This weekend I was working on the launch of Responsible Reform, a report into the government's changes to Disability Living Allowance by replacing it with PIP and cutting it 20% in the process. The report has found that the DWP has misled the public and parliament over the changes, using incorrect statistics and claiming support for the changes where there was none and pushing forward with proposals that were almost unanimously opposed by respondents to a government consultation on the changes. The consultation, incidentally, breached the government's own deadlines by being two weeks short, poorly advertised and finishing two days after the DWP had finished writing their response.
This report still hasn't been picked up by the TV media but it really is huge news. Yesterday, the report launched with the hashtag #spartacusreport which was a top trending topic all day and gained support from people ranging from Stephen Fry to the Royal Association of GPs.
The government has already tried to dismiss the report as being unrepresentative and out of date. But it's not. The government's latest impact assessment comes from only a few weeks ago and is virtually identical to the previous one, showing that they paid almost not attention to the consultation at all.
And the report certainly isn't just a group of left wingers upset at the changes. Why else does the Conservative Mayor of London oppose the DLA changes? Why does every single sickness and disability related charity, including giants such as Macmillan endorse the report?
It’s simple, the changes are rushed and don’t make sense. To give one example, one of the changes will stop DLA being used as a qualifier for other benefits – such as blue badges. Which means that loads of entirely new assessments will need to be set up.
All of these people have engaged with the consultations by the DWP. They’ve expressed concern over problems and suggested alternatives. But all of them have been ignored in favour of a DWP assessment which lies and says that there is “broad support” for the changes when the responses to the consultation which clearly shows otherwise.
The fact is that the DWP wants to cut DLA by 20%. The cuts will come only from those of working age. As these make up 50% of the DLA caseload, that amounts to a 40% cut in funding to those affected. The number of people in need of help isn’t going to decrease, it just means that they’ll be less disabled people able to get the help they need.
And this switch to a new system will cost at least £600 million in admin costs – and that’s with the DWP assuming there won’t be any hiccups, which, inevitably, there will be. DLA is an incredibly cost effective benefit. A large number of claimants are in work and paying taxes – but they are only able to do so because DLA helps provide them with the assistance they need to stay in work, for example, helping to cover the extra heating costs caused by working from home. If they are moved off of DLA then they’ll be left unable to work and will instead become an incredibly costly burden on the NHS and social care services.
The government talks about a rise in DLA claims, but the majority of the rise in DLA is down to demographic changes – as the population ages that means more people in old age are living with conditions associated with old age, such as partial blindness, hearing loss, mobility loss, back problems, etc. There’s also been a rise over the past decade because this is a relatively recent benefit and it takes time for people to move onto it – in fact, a lot of the rise corresponds with a government campaign to get people on it because too many people were missing out.
And the fact is that there is very little room for savings – true, some people defraud the system, though that amounts to less than 0.5% of claimants, and some people are overpaid. But there are also people who are underpaid and the net result of the overpayments and fraud and underpayments is a net SAVING for the DWP.
Switching to an entirely new system will only cause a bureaucratic nightmare and damage a group of people who are already struggling on a daily basis with disability and pain and who are disproportionately more likely to be living in poverty. Disability campaigners and charities have suggested ways DLA could be reformed to make it more cost effective but the DWP isn’t interested. All they’re interested in is cutting 20% from the budget. And that’s why Responsible Reform doesn’t propose an alternative – there’s not enough time for that. These changes could be rushed through parliament in a matter of a couple of weeks and campaigners are desperately focusing all their efforts on getting a six month pause for the proposals to be PROPERLY consulted on and examined. That’s all they’re after. And they deserve it.