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

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496