Mike Heal notes “the Government’s own watchdog has criticised cuts in disability allowances”

This week the Social Security Advisory Committee  criticised the Government’s plans to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is paid to almost 3 million people to help cover extra costs arising from their disabillity.  They also opposed the move to withdraw DLA from people living in care homes – who receive it to help with their additional transport costs.

The Government’s Social Security Advisory Committee made these criticisms in a response (published 24.2.2011) to the consultation on DLA changes.  The Committee backs simplification of the benefits system and welcomes the principle of giving disabled people greater choice by introducing a Personal Independence Payment.  However, it is “concerned that the aim of reducing the number of working-age claimants of DLA by 20% appears to be driving the need for reform of the benefit“.

It calls for “clarity” about the why the change is being made andd asks whether the Government’s aim is to “reduce numbers on DLA, reduce the length of time people receive it, improve its targeting or to achieve something else“.  It also says that “the proposal to remove the mobility component from people in residential care should not go ahead. This measure will substantially reduce the independence of disabled people who are being cared for in residential accommodation, which goes against the stated aim of the reform of DLA to support ‘disabled people to lead independent and active lives’.”

The Welfare Reform bill, published last week indicates that Government is looking to cut annual spending on DLA by “2.1bn from more than £12bn.

The Advisory Committee points out that research for the Department for Work and Pensions, published last summer, found conclusively that DLA made “a real difference” in assisting disabled people to manage their lives and contribute to society.

These criticisms echo my worries over Government’s plans in these 7 areas.

  1. Scrapping the DLA:  and replacing it with the Personal Independence Payment will include a new assessment system designed to cut the number of claimants by 20%, removing the allowance from 360,000 people.
  2. Scrapping the mobility component of DLA:  which pays for transport for publicly-funded care home residents and children in residential special schools will affect 80,000 people.
  3. Closing the Independent Living Fund:  will abolish top-ups to Council social care packages.
  4. Cuts local council social care budgets: are expected to average around 4.7% in 2011-12.  This has been done by increasing eligibility thresholds or means-tested charges, both of which will hit disabled people’s access to care and income levels.
  5. Cuts in the Supporting People budgets: on average Councils are planning cuts of around 17% this year.  In Swindon it is £586,000 in 2011/12  and affects sheltered housing schemes for people with learning difficulties or mental health problems.
  6. Cuts in incapacity benefit payments: will affect around 1.5m claimants following reassessment of their fitness to work using the “controversial work capability assessment”.  The Government expects 23% to of current claimants to be deemed fit for work.
  7. Cuts to housing benefit:  an estimated two million disabled people live in the private rented sector and many will be affected by the cuts to the benefit, including capping payments and cutting housing benefit levels by 10% for those who have been on jobseeker’s allowance (and many more disabled people will be on JSA due to point 6 above).

Compare this with the record of the Labour Government in these 7 areas:

  1. Legislated to protect people who may be unable to make decisions for themselves, through the Mental Capacity Act which provides safeguards to help people make their own decisions about their daily lives and to be supported to do so where they need that.
  2. Gave new rights to disabled people through the Disability Discrimination Act, and has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  3. Made families with disabled children a priority, with a total of £770 million in new funding for local authorities and primary care trusts to support disabled children and their families, to transform short break services, and to improve disabled children’s services and children’s palliative care.
  4. Helped the employment rate for working age disabled people to increase from from 42 per cent in 1997 to 47 per cent in 2010, with the gap between the rates for disabled people and the general working age population decreasing from 32 per cent to 26 per cent.
  5. Increased the Access to Work budget from £15 million in 1994/95 to £69 million in 2008/09 and £81 million in 2009/10.  Access to Work helped around 35,000 disabled people take up or stay in work in 2009/10.
  6. Introduced free nationwide off-peak travel on local buses for the over-60s and eligible disabled people in England.
  7. Established the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to act as a strong, independent champion to tackle discrimination and promote equality for all.

Under a Labour Government, regardless of the cuts required the disabled would have been protected.

Under a Coalition Government disabled people pay the price for the bankers deficit.

Mike Heal, Labour Candidate, Shaw & Nine Elms