Thursday, 5 January 2012

Big report on DLA to be published soon

 This is one of my ongoing series of lunch time blogposts.

I happen to know from a very good source (e.g. the author) that there is a report entitled "Responsible Reform" which is due to be published soon - I'm not allowed to disclose the publication date.

The report will be about the government's plans to replace Disability Living Allowance with 'PIPs' (Personal Independence Payments). I don't know what it says but I highly doubt the evidence will be in the government's favour.

There's not much more I can say about it at the moment but I'll have a lot more details about it in the near future. What I can say is that, by the time it's published, it will have taken under two months to write and will have cost £4,000. Yet this is a report of comparable size and effort to that of a major think tank - which normally take £100,000 and up to a year to write and publish a report. Given that this is a report organised and researched mostly by volunteers, nearly all of whom suffer from disabilities or long term illness, I consider that a tremendous achievement.

But I also hope that this report won't distract from another issue facing disabled people which is just as damaging as the flawed schemed to replace DLA. And that other issue is the introduction of a 12 month time limit on how long sick and disabled people can receive contributory ESA.

As Caron says over on her blog (and I can't recommend you read the whole blogpost strongly enough):
At the moment, if you receive contributory ESA (based on your NI contributions), you get around £90 a week and are eligible for that until you reach State Pension age. Now, you will lose your entitlement to it after a year. So, if you work for 40 years and pay tax and NI for all that time, you will only, when you need it most, get a year's support if the Government plans become law. This will take effect in just 3 months' time.

That means that people who are too ill to work will effectively have to rely on their families to support them. Being ill is a pretty expensive business - if you need to have regular medical treatment there's transport costs affected with that. Also if your mobility is affected, you will need  your house to be warmer. Not want. Need. 

I think depriving sick people of the support they get from the State based on an arbitrary time limit is wrong. It flies in the face of everything I believe as a liberal in terms of looking at the person and what they need. 

Most people, thankfully, do recover from illness within a year but some don't. It certainly took me two years after contracting Glandular Fever to feel remotely human again and it's left me with continuing health problems. Luckily I didn't need to claim ESA, but if I had, I am fairly sure I'd have had problems proving eligibility because of the fluctuating nature of the condition. If Sue Marsh, who suffers from really severe bowel disease, has trouble convincing the authorities that she's ill, then we have to suspect that the system is very flawed. Sue isn't my only example. Four years of working as an MP's caseworker provided me with many examples of the wrong decisions being taken and overturned after a lengthy and stressful appeals process.

The best argument I've heard against the time limit was put forward by Ken Reed, the new Chair of RNIB Scotland. He and I were speakers at a fringe meeting on welfare reform chaired by Secretary of State for Scotland Mike Moore at the Scottish Lib Dems' Autumn conference. Ken said that if you became blind as the result of an accident today, it would take a year just to get used to being blind, let alone being ready to get back into the labour market.

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