student life

The real cost of DSA cuts, by a disabled student

From September 2015, the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) will only pay for support for students with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, if their needs are ‘complex&rsq

From September 2015, the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) will only pay for support for students with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, if their needs are ‘complex’. In real terms, this means that the necessary operation that I had half-way through my second year of university would have left me with no government support to continue studying. 

These cuts send the message that certain types of disability are more valuable than others; only some people deserve help.  According to the social model of disability, an impairment is a medical condition whereas a disability represents the social barriers that people with impairments face. DSA cuts reinforce disabilities and reintroduce these social barriers.

Without DSA it would have been impossible for me to succeed in higher education or further study. These cuts suggest that because my impairment isn’t on a list; I am not entitled to higher education, because I am more difficult to cater for than someone with a “cheaper” disability.

How have things changed?

Under existing arrangements, students are entitled to up to £27,405 per year for specialist equipment, note takers, library support and extra costs incurred. The vast majority of my DSA was a one-off payment, totalling about 10% of my entitlement. I was given what I needed to last the duration of my course. I couldn’t handwrite – they gave me a Dictaphone to record my lectures instead.

In 2009, I went to university with something that, under these new changes, would have prevented me from studying if I was applying for 2015. It seems like I was fortunate to be born when I was.

These changes affect everyone applying for any type of DSA support from 2015. Part-time study is a valuable method of attaining a degree for people with disabilities and the government are reducing access. Universities are expected to fund disability support with no extra funding allocated. These changes are essentially freezing disabled students out of education.

Nearly half of disabled students get their laptop through funding they received. 94 per cent of students agreed that the funding received was crucial essential to get computer software.

In my case, the DSA paid for a netbook light enough for me to pick up and use, and to have speech recognition software so that I could write my essays when I was too ill or weak to sit up. DSA paid for everything. Without DSA, I wouldn’t have made it to my lectures.

The expenditure per student in 2012-13 is no higher than it was in 2004-2005. The average is £25,225 less than student entitlement: more students are being helped with the same amount of funding. DSA cuts are happening because it’s “too expensive.”

What difference the cuts will make

Fact: Students with disabilities have a higher proportion of financial difficulty. I studied with minimal financial support from my parents and was unable to find work that didn’t make me ill. When I could work, it was near impossible for me to earn enough to support myself, study and stay healthy. To finance the support I needed to get my degree on top of that is impossible. I couldn’t afford text books.

The coalition government were already screwing over the benefits system, I was too scared to submit myself to ATOS assessments. Catch 22. Disabled students in higher education are already at a significant disadvantage. DSA starts levelling the playing field.

Hannah Paterson (NUS DSO) is someone who joins me in really understanding what difference DSA makes to people, having had similar support throughout her degree. “These cuts will undo years of work that has helped open up higher education to disabled students,” she wrote on Twitter. These cuts reverse social mobility. Drastically.

This is something I am shocked to state. The government are saying that people with disabilities don’t deserve fair access to education by making it impossible to provide, but not in 1960 before civil rights legislation – this is being said in 2014.

David Blunkett is a prominent disabled MP. I once shared a stage with him and gave a keynote speech about disability. He understands what disability means in the modern world. “This is a step backwards, 45 years… It would be entirely wrong for students with disability to become yet another victim of the austerity measures necessitated by the global banking meltdown and not by any logical policy process.”

DSA is a proven gateway to attracting students with a disability to university in the first place. Without DSA, I wouldn’t have a degree. As a female student with a 2.1, I’m supposed to generate an extra £264,000 in tax over my lifetime.

If I go onto a PhD in 2015 (as I would hope to) as a female disabled student, I’m being denied access, life experience, aspirations and career opportunities that were made possible by DSA. These DSA cuts mean that I’m going to have to cross my fingers and hope I’m healthy enough to study because help is no longer on the way.

Thanks, Dave.

Are you affected by these cuts? What do you make of them? Can they be justified? Have your say in the comments section below.