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Earlier this month, Ceri Jackson was appointed as the new Director of RNIB Cymru. Here she writes about how tackling the numbers of blind and partially sighted people living in poverty will be one of her top priorities in the role.
I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to lead an organisation that I care so passionately about. Working with our members and partners, we’ve achieved so much over the last few years: from the successful campaign that led to the Welsh Government providing funding for the sight-saving Lucentis treatment, to eye health being made a public health priority in Wales.
Huge progress has been made, but there is so much that still needs to be done. Today we are launching a report, prepared for us by the Bevan Foundation, which highlights the link between sight loss and poverty. It is a shocking indictment of our society that a third of blind and partially sighted people in Wales are living in poverty. That means at least 33,000 people with sight loss in Wales living below the breadline. Today I want to state clearly and publically that securing the action needed to address this will be one of my top priorities.
Many blind and partially sighted people do, of course, lead full and fulfilling lives. There are people with sight loss from all walks of life who are successful in their chosen careers, with happy and active family and social lives. This, however, is only one side of the story. Sight loss can be very isolating; around half of blind and partially sighted people say they feel cut off from the society. For every one blind or partially sighted person you may see out doing their shopping, going for a walk, or having a meal with friends, there are four who have not left their house all week. I believe we have a moral obligation to ensure that this does not continue.
Today’s report shows how blind and partially sighted people are multipley disadvantaged by low rates of employment, low pay for those in employment, wide-spread underclaiming of welfare benefits and income under threat from benefit cuts. It reflects a reality that RNIB Cymru’s Welfare Rights Officers see every day: blind and partially sighted people living without heating because they cannot afford to pay the bills; not leaving their homes because they cannot afford transport; people whose homes are becoming unsafe to live in because they cannot afford basic repairs.
The Welsh Government has shown it’s commitment to tackling poverty through it’s Tackling Poverty Action Plan. Although it contains some important general actions, more needs to be done to take into account the specific needs of blind and partially sighted people. Providing the advice and support needed to ensure people claim the welfare benefits they’re entitled to is critical to maximising the incomes of many people with sight loss. Last year alone, our Welfare Rights Officers supported over 700 people to claim over £1.2m in unclaimed benefits, money that is transforming lives and lifting people out of poverty. Due to lack of funding, however, this service only available in some parts of Wales, meaning there are many others who are denied the specialist support they need.
We must do more to break this cruel link between sight loss and poverty. I will be seeking a meeting with Welsh Government to discuss the recommendations contained within our report, and to identify how we can work together to support some of those most in need of our help.
download your copy of the report here
Ceri Jackson is Director of RNIB Cymru