As the Welfare Reform Bill receives its Commons second reading today, cancer charities have joined the increasing chorus of those concerned about the potentially disastrous impact of the legislation.
As the Welfare Reform Bill receives its Commons second reading today, cancer charities have joined the increasing chorus of those concerned about the potentially disastrous impact of the legislation; here, Neil Coyle continues Left Foot Forward’s analysis of the bill. Neil is Director of Policy for the Disability Alliance and a Labour Councillor in Southwark but writes here in a personal capacity.
The Welfare Reform Bill confirms that Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment with a cut in expenditure of more than £2 billion. In the June budget George Osborne announced a 20 per cent cut to DLA. The benefit is paid to people with care or mobility needs whether in or out of work and was intended to help with the higher costs of living associated with impairments/health conditions.
DLA cuts were unpredictable: the 2010 Conservative manifesto stated DLA would be ‘protected’ and it seemed unlikely Cameron would remove a benefit announced under Thatcher.
The Department for Work and Pensions immediately balked at the chancellor’s statement that the cut would remove 20% of ‘caseload and expenditure’ – no doubt partly due to the PR nightmare of 360,000 disabled people immediately identified as the 20% caseload.
If an initial lack of clarity was a problem, things got far worse for disabled people trying to understand proposals.
The consultation to abolish DLA was hampered by incompetence: DWP failed to meet government standards on the length of time provided to ensure appropriate public involvement – despite the communication needs of many of the people affected; and the consultation included inaccuracies, including the claim there is no process for DWP to review DLA payments. IT problems forced the consultation to close after the Welfare Reform Bill’s publication.
The timing suggests the consultation is not valued and the approach has generated considerable anxiety – resulting in a petition for the government plans to be withdrawn until adequate time and analysis has been undertaken. However, the policy failings are worse given the potential number of people affected: it is estimated more than 800,000 will lose out to generate the £2.1bn cuts.
In June the government also announced that DLA mobility payments accessed by disabled people in residential care would be cut. These payments provide help with transport costs to see families, attend medical appointments and help some disabled people in work. In June DWP stated the cut would affect 50,000 people; by October this figure had reached 80,000.
This error demonstrates poor analysis of the initial decision which failed to consider the effect on disabled children in residential special educational needs settings. The cut may prevent parents collecting disabled children for weekends and school holidays. This will leave vulnerable disabled children isolated and excluded from family life.
In attempting to justify this decision the government has proposed competing explanations. These include accusing care homes of failing to meet regulatory obligations and likening care homes to hospitals. None of the explanations have yet convinced disabled people, carers, residential care providers, social service professionals or councils that resources will still be available to meet mobility needs when the cut is implemented in March 2013.
With the clock ticking, the situation looks bleak for the 80,000 disabled people and their families set to lose essential support. The coalition approach to cutting DLA expenditure has failed to adequately consider the impact on disabled people directly affected – or potential costs.
In the silos of Whitehall the cuts may appear achievable without impact. But it is extremely likely that DLA cuts will cause: higher NHS costs (including hospitalisation); greater need for council support (residential care); and disabled people and carers being unable to retain employment due to reduced financial or other support resulting in lost Treasury contributions.
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