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Alex calls on Leeds City Council to oppose cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowance – and to help those likely to be affected.

Alex is known for his work with the disabled - for example in the setting up of Enabled Works, the replacement for Remploy in Leeds.

So it’s no surprise that the LibDem/Tory Coalition’s proposals to cut the Disabled Students’ Allowance have dismayed and angered him. Today in the full Council meeting, he called on Leeds Council to oppose the cuts. But also to include the students likely to be affected in the Council’s own work programme for people with disabilities.

You can read his speech in full below.

He’s also launched a petition against these cuts. If you agree with him, you can sign it HERE.

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‘The Best Council Plan is a strategic document which sets out a great vision for the future of our City and our Citizens. It is ambitious and speaks to values of fairness and equality which this council leadership has embodied in the toughest of times.

The Best Council Plan’s first objective is supporting communities and tackling poverty. Unfortunately the council is operating in a context and national political climate which the evidence suggests makes this objective very hard to achieve.

No group has felt this more than disabled people.

The Scrapping of Disability Living Allowance has seen disabled people forced into demeaning and unnecessary medical testing, with many having their benefit reduced or withdrawn. It’s meant a huge backlog in assessments for its replacement -the Personal Independence Payment.

There’s been continued testing of claimants on Employment Support Allowance, using tests which have already been branded unfit for purpose – which have led to people with terminal illnesses being found fit for work and having benefits reduced.

We’ve heard in the chamber many times about the impact of the Bedroom Tax on the Disabled

-       the classification of rooms vital to disabled people for the storage of equipment  - or to relieve pressure on families who are at breaking  - being called ‘excess’;

-       -the disabled having to apply for a discretionary payment to cover those costs.

We’ve also heard how the budget for those payments has been slashed this year  - meaning even the prospect of staying in their own homes is being taken away from them.

Faced with all this, many disabled people have risen to the challenge. Having been declared fit for work, they’ve returned to study at one of our City’s fine institutions - he University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University and Leeds Trinity University.

When they are at University they can apply for disabled students allowance. This has three elements.

-       The equipment allowance - used to obtain assistive technology  - for example computer software and hardware, recording devices, ergonomic items which may be required to facilitate full access to the course and the institution.

-       Then there’s non-medical help – this relates to any human support, such as note-taking or the use of sign language interpreters, that may be required.

-       The general allowance is typically used to cover the cost of sundry items. Possible examples include paying for internet connections, books, ink cartridges and paper, photocopying or coloured overlays.

Without this assistance it is not possible for those students to progress on their courses, to gain qualifications and, hopefully, to move into work.

Which is what we on all sides of this chamber and politics would want to see happen.

Now the Government is planning to hit this allowance, too. On Monday 7 April 2014, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) in England. They are planning to cut DSA - gutting a support allowance vital to many students.

Disabled Students in every Leeds City Council ward would be affected and possibly unable to continue their studies and progress into work.

Even under the current system, I have a constituent who had to wait months to get confirmation of her DSA. She thought she would have to quit her course - continuing was becoming increasingly difficult without the support DSA gives.

There’ll be many more people like her under the new system.

The Government are pushing responsibility to the Universities to support these students. We’ve seen this pattern before with Housing Benefit and Council Tax.  But  - like Leeds City Council - the Universities have suffered huge cuts year on year. The Universities have another 6% cut from their teaching budgets this year.

So how are our Universities going to find the additional money to support these students? And if these students can’t finish their studies, how can they find work in our knowledge economy?

The cuts to DSA are a cut too far and go against the stated aim of public policy of the Government and of this Council’s Best Council Plan.

I call on the Executive to work with the Universities and Student Unions in our City’s Universities

–     first to call on the Government to drop this policy,

–     but also to include students likely to be hit by these cuts in the Council’s work programme for people with disabilities.

I know that our leadership in Leeds really cares about disabled people  - about them reaching their potential. Our actions through programmes like ‘Better Lives through enterprise’ continually shows this.

Vince Cable and David Willetts may want to consign Disabled People to a bleak future - I know we in this chamber will not.’

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