Blind and partially-sighted demand fair benefits

History was made on Tuesday, when over a thousand angry blind, partially sighted people and their supporters marched on parliament demanding greater fairness in the provision of state benefits. While wheelchair users are entitled to the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, worth �43.45 per week, people with severe sight loss are only able to claim the lower rate � a much smaller sum of �16.50 per week.

This led to the largest ever demonstration in the UK by blind people, as up to 1,200 demonstrators lobbied their MPs to support the commons early day motion that people with serious sight loss should be eligible for the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance. So far, 173 MPs have signed this early day motion, and the Liberal Democrats have pledged their support. However, many MPs were unavailable to be met, and head of campaigns Steve Winyard encouraged demonstrators who did not meet their MP on the day to arrange a meeting at their constituency surgeries Ann Maguire, the minister for disabled people, told the demonstrators that she, along with her officials, is in discussion with RNIB on how her Government is to proceed. However, she was unwilling to pledge her support to RNIB's campaign.

While public transport is still unacceptably inaccessible to many people with physical disabilities, these same people are potentially capable of driving a car. The Royal National Institute of the Blind who organised the demonstration cited the case of visually impaired support worker Jenny Burgess, of Powys, who was forced to rely on a physically disabled colleague to drive her to work. She describes the current arrangement as "unfair and unjust" A government survey of 300 people with serious sight loss found that all of them had been in accidents when out walking and that over half of these people had been injured.

According to Steve Winyard of RNIB, many blind people feel "virtual prisoners in their own homes." Calvin Hadley of County Durham told Radio 4's In Touch, the following day, how he has lost out on opportunities for training because his lower rate DLA does not go far enough.

Other blind people have lost out on job opportunities and hospital appointments. Ironically, at the same time as blind people are facing undue hardship when moving around their environment, changes in New Labour's Welfare Reform Bill are ensuring that disabled people will face benefit cuts if they do not participate in work preparation activities as a condition of receiving Employment Support Allowance, the replacement for Incapacity Benefit. This prompted another demonstration on the same day, this by the Disabled People Council. Simone Aspis, parliamentary campaigner for the Disabled People council said: "Disabled people will be coerced into accepting and participating in unlimited and inappropriate activities, which may do nothing other than making their health condition or impairment worse." She added that if the government really wanted to get more disabled people into employment then it should consider strengthening the Disability Discrimination Act.

Contacts for blind and partially-sighted people: Association of Blind Catholics 'Mayfield', 58 Oakwood Road, Horley, Surrey RH6 7BU Tel: 01293 772104 Founded in 1961, a Registered Charity (no 259343) in 1969, the Association caters for blind and partially-sighted Roman Catholics both in UK and overseas. Its objects include the promotion of the welfare of blind Catholics in the context of the Church and of their knowledge of Catholic life and literature.

The Catholic Talking Newspaper - a monthly 60 min cassette - is sent out to all subscribing members. It contains extracts from the Catholic press, including The Universe, The Catholic Herald, The Catholic Times and The Tablet. The Cassette Lending Library stocks religious books and novels with a Catholic interest. The catalogue and order forms are sent to members on request. Books are then supplied on loan one-at-a-time when available. Retreats are held every year for members and friends, providing not only an opportunity for spiritual grow but also for meeting other members and networking. The AGM is held in December, usually in Westminster. Through the Roof Organisation which supports Christians of all denominations with disabilities get to church.

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