A leading disabled people’s organisation has warned that the new coalition government’s plans for welfare reform will further entrench poverty among thousands of disabled people.
Inclusion London also criticised the “Orwellian” language used by the government in describing its plans for welfare reform.
The government’s “sweeping” programme of welfare reform is based on measures in the Conservative election manifesto.
In its “programme of government”, the new coalition pledges to provide “help for those who cannot work, training and targeted support for those looking for work, but sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training”.
And it says it will re-assess “all current claimants of incapacity benefit (IB) for their readiness to work”, as promised by the Conservatives during the election campaign. Those found “fully capable for work” would be moved off IB and onto jobseeker’s allowance at a lower rate of benefit.
But Andrew Little, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “The proposal to ‘reassess all current claimants of IB for their readiness to work’ is, in Orwellian-language, a promise to slash the benefits of thousand of disabled people by changing the rules so they can be deemed fit to work.
“The result is predictable: poverty among disabled people will grow yet further.”
There are also question-marks over how the reassessment will work in practice, including whether all those on IB will be subjected to the strict new work capability assessment (WCA).
There was confusion during the election campaign, with senior Tory Theresa May suggesting there would be no exemptions, while her colleague Mark Harper, the then shadow minister for disabled people, saying there would be exemptions, such as for those who are terminally-ill.
The coalition government will also adopt the Conservative policy of replacing all Labour’s welfare to work programmes – including Pathways to Work – with one new scheme.
Campaigners have already warned that “one size does not fit all disabled people” because of their need for more personalised support.
Claimants of jobseeker’s allowance “facing the most significant barriers to work” – likely to include many disabled people assessed as “fully capable for work” under the WCA – will be referred to this new work programme immediately, not after a year, as is currently the case.
In another sign of a tougher welfare regime, the government stressed that receipt of benefits for those who can work would be “conditional on their willingness to work”.
But there has been a positive reaction to the new government’s plans for reforming the access to work programme.
Disabled people will be able to secure access to work funding for any workplace adaptations and equipment they would need before they applied for a job. Currently, they can only apply for funding once they secure a job.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the move was “very, very welcome”.
She said campaigners had been pushing for such reform “for years”, and added: “That’s going to make a big difference, not only to disabled people but it will help reassure employers as well.”
Susan Scott-Parker, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability, agreed. She said the change “should give employers more confidence in recruiting disabled people, as well as giving disabled jobseekers more confidence when applying for work”.
20 May 2010