Who's rushing on disability?
by Claudia Wood
Over the weekend the Disability Alliance – representing most of the leading disability charities in the UK –launched a legal challenge against the Government over its plans to abolish Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and introduce a new benefit (Personal Independence Payment – PIP).
The Government has claimed the legal challenge is jumping the gun a bit – that the Disability Alliance is second guessing the impact of the reform and spreading panic unnecessarily.
I would beg to differ. The Government has been very clear that the reform of the DLA has one overriding principle – to reduce the cost. The Government announced in is Emergency Budget – a year ago now – that the DLA bill would be cut by 20 per cent. That meant either giving less money, or giving it to fewer people. The latter seems to be the option of choice, as the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) was unveiled in December 2010. This floated various ideas including – having a stricter eligibility test (which the Government first called “medial”, but is now calling a more media friendly “objective”); having to be disabled for six months and likely to be disabled for a further six months before being eligible to claim (this may be reviewed on the grounds of it being a stupid idea); not having automatic entitlement to PIP like DLA currently has for particular conditions (e.g. those who are deaf blind); and only having two levels of entitlement, rather than three at the moment. It is likely those claiming the “low” band of DLA will simply get cut off.
It is true the PIP plans are not firmed up. But like NHS reform, the Government’s ‘listening exercise’ and subsequent amendments seems to be in direct relation to the level of public protest. For example, scrapping DLA mobility component for those in residential care was put on hold (not dropped) after a massive outcry.
So if the Government’s ‘listening mode’ involves testing the limits of what people will accept and then stopping just short of it, why should the Disability Alliance stay quiet until the plans have been set in stone?
I think, in fact, it may be the Government that is jumping the gun a bit.
Demos released Destination Unknown in October last year, which showed a very large impact of welfare reforms on disabled people. It amounted to a £9bn loss of income over the course of this parliament. DLA reform is just one cut of many that makes up this total, but our findings led us to one conclusion – that the Government hadn’t carried out a proper impact assessment of these cuts. It hadn’t joined the dots and realised that there would be a cumulative impact of several cuts to benefits, and to public services, that would fall on the same groups of disabled people.
Our further work, Counting the Cost, also showed that disability related costs, for which the DLA is designed to compensate, aren’t just linked to the level of a person’s need or disability. Other factors, like being unemployed, having unsuitable housing, relying on public transport, etc. also made a person’s disability related costs much higher. The PIP assessment seems unlikely to take these factors into account when calculating the level of payment and seems set on only looking at a person’s functional ability.
So who’s rushing in? The Disability Alliance – which is challenging a new benefit which the government has stated will cut £2.17 billion off of people payments by 2015 and not provide an equivalent level of support for the 652,000 disabled people currently receiving low rate care DLA – or the Government, which is pressing ahead with reforms without properly considering their impact or suggestions on how to improve them?