Disabled people have been hit disproportionately hard by the government’s welfare reforms, a new report published by the equality watchdog has confirmed.
Experts commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) confirmed in the report that assessing the overall impact of welfare reforms and spending cuts on disabled people was “feasible and practicable”, despite ministers repeatedly claiming such a task was impossible.
Disabled activists and other campaigners have been demanding since at least 2011 that the coalition carries out a “cumulative” assessment of the impact of its spending and benefit cuts and other welfare reforms on disabled people.
EHRC has been working with the Treasury and other government departments – including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – to examine ways of “making financial policy fairer and more efficiently targeted”.
As part of that work, the commission today (Thursday) published a report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the consultancy Landman Economics, which concludes that it is possible to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of the government’s direct tax and benefit reforms on disabled people. And it provides some basic estimates of that impact.
The study also concludes that it is possible to assess the cumulative impact on disabled people and other groups of cuts to spending on public services, although its model for doing this is less accurate and needs more work, and it provides no estimates for the impact of these changes.
The report concludes that the impacts of the coalition’s direct tax and welfare reforms from 2010-15 are more negative for families containing at least one disabled person, particularly a disabled child, while these negative impacts are even more pronounced for low-income families.
It suggests that households containing at least one disabled adult face a slightly larger loss in income than those with no disabled adults. But households containing a disabled child face about two-and-a-half times the loss of those with no disabled adult or child.
The report, which also looks at the impact of changes in benefits and direct taxes by age, ethnicity and family type, found that the group that had been hit worst since the 2010 general election was lone parents.
Ian Jones, one of the founders of the WOWpetition campaign – which secured a Commons debate earlier this year on the need for a CIA – said the evidence suggested “a conspiracy at the highest levels of government to hide the effects of this government’s austerity programme on sick and disabled people”, which has seen that “one group are having their human rights attacked whilst another gets tax breaks”.
He said: “Many people have died whilst awaiting support from this government whilst stressed, humiliated and intimidated.”
Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, which began calling for a CIA in 2011, said: “It comes as no surprise to us that disabled people have been hardest hit by welfare reform.
“Since November 2011, we have been asking the government to pause and consider the cumulative impact of the changes.”
She called on ministers to listen to disabled people, carers and other campaigners and organisations that have called for a CIA, including EHRC, the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, other MPs, peers, and the government’s own benefits advisors, the social security advisory committee.
Campaigner and blogger Sue Marsh said the EHRC report showed that households with both a disabled adult and child would lose out by about £1,500 a year – or £7,500 over the course of this parliament – as a result of direct tax and benefit changes.
She said she believed that so many reputable organisations were now carrying out in-depth research in this area that the situation had now “changed fundamentally”, although this victory was largely “symbolic” because the government was never going to commission its own CIA.
She said: “It is enormously symbolic because we now know they could have done it all along.”
Mark Hammond, EHRC’s chief executive, said: “The best way to develop efficient and fair policy is to look at different options, and model their impact alongside other policy decisions being made at the same time.
“As we face a further period of difficult spending decisions, we all want to see our money spent as efficiently and fairly as possible.
“We will now be working with the Treasury and other departments to develop this work and considering how it could be incorporated into the 2015 Spending Review.”
At least four work and pensions ministers have now ridiculed the idea of carrying out a CIA, even though their own social security advisory committee said it can and should be done.
Mark Hoban, at the time the Conservative minister for employment, said last July that a CIA would be “so complex and subject to so many variables that it would be meaningless”.
Esther McVey also dismissed the idea, telling DNS that the information gathered would be “incoherent and inconsistent”.
Mike Penning, her successor as minister for disabled people, told MPs that a CIA was not possible because there were “no real results that can be broken down and are reliable enough to show the effect on disabled people”.
And welfare reform minister Lord Freud stated again this week, in a letter to the social security advisory committee, that a CIA relating to disabled people was not possible.
31 July 2014