Seeing the student movement rallying around saving DSA (disabled students allowance) is excellent. Here at Royal Holloway, the SU (Students’ Union) and the Principal have both sent letters condemning the cuts to it, and the SU have requested a meeting with the local MP. We’ve also ordered a number of postcards for people to fill in why DSA is so important to our studies, and are awaiting their arrival. I would have struggled massively to study without the amazing support from our Disability and Dyslexia services, without the 1:1 s DSA has provided me with, and without the equipment I received.. That hasn’t gone far enough either. The service needs better funding and improvement, and calls to save it uncritically are not enough. Some people have paid up to £400 just for an assessment to see whether they qualify for it, it’s very tightly funded, not providing the package of support a student needs necessarily – for fear of going over their budgets. Whilst saving it – which is very important – we should also have improvements in mind, and be demanding those – not simply being grateful if the government stops making cuts to it. However, given the other cuts being made to benefits relevant to disabled students, without a word of criticism from the student movement, the fact that we’re uniting to save this at all means something.
The Independent Living Fund (ILF) helps pay for care for people with more complex care needs, allowing them to keep living in the community. My care needs are high, I receive a lot of support, and in future I can see myself likely relying on the ILF to survive and stay in the community. There are students who rely on it now. Saving DSA the way it is will help make and keep education accessible for disabled students, especially those from poorer backgrounds, who can’t afford to buy a laptop casually for University, but what about those students at college who need this support. And what about the most severely disabled of our community, who have no resources left and whose care is functionally going to be cut to the extent that they are unable to remain in the community. We’re not just students, we’re also people, individuals in communities in and out of our universities and we have responsibilities to keep those communities open to people who have no other way of accessing them. We shouldn’t just talk about cuts primarily affecting students like those to DSA but also cuts that are affecting our communities, even if not ourselves. The ILF is about survival for a lot of people.
Survival, much like the NHS, currently being cut up and privatised by the Tory government, services such as ESA (employment and support allowance) and DLA, before DLA (disabled living allowance) was cut and changed (into PIP – personal independence payments) and people were pushed out of it, potentially losing their motability wheelchairs and cars, leaving them housebound (since the NHS typically won’t prescribe electric wheelchairs to people who only need them to leave the house). The shaming medicals for ESA that are causing people, especially those with mental health problems, to be too scared of applying – and with the judgements of who might be fit to work, no wonder. Funding for social care is being cut, people are left to lie overnight in their own waste, and community centres, providing a valuable service to people with nowhere else to go, are being closed down.
The cuts to DSA aren’t just an isolated attack on students, they’re part of a deliberate, dangerous, concerted attack on the lives of disabled people, in moves designed to send us back to die in residential places, rather than living as part of our communities. If disabled people are that much less likely to get degrees with DSA being cut, they’re that much more likely to end up relying on these other benefits. We should see them as a concerted and deliberate attack, and fight them all – together – with the fervour we’ve used for fighting cuts to DSA.