Six questions answered on the changes in the Disability Living Allowance

Coming into force today.

The Government’s new system for disability benefits comes into force today across England, Wales and Scotland. We answer six questions about the changes.

What system is replacing the current system of disability benefits?
The current system called the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being replaced by the Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) as part of the government’s welfare reforms.

What does this mean exactly?

This means that new people of working age who want to claim benefits because they have a disability will have to apply for PIPs instead of DLA.

Thousands of people in the North of England have already applied to the new system.

Northern Ireland is expected to join the new system later.

In October PIPs will be extended when the government starts to re-assess existing claimants whose circumstances have changed.

The majority of 3.2 million DLA claimants aren’t expected to be reassessed until 2015 or later.

How is this expected to affect the number of people who currently claim benefits for a disability?

Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) suggest that 450,000 will no longer be able to claim the benefit by 2018.

However, the charity Scope puts this figure higher. Including those who would have been new claimants between now and 2018, they say some 607,000 people will miss out on benefits in total.

What is the most notable change to the assessment process?

Previously, most people filled in their own application forms, and did not have to re-apply, even if their health improved.

It is thought that under the new system 75 per cent of applicants will be required to attend face-to-face interviews. During these interview people will be assessed on their ability to wash, dress and communicate verbally. The government say they will also test mental as well as physical health.

What do the critics say?

Charity Scope speaking to the BBC said the new assessment will be a "tickbox-style medical assessment", which will not achieve the desired objective.

"Disabled people believe this reform is an excuse to save money," Richard Hawkes, Scope's chief executive, told the BBC.

"It doesn't help that the minister is able to predict exactly how many disabled people will receive support before they have even been tested," he said.

What is the government saying?

"Seventy-one per cent would have indefinite awards, without regular checks," the disabilities minister, Esther McVey, told the BBC.

"So this is about targeting billions of pounds a year at the people who need it most."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.