Rachel Watt is 42. She is severely disabled – she has multiple immune disorders – and uses a wheelchair, owing to a spinal condition. She relies on care workers coming to her home to help her move, eat and dress.
Over the course of five years of austerity, Watt has watched as two-thirds of her social care package has been cut. In 2010, just a few months into the coalition government, her local authority stopped her visit from a care worker who helped her get ready for bed.
Her domestic assistance was reduced a few months afterwards: to the cleaner, to hoover and dust her home, and eventually just the gardener, who kept the backyard from becoming overgrown. The following year, they cut her evening care call, meaning the end of her having a hot dinner.
“My social worker just said, ‘We can’t do it any more. We have to make cutbacks.’ What could I do?” Watt tells me, sitting in her adapted bungalow near Southampton. “They practically cut it overnight. A week and it was done.”
Now Watt, whose story is told in a report by the disability charity Scope, exists on one 45-minute care slot a day: a morning visit to help her quickly get washed and dressed. She has to give up £30 out of her disability benefit each week to help pay for this – the same amount as before her care was cut. She describes even holding on to a daily wash as a “fight”. (Her local authority suggested three showers a week would be enough.)
When her body is particularly weak, she can’t undress properly at night or move from her wheelchair into bed. On her worst days – without her evening care visit – she tells me she has to sleep in her wheelchair, in her clothes. She pauses, “It’s horrible. I don’t sleep easily, anyway. [When I sleep in my chair] I wake up in pain.”
This is the hidden face of Britain’s social care crisis: disabled people left without help in their own homes.
Read most coverage of the cuts to social care and it is easy to believe the crisis solely affects older people. According to research by Scope, 83% of disabled people in this country are now living without sufficient hours in their care package. That means being unable to get out of the house or waiting 14 hours to go to the toilet.
For the third of social care users who are disabled and of working age – with potentially decades ahead of them – their life is now a calculation on a spreadsheet.
Forget a social care system that helps disabled people to build a life – meeting a partner, going to work, having a drink with friends in the pub. A regular meal is now a costly luxury.
The biggest trick the government can play is the myth that any of this is inevitable.
It is not disability that’s forcing Watt to go hungry and sleep in her wheelchair all night. It is the political choice to gut the social care system.
From the guardian