The National Union of Students (NUS) has criticised the UK government’s planned changes to Disability Support Allowance (DSA), arguing that the changes “will undo years of work that has helped open up higher education to disabled students”.
Under changes announced by Universities and Science Minister David Willets in April this year, and due to take effect in September 2015, disabled students will no longer see DSA funding provided for standard laptop computers, for specialist accommodation, for non-medical help or for help with learning disabilities that are not “complex”. The changes also seek to “rebalance” DSA by asking institutions to provide funding for non-medical helpers such as scribes or note-takers.
The government argues that DSA has become too expensive and claims that students affected by the cuts will already have access to laptops. However the NUS has pointed to survey data showing that almost half of disabled students acquire their laptops through government support funding, compared to only 8% of non-disabled students. Furthermore, 59% of disabled students remain worried about meeting basic living costs. The NUS also argues that the cost of DSA has gone down in real terms over the last eight years.
On Friday 6th June, the NUS held a day of action across the UK, with student unions and local students lobbying their MPs. In Norwich, the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) lobbied Conservative MP Chloe Smith and Liberal Democrat MP Simon Wright, asking them to oppose the planned changes.
Mr Wright, Member of Parliament for Norwich South (the constituency in which UEA falls) told Concrete:
“The current DSA scheme has been in place for nearly 25 years without a review. There have been enormous changes over that time, such as the introduction of the 2010 Equalities Act. In addition, wider ownership of computers has also allowed assistive technologies and software to be more commonly accessed.
After the changes proposed, students with specific learning difficulties with more complex support needs will continue to receive support through DSAs, and higher education institutions will support students with mild difficulties as part of their duties under the Equalities Act.”
NUS Disabled Students’ officer, Hannah Paterson, said:
“I have dyslexia, and the DSA paid for a voice recorder, computer and mind-mapping software for my undergraduate degree. I don’t think I could have achieved the grades I did or even completed the course if I hadn’t had this support.
The government can’t say that 50% of school leavers should go to university and then make this impossible to achieve. We are already seeing prospective students who are reconsidering their 2015 entry applications because they are worried that the changes will affect them.
Hard-up universities will be unable to support disabled students if they have to pick up the tab for support that the DSA has covered until now. These cuts will undo years of work that has helped open up higher education to disabled students.”