Since the Coalition Government came to power in late 2010, it has made clear that one of its most pressing priorities was reform of the benefits system, an intention which has been applauded by some sections of the media while causing a lot of worry to people who currently claim benefits, including disabled people.

But it is next month when these changes will really start to kick in, starting with the introduction of Universal Credit and the replacement of Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment as well as numerous changes to housing support. 

These reforms will have a significant effect on disabled people, including many of the people supported by United Response but they are extremely complicated and it can be hard to understand their cumulative impact. At United Response we are particularly concerned about how difficult it will be for people with learning disabilities - who are likely to be disproportionately affected by the changes – to grasp how they may be affected. We do not want the people we support to suddenly find themselves in serious financial trouble or distress because they didn’t understand the changes.

For that reason, we have been informing our staff and people we support about the benefits changes taking place, using an “easy read” introduction to the changes as a key tool. We have campaigned for many years for information about money and democracy to be made more accessible, so it was important that we practiced what we preached and did the same for benefits.

The guide explains some of the most significant changes and explains what people can expect to happen over the next few years.  It was written with the people supported by United Response in mind, but we are keen to make it available to other organisations, support workers and individuals to use if they think it would be helpful. We consider it important that easy read materials should be widely disseminated and not held onto in a proprietary way.

You can find the guide here (or click on the image to the right) - we are very happy for anyone to use it to guide their own education efforts. However, we should stress at this stage that as well as being a document created with our own specific stakeholders in mind it is an easy read guide, which means that some details have been simplified and others omitted in order to make it as accessible as possible.

It is also important to remember that all of the reforms are subject to change and adjustment (the Government was still clarifying some details of its “bedroom tax” in the weeks before the guide was written). As a result, it is up to anyone who uses it to check the guide and tailor it to the needs of their own service users.

While the guide cannot cover all aspects of the changes, it will help to raise awareness of some of the most significant issues.  It also includes some of the places that people can go for support or advice if they need extra information.  If there are any further changes, these sources will have the most up-to-date information. We hope the guide will have some value during a time of upheaval and doubt.

Rachel Bowen, campaigns officer.