Wednesday, 11 January 2012

DLA reform – Disabled people’s views discouraged and ignored.

As part of the welfare reform bill, the Government is planning to scrap Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replace it with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Rather than being a positive step reforming the benefit to make it better able to meet disabled people’s needs, the reform has been a mess from the start. The Government issued a public consultation that was supposed to inform their policy making but clearly were not willing to listen to disabled people’s views on the subject. The normal practice with a consultation where disabled people are expected to be consulted is to make the consultation longer than usual to allow all interested parties sufficient opportunity to respond. Instead the DLA reform consultation was two weeks shorter than usual and took place over the Christmas holidays. To compound this, the Government announced its policy two days before the consultation closed by publishing the Welfare Reform Bill.

The Government has previous on this – announcing Housing policy the day their consultation closed - A report published on Monday written and researched by a group of concerned disabled people has examined the responses to this consultation. The “Responsible Reform” report showed that the Government’s official response to the consultation misrepresented the input they received. The vast majority of respondents to the consultations warned of the problems that would be caused by the Government’s reforms. Whilst responses were in some case eager to see DLA reformed, they were also highly critical of proposals put forward by the Government. The debate around report can be followed on twitter on the #spartacusreport hashtag.

There are many good reasons why disabled people are concerned about the proposed reforms. The main difference between DLA and its replacement PIP is that eligibility for PIP will be based largely upon an assessment. This assessment closely mirrors the Work Capability Assessment which determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance and has wrongly stripped vast quantities of disabled people of their benefits causing the Government to have to hire more judges to deal with the massive numbers of appeals that have occurred.

People will moved from DLA to PIP by a centralised assessment process. Medical Professionals employed by the private sector will use a checklist given to them by the government rather than people trained in working with disabled people and how their disability affects them. The overall answer the assessment company must deliver is already set – 20% less money to go to the disabled. As the Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller has admitted part of the purpose of this assessment is to help the department achieve a 20% DLA budget cut. Rather than meaning that this 20% will be cut from those who are least in need of the support the assessment could mean that support will be cut from those whose condition tick the right boxes.

This will remove support from people who need it in order to carry out their daily lives. It may force people who rely on the support from DLA to allow them to work to leave their jobs. For others the lack of support will cause their condition to deteriorate forcing them to take more support from the NHS. The Poverty Truth Commission in Glasgow said “nothing for us without us” – the same message applies here – without the knowledge and experience of disabled people DLA reform will meet the Government’s wish to cut spending, the private company’s wish to make a profit but not the needs of the people the system is supposed to serve.