Councils could have to ‘pick up the pieces’ after scrapping of severe disability premium

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Councils could be left to “pick up the pieces” resulting from the government’s decision to ditch a means-tested premium for disabled people with high support needs, a shadow minister has warned.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has always made it clear that it plans to abolish severe disability premium (SDP) as part of its move to universal credit, which is gradually replacing six benefits with one single, monthly, means-tested payment.

But a parliamentary answer this week by the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson (pictured), appears to confirm that although SDP is being ditched as claimants are moved to the new universal credit over the next four years, there are no plans to provide funding to help cash-strapped councils meet the resulting extra pressure on social care needs.

SDP is currently set at nearly £62 a week, and is aimed at helping those receiving means-tested benefits with the extra costs of disability.

But Labour shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger was alerted by benefits experts to concerns that ministers appeared to have no plans to help councils fund the support previously provided through SDP.

Last month, she submitted a written question to work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, asking “what support his department plans to provide under universal credit that is currently provided by the severe disability premium”.

Tomlinson replied this week that the government had “determined that the severe disability premium was a payment for care costs rather than daily living costs” and so should not be part of universal credit (UC), and that “costs for care are picked up through the social care system”.

Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow minister for older people, social care and carers, told Disability News Service today: “These comments from the minister raise serious concerns that the social care system will be expected to pick up the pieces from the DWP’s decision to abolish the severe disability premium.

“This will put the social care system under further pressure at a time when it is already struggling to cope with demand.   

“Ministers must clarify urgently what additional funding has been allocated to local authorities in order to enable them to provide this support.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Care costs are covered by local authorities, the NHS or other benefits such as personal independence payment or attendance allowance.

“When UC was developed it was decided that the severe disability premium is a payment for care costs rather than daily living so would not be included.

“More severely disabled UC claimants will receive the same level of support that is provided under employment [and]support allowance.

“People moving from the current system to universal credit in the future will receive transitional protection and have their benefit level maintained.”

He added: “These issues were discussed by parliament when the Welfare Reform Act was debated in 2011 and 2012.

“The reforms removed complexity and duplication of provision in the welfare system for care costs.”

But he has failed so far to say if DWP will be providing funding to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to cover the extra social care support needs previously covered by the SDP.

He has also failed to say if DWP has had conversations with DCLG about how and when the change will be communicated to local authorities, and whether local authorities have been told that the support covered by SDP will now have to be met through the social care system.

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