How the Disability Living Allowance is being reformed

A response from the Minister for Disabled People.

I was concerned to read the recent New Statesman blog about reforms to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which was based on a number of factual inaccuracies about the new benefit - the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). I’d like to address those inaccuracies to prevent unnecessary concern and hopefully address those the writer had for people in their care.

PIP is very much a ‘personal’ payment and recognises that everyone is different. Even two people with the same condition can be affected in different ways - so a key part of the new benefit is making sure that we have a fuller understanding of how someone’s disability or condition affects them.

Face-to-face consultations help us do just that and give claimants the opportunity to discuss in person with a healthcare professional how their condition affects their ability to live an independent life.

In the article, the writer expresses concern that some claimants will find travelling to a PIP assessment difficult and stressful. Not everyone will be asked to attend a face-to-face consultation – for example where there is sufficient supporting evidence available the assessment can be carried out on a paper basis. These decisions will be made case by case.

Your readers might also be interested to know that Capita are taking a new approach and will provide many consultations in a claimant’s own home. They also aspire to make sure that around 40 per cent of their advisers; centre hosts and administrators will themselves have long-term health conditions or be disabled.

The writer says that the assessment will prioritise testimonies from GPs, over other evidence. This is not the case. The decision to award the benefit will be based on all of the available evidence, including the claim form, the report from the assessment provider and any other evidence provided.

The writer mentions ‘Jane’ who has Parkinson’s disease - and suggested the assessment might be inaccurate and overlook the practical tasks she cannot complete and the social interactions she cannot have.

The new PIP assessment focuses on exactly that – the challenges that individuals face. Unlike DLA, people claiming PIP are given the opportunity to describe their condition both on good and bad days, and the new assessment has been specifically designed to better recognise fluctuating and mental health conditions. The assessment also looks at reading, verbal communication and how someone engages with other people.

The writer also mentioned her concerns about eligibility for the mobility component of PIP, specifically around the distances a claimant can move. The assessment will look at the claimant’s ability to move around without severe discomfort, and will also consider whether the individual can walk – or undertake any of the activities - safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period. This means, for example, that someone who can move more than 20 metres, but can’t do it in a safe and reliable way, would actually get the enhanced rate.

The writer also asked why people should be regularly re-assessed, especially if their disability or illness is not going to change. PIP is based on how a person’s condition affects them, not the condition they have. So although someone’s condition may not change, the impact it has on their life may do so. That is why we will be regularly contacting people to make sure they are getting the right levels of support as their needs change over time.

Under the current system 71 per cent of claimants get an indefinite award without any systematic reassessments and every year this has led to hundreds of millions of pounds of both over-payments – and more worryingly - under-payments.

Disability Living Allowance was introduced over twenty years ago and it was widely accepted by all political parties that it was badly in need of reform to better reflect today's understanding of disability. The new face-to-face assessments and regular reviews, which are missing under the current system, will ensure that the billions we spend on the benefit gives more targeted support to those who need it most.

We rightly continue to spend around £50bn a year on disabled people and their services and I am proud that we are one of the world leaders in the rights for disabled people with the UK spending on disability-related benefits a fifth higher than the EU average.

We are not 'moving the goal posts' to reduce welfare spending. Funding on this benefit will in fact increase over the course of this Parliament, and what we are doing is making sure every penny of the £13bn budget we continue to spend is targeted at those who need it most.

Esther McVey is the Conservative MP for Wirral West and the Minister for Disabled People at

Photograph: Getty Images
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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.