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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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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