled community.
£60 per week would not have covered the taxi fares I needed and I suspect many visually impaired people are in the same situation. Reducing the amount a claimant can receive is going to do one of two things. Either the person will be unable to afford to travel to work and be compelled to give up working or they are going to attempt to travel by public transport or on foot, thus greatly increasing the threat to their personal safety.
Access To Work is a terrific scheme and its benefits are far greater than can be measured in mere monetary terms. People who can’t see or hear or people in a wheelchair need some way of travelling to and from work which does not place them at a serious disadvantage or put them in potentially dangerous situations. By holding down a job, they contribute to society and the economy but driving them out of work seems to be an ideological choice the Tories have made deliberately. As several economists have pointed out, Austerity is a failed policy which will only serve to stifle the overall economy. The UK Government must be aware of this criticism and, indeed, of the effects their first round of Austerity cuts had on the economy. This leads me to the conclusion that they don’t care because depriving vulnerable people of help is their goal. It’s short-sighted, mean and cruel, and any savings it makes will be negligible in the overall scheme of things. I’d really love to see one of the people who made this decision wear a blindfold and try to travel to work. That way, they might just change their mind.
I expect that saying all this makes me sound angry and bitter. Yes, but that’s because I am. This is a vicious, mean-spirited move on the part of a Government which is already infamous for implementing such policies. What’s worse is that we now face another five years of this sort of thing. I know money cannot be thrown around and provided for everything we would like to see but it would be nice to think that we could live under a Government which prized social values as much as it prized counting the pennies. That might happen one day, but it’s certainly not happening today. The most vulnerable people in our society are the ones being targeted, which is exactly the opposite of how any civilised nation should conduct itself.