Disabled people in Basildon will die if a charity is forced to close later this month, service users have claimed.
They described DIAL as a ’champion of the people’, standing up for disabled residents ’mistreated’ by the Government.
Service user Christine Morgan, 56, from Basildon, warned: “I think for some people it’s a matter of death, or at least quality of life. I think there are going to be people who will actually kill themselves because they won’t have someone to talk to and fight their corner.”
Residents spoke out after DIAL announced it will close on April 21, after 31 years of service.
The charity helps roughly 6,000 people a year, but Basildon Council axed its £10,000 annual funding last year and gave it to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) instead.
DIAL said the cut amounted to five per cent of its budget, but losing local authority funding caused other backers to pull out until it became impossible to carry on.
One service offered by DIAL was to help disabled people appeal when Government assessments, introduced in 2013, wrongly declared them fit for work.
Southend blogger Jack Monroe has criticised the assessments, calling on politicians to investigate why more than 9,500 people died in the last four years, shortly after being declared fit to work.
John Morris, 50, from Thurrock, suffers from depression and anxiety and is also awaiting surgery to replace both his knees. The Government declared him fit to work. DIAL helped him appeal.
He said: “I’d been to not just my own doctor but also a consultant, who confirmed I am disabled. The consultant had actually x-rayed my body but what he said was discounted in the assessment.
“DIAL did my forms for me and helped me through. They were so good that at my last appeal, at Romford County Court, they were given a commendation by the people on the panel.”
Ms Morgan used to work in banks until she was struck down by chronic fatigue syndrome, now so severe she says cannot even open a can of beans. She was also assisted by DIAL after a Government assessment declared her fit to work.
She said: “I have to use a breathing machine but they said in my assessment that my breathing was okay. It’s like the Government thinks you’re lying because you’re trying to claim.
“DIAL wrote the letter to appeal. If you got turned down again, DIAL would fight for you again. They stick up for what’s right. Without them, I will be under scrutiny again and I know I won’t be able to fight on my own.”
A Basildon Council scrutiny committee challenged civil servants’ claim that CAB could offer the same service as DIAL, as did the charity’s bosses, but Tory councillors approved the cut anyway.
DIAL manager Jan Stevens said: “At CAB you have to wait for an appointment and then you have an allotted time. At DIAL you can walk in, or just call the hotline, and be seen immediately – and if needed, we will take on case work for weeks or even months.”
Service users said they did not believe any organisation could replicate DIAL’s work.
Mr Morris said: “They are fantastic. Without DIAL, people will be put through unnecessary heartache. Where else are disabled people supposed to go? Now we will have to basically go to court alone and be treated like criminals for applying for benefits. It’s absolutely disgusting.”
Ms Morgan said she believed the Government wanted services like DIAL shut down, to save cash.
She said: “I feel like I could just lay down and die – but then I would feel that the Government has won. I think DIAL will close down and the Government will think, ’That’s good’. I think they want us to die because that’s money they haven’t got to pay out anymore.
“It feels like DIAL are being kicked in the teeth for helping the most vulnerable people. If it was people who are able to make a real big noise, it wouldn’t happen, but DIAL deals with a lot of people who can’t fight back. They people who need them are ill and disabled.
“I hope there is somebody reading who can help – because it only takes one illness to knock everything. All your savings are gone and everything. You never know when it’s going to be your turn and you will need the help.”
*Mrs Stevens said DIAL had funding applications outstanding but was being forced to close before hearing the results as it cannot cover its costs in the meantime.
However, she said that an offer of free premises could provide a ’last minute lifeline’ in case those grants proved successful in a few months’ time.
Anybody with possible premises for DIAL can call 01268 285676