An “appalling” consultation has failed to make the case for “deplorable” government plans to tighten eligibility for its new disability benefit, according to new research by three disabled campaigners.
The research by Caroline Richardson, Stef Benstead and Emma Nock for the user-led Spartacus online network, concludes that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to provide “adequate” or “robust” evidence to justify the changes to personal independence payment (PIP).
The DWP consultation document was published on 10 December and ran until 29 January, and examined possible changes to how PIP assessments take account of the way a claimant uses independent living aids and appliances.
All of the options laid out in the consultation document would either reduce payments for many claimants, or make it harder for people to claim PIP.
For their report, Crippling Choices, Spartacus surveyed sick and disabled people about the changes, although they had to simplify the government’s consultation questions because they were so complex.
The three Spartacus authors say the results of the survey show the consultation was too difficult to understand, and gave people far too little time to respond – over the Christmas and new year period – while DWP failed to promote it properly to disabled people.
The Spartacus report concludes that the questions and options presented by the government were “complex, repetitive and confusing”.
And it says that DWP failed to provide “any adequate or robust evidence” for its central argument, that people receiving PIP on the basis of aids and appliances do not need benefits to pay for impairment-related costs.
Although there were only 61 responses to the Spartacus survey, because of the lack of time, there was “overwhelming opposition to all the options presented by the DWP” and a belief that the consultation was “simply a cost-cutting exercise, not based on research or an understanding of disability”.
The report points to a string of costs that are already not accounted for by PIP, including higher utility bills, specialist or more expensive food, and extra laundry costs.
PIP currently takes into account a claimant’s need to use aids and appliances to complete the assessed activities, with two points – the lowest level – scored for most questions.
But the consultation document lays out five possible options for change: giving claimants who score all their assessment points from aids and appliances a single lump sum instead of a regular weekly payment; awarding such claimants a lower regular payment; removing their eligibility altogether; changing the definition of aids and appliances; or reducing the points awarded for the use of aids and appliances.
Nock said: “The changes proposed suggest either an ignorance of the impact of disability or a wilful decision to ignore the truth.
“Both are deplorable in a government seeking to make changes that will have a significant impact on the people already suffering a disproportionate effect of the welfare cuts.”
Richardson, who has lodged a complaint about the consultation with DWP, said: “It’s clear from the options given in the consultation that the government wish to reduce the amount spent on PIP by reducing points available, and hence reducing both the number of awards and the level of the award.”
Benstead said the survey results were in line with previous research that showed the inadequacy of PIP and disability living allowance in meeting the extra costs faced by disabled people.
She said the consultation was “appalling”, and added: “We had to simplify the questions for our survey, as the consultation was so complex.”
Benstead said that researching the report in the timeframe permitted by the government had damaged the health of all three of its authors.
She added: “The very fact that the government considers the use of aids and appliances to be an issue is a shocking indictment of the government’s understanding of disability and chronic illness.”
By noon today (4 February), DWP had declined to comment on the report itself.
It also said it was “unable to comment on a complaint”, but a DWP spokesman said in a statement: “In terms of the consultation it will help to ensure that PIP properly supports people with the extra costs associated with their disability.
“It was promoted widely, with more than 80 disability organisations contacted directly.
“DWP officials also met with the Disability Benefits Consortium, which represents 60 disability groups, and held meetings in London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds and Edinburgh.
“In addition, each member of the Disability Charities Consortium was offered a meeting with DWP officials.”