"Blind people face fear, loneliness and sometimes injury for the sake of £27 a week. £27 represents the additional amount paid for the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, a benefit paid to help disabled people with their extra costs in getting out and about safely" said Sir George. "At the RNIB Reception I met blind and partially sighted men and women who explained the problems they face in getting around."
Blind people currently do not get this benefit, despite facing significant challenges in being able to use public transport and travel independently. This was the stark message heard in parliament by Sir George, as RNIB and five other national sight loss charities marked the anniversary of the biggest ever lobby of parliament by blind and partially sighted people in the UK. In December 2006 over 1,200 people marched on parliament to protest against a benefits system that puts their safety and independence at risk. (1)
"It seems unfair to me that blind people, who can't drive, can only receive the lower rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, paid at £17.10 per week. Wheelchair users, who can drive, receive the higher rate of the benefit, £45 per week- over £27 more than a blind person. This situation is putting blind people’s safety at risk, as well as denying them social, leisure and educational opportunities that most of us take for granted. I support the organisations pressing government for action on this important campaign".
90 per cent of the general public and 253 MPs have called for a change in benefit rules so blind people get more help with the costs of getting around (2).
At the reception in Parliament, Minister for Disabled People, Anne McGuire MP, was presented with a compilation of audio diaries, recorded by blind people highlighting the exclusion they face because they can't claim the higher benefit rate and so can't afford safe and reliable door to door transport.
Amongst those who the Minister heard is Maria Pikulski, 46, who is registered blind. She was a nurse but had to give up work four and a half years ago because of her sight loss. Maria said: "I've experienced real fear and vulnerability. Not able to afford the cost of a taxi, I made one attempt to walk to the local gym at night. It was dark and involved me walking alone in an isolated wooded area where I collided with a tree. I could hear the voices of teenagers who were hanging around but not willing to help. A sighted woman in this situation, fearing the worst could simply look at what was happening and decide what best to do next. Try doing that when you're blind.”
Maria continued, "I've also missed the opportunity to re-train for a new career at night school because I can't afford the round trip that I need to make in a taxi, costing around £20. Like many blind people, I honestly believe that I'm being stopped from getting on in life. I can't ask my partner to take me to college because he works evenings and nights but why should I have to ask him anyway? My independence is being taken from me all for the sake of around £27 extra per week - please can I have it back?"
Charities have been meeting with the Department for Work and Pensions since the campaign began in 2006 and an urgent resolution of the issue is now being sought (3). RNIB Head of Campaigns, Steve Winyard, said “We welcome Sir George's support for the changes we are campaigning for. With such extensive support from MPs and the general public, a listening Government must deliver a positive outcome. The cost could be as little as £30m a year – a very small price to deliver independence for thousands of blind people across the country.”
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For more information contact Bill Alker or Grant Imlach at RNIB Press Office on 020 7391 2223 (out of hours 07968 482812). Ref: BA.
Notes to Editors
(1) The Parliamentary Reception organised by RNIB was held in the House of Commons, Terrace Pavilion, from 4.30-6pm on 4 December 2007. Keynote speakers included; the Minister for Disabled People, Ann McGuire MP, Rt Hon David Blunkett MP and Sir John Butterfill MP. It's exactly one year to the day since the biggest lobby of Parliament by blind and partially sighted people took place. 1,200 angry blind and partially sighted people marched on Parliament calling on the Government to end the unfairness that excludes them from the higher rate mobility component of DLA.
(2) A survey commissioned by RNIB showed that 90 per cent of the general public agreed that blind people should receive the same level of financial support as wheelchair users. Only 3 per cent disagreed and 7 per cent 'weren't sure'. RNIB used specialist research agency, TNS for this research. Using the consumer Omnibus, Omnimas, TNS polled 2013 adult consumers from 16-20/03/ 2007 and 23-27/03/2007 via face-to-face interviews
(3) RNIB, together with the National Federation of Blind People, National League of the Blind and Disabled, Action for Blind People, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and the National Association of Local Societies for Visually Impaired People (NALSVI), is calling for an amendment to Section 73(3) of the 1992 Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act such that people who are under 65 and have serious sight loss are able to claim the higher rate mobility component of DLA.