Local MP calls for higher mobility allowance for the blind

December 20, 2007 3:04 PM
RNIB and Mark

Mark Hunter calling for higher mobility allowance for blind people

Mark Hunter, MP for the Cheadle Constituency is backing a campaign calling for blind people to be paid the higher rate of mobility allowance, as the blind in his constituency face fear, loneliness and even serious injury for the sake of an extra £27 a week.

This £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. Blind people are currently denied this benefit despite facing significant challenges in being able to use public transport and travel independently.

This was the stark message heard in parliament when local MP Mark Hunter attended a meeting with RNIB and five other national sight loss charities to mark 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.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Hunter said "It seems fundamentally wrong to me that blind people, who can't drive, receive only the lower rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, paid at £17.10 per week. 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 fully support the important campaign which is pressing the government for action on this issue".

During the reception in Parliament, the 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. RNIB Head of Campaigns, Steve Winyard, said "We welcome Mr Hunter'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."

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