Car salesmen and disabled people unite!

The drive to reduce inequalities can find allies in surprising places.  This is the message in this very quick post on the latest report from the We Are Spartacus campaign in the UK – a grassroots group trying to draw attention to the impact of austerity on disabled people.

In their report ‘Reversing from Recovery’ released earlier this week, they look at two unlikely bedfellows – the car industry, and disabled people who are facing cuts in their benefits. The reason their fortunes are tied is through a charity scheme called ‘Motability’, through which disability benefit recipients with mobility problems can lease a suitable car. As many as 1 in 10 of all new car sales in the UK stem from this scheme.

Cutting this scheme, then, will have substantial knock-on effects for the car industry – and cutting it is exactly what is planned. The current ‘Disability Living Allowance’ (DLA) is being replaced by the ‘Personal Independence Payment’ (PIP), primarily to cut the budget by about £600m [minor rant: I still never understand why we don’t call it ‘Disability Extra Costs Allowance’, so that people understand what it is]. It’s estimated that 27% fewer working-age disabled people will get the particular benefit that entitles them to Motability. So this means about 30,000 fewer car purchases a year, and more than 1,000 car industry jobs lost – including in used car sales.

Moreover, a survey of Motability users found that many said that the cars were essential for enabling them to stay in work, or for their carers to work. Of the 96 survey respondents who said they weren’t completely unable to work/retired, 29% said that Motability had helped them keep an existing job, and 9% said that it had helped them get a job. Moreover, 6% out of the complete sample of 504 Motability users said that it had helped their informal carer get or keep a job. If we extrapolate this across the whole scheme, then Motability keeps 68,000 people in work.

Putting this together – the impact on the car industry (and their suppliers etc), and the people who are helped to work through Motability – Spartacus estimate that cutting disability benefits will save the Government £640m but reduce GDP but £660m, as well as reducing quality of life for disabled people and the people that help care for them. Which should cause pause for thought. Spartacus recommend a simple way of mitigating these difficulties: to change one of the qualifying criteria for the new benefit PIP, that entitles people with severe walking difficulties to get the type of PIP that entitles them to Motability.

And more generally, this shows why used car salesmen should be joining with disabled people in their concerns over the future of disability benefits.

[These figures are those given by Spartacus, primarily based on a report by Oxford Economics for Motability in 2010 on the economic impact of the entire scheme, including a phone survey of about 500 Motability customers.  As a caveat to the above figures, the Oxford Economics estimates should be thought of as ball-park figures, particularly when looking at the employment impacts of Motability (where we’re going on the respondent’s perception that e.g. they wouldn’t be able to work without the car) – but in the absence of other evidence, this is the best we have to go on. And you can read Patrick Butler’s typically excellent Guardian post on this here].

About Ben Baumberg Geiger

I am a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) at the University of Kent. I also helped set up the collaborative research blog Inequalities, where (after a long break) I am again blogging about inequality-related policy & research. I have a wide range of research interests, at the moment focusing on the role of social science, disability, inequality, deservingness, and the future of the benefits system, and I co-lead the Welfare at a (Social) Distance project (on the benefits system during Covid-19). You can find out more about me at
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