Anjuli Veall is the social policy and campaigns manager at Parkinson’s UK
Thursday 12 January’s vote against the welfare reform bill was a key victory for disabled people, including those with Parkinson’s. In powerful speeches, peer after peer objected to the arbitrary one year time limit that was proposed for means testing employment and support allowance (ESA), the benefit that provides support if you are currently too sick and ill to work.
But there is still plenty of work to be done to rid this bill of basic injustices it proposes against disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.
Imposing any time limit for receiving contributory ESA for working age people effectively means the state would be abandoning the principle that by contributing national insurance the government provides a safety net if you fall ill. So limiting it to one year is both short-sighted and unfair.
Whilst the vote to change this to two years is perhaps just as arbitrary, it is a stay of execution. Yet the government seem set on removing even this crumb of comfort when the bill returns to the Commons.
Most people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed in their 50s or 60s, after a lifetime of work and of paying into the system making National Insurance contributions. When the government sent people with Parkinson’s letters saying their ESA may end in April 2012 following the bill’s proposals, the recipients’ anger at the injustice was palpable.
Voters could be directing their fire at their MPs if the government continues to push the Commons to a vote to return to the one year time limit.
Today, peers will debate the replacement of working age disability living allowance (DLA) with personal independence payment (PIP). DLA helps people with the additional costs of living with a disability, that can be considerable, whether you work or not.
The government has made little secret that they are aiming to cut expenditure on DLA by 20 per cent and just this week revealed that under the new criteria, half a million disabled people will lose out.
The introduction of PIP means that everyone who receives the benefit, despite medical evidence that people have a long term incurable condition like Parkinson’s, should routinely re-apply for these payments.
This is as ridiculous as it is costly. The reform comes with a staggering price tag of £675 million by 2016. This is mainly because, like ESA, it will heavily rely on face to face reassessments of working age people on DLA.
There has been widespread criticism of the ESA assessment system, yet the government seems determined to repeat the same mistakes. A fluctuating condition, like Parkinson’s, means that people have good days and bad days. We have real concerns how people will be judged if they are having a “good day” at the face-to-face assessment.
Millions of people care for those who are sick and disabled across the UK saving £119 billion every year in care costs. Carer’s allowance hinges on the fact the person being cared for receives DLA. So if you lose your DLA your carer could lose their carer’s allowance. This represents a double whammy of cuts for those who need the benefits most.
The Spartacus Report exposed how the government has ignored disabled people’s criticism of their welfare reform plans. There is an opportunity to reform these benefits without causing such anxiety and distress. Government should act upon the concerns of disabled people to spot where improvements could be made.
We will continue to fight these unfair reforms so that people affected by Parkinson’s get the help and support they deserve.
• Employment minister Chris Grayling does not appear to understand his own disability reforms – Daniel Elton, January 13th 2012
• DWP admits disability reform based on dodgy figures, as reported by Left Foot Forward – Declan Gaffney, August 11th 2011
• DWP faces legal challenge over welfare cuts – Neil Coyle, July 2nd 2011
• Government plans to cut DLA could cause extreme hardship – Sue Marsh, January 24th 2011
• Supporting disabled people not sustainable says coalition – Rosanna Singler, December 7th 2010