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21 January 2012updated 11 Sep 2021 6:32pm

These reforms will harm disabled people

Why is the government deaf to our concerns about changes to the Disability Living Allowance?

By New Statesman

With disability charities up in arms and a week of heated debate in the House of the Lords, are we any further along with protecting disabled people’s income from the cuts?

We have seen the Government:
– back-down on removing vital payments from people in residential care
– dropping plans to extend the time people had to wait to be eligible for disability allowances
– be setback in the Lords on attempts to limit benefits payments (contributory Employment and Support Allowance) to those who fall out of work due to a disability

So you might think progress has been made. But as we come to the dying days of the Welfare Reform Bill’s time in the House of Lords, the reality is the battle is not yet won.

On-going skirmishes amongst the Government and disability campaigners have come to a head this week over the proposals to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA), with a Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is accompanied by a new “medical” assessment.

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DLA was introduced because day-to-day activities cost more if you are disabled. This can include anything from increased electricity bills as a result of needing to run medical equipment; to having to pay for taxis because public transport is inaccessible. For disabled people, many of the everyday activities come with significant, often prohibitive, extra costs.

The new assessment, by the Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller’s own description, is an “upfront medical assessment”. But, research by Demos has shown that focusing on people’s impairments, rather than the costs they face, will lead to those most in need being left without financial support.

Campaigners are troubled about this critical flaw, and both disabled people and disability charities have presented alternatives to Government, but to no avail.

Disabled people and their families take no comfort in the Government’s persistence, and are worried that reform is laying the same foundations that led to the highly criticised failings of the fitness for work test (WCA), which tests people for Employment and Support Allowance, the successor to Incapacity Benefit. Of those people who appeal their WCA decision, 40 per cent are successful – a huge proportion.

At a time of change, it is more important than ever that policymakers reach out to their constituents, listen to the concerns of people who will be affected and build confidence in the direction of travel they want to take.

Disabled people are not convinced about the direction DLA is going, nor are they confident about the outcome of this reform. And with the reform being fuelled by a 20 per cent cut in the benefit’s budget and caseload (or £1.2bn) by 2014-15, who can blame them? The Government has worked backwards – devising policy and a much criticised assessment process that will allow them to achieve this target. A cut is never the right place to start a reform.

DLA is not perfect, and all benefits should be open to improvement and progression. But taking a hatchet to the budget and imposing a bureaucratic “tick box” assessment is not the way to go about it.

Disabled campaigners are tired of fighting. They want a place around the table. They want their voices and experiences to be heard by Government. And it is about time the Government raised the flag and called a truce with disabled people.

The reality is that if the Government rethinks its reform, and did not lead with a cut; it could genuinely save money, while also ensuring those most in need receive the financial support that this vital payment offers.

Marc Bush is the head of public policy at the disabled charity Scope