Conservative conference: Concerns remain over benefits cap


Disabled people claiming disability living allowance (DLA) will be exempt from a new limit on the amount of benefits any “workless” household can claim, the government has announced.

But those disabled people who claim employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for incapacity benefit – and do not qualify for DLA will not be exempt from the new benefit cap.

In the wake of the announcement, disabled people’s organisations again raised real concerns about the impact of the government’s spending cuts on disabled people with one saying its “rhetoric of fairness” would “clash dramatically” with the reality of the “savage impact” of the cuts.

The chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his speech at the Conservative conference in Birmingham that “workless households” would be able to claim a maximum of about £500 a week in benefits from 2013.

But he said this limit – which will include benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, ESA, child benefit, carer’s allowance and industrial injuries disablement benefit – would not apply to any household that included a disabled person claiming DLA.

Osborne also told the conference that higher rate tax payers –currently those earning at least £43,875 a year – would no longer be able to claim child benefit by 2013, saving about £1 billion a year.

He said the welfare system was “financially unaffordable and morally indefensible” and “takes up a third of all government spending”.

He added: “The British people have a strong sense of what is fair and the British people think that if someone is disabled, then they should get all the care and support we can offer.”

But he added: “If someone believes that living on benefits is a lifestyle choice then we need to make them think again.”

He said the new limit on benefits would be “set at the level that the average working family earns”.

He added: “Unless they have a disability to cope with, no family should get more from living on benefits than the average family gets from going out to work.”

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said afterwards that she welcomed the recognition that disabled people faced extra costs caused by their impairments, so the cap should “not apply equally across the board”.

But she said it was too early to say whether this principle would be applied in a fair way by the government.

And she pointed out that because of the government’s DLA reforms, many disabled people currently claiming DLA might not be doing so by 2013 and so would not be protected from the cap.

Her concerns were shared by Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, who said he feared that disabled people with lower levels of need – who might lose their DLA entitlement – could be most at risk from the government’s funding cuts.

He said: “Those with the lower levels of need still have those needs. Those needs do not suddenly disappear.”

And Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the proposals were “really worrying” and would “deepen inequality”.

She said the Conservatives had used the “rhetoric of fairness” at their conference to “encourage people to go along with the cuts”.

But she said the government’s “slash and burn approach” to public services and spending would have a “brutal” impact on disabled people’s ability to find and maintain jobs, secure the services they needed and access benefits such as housing benefit, incapacity benefit and mortgage aid.

Kane said the Conservative rhetoric was “not likely to succeed” as it would “clash dramatically with the savage impact” of the cuts on disabled people’s lives.

7 October 2010