Leading figures in the disability movement say they could stop cooperating with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if the government’s welfare reform bill becomes law.
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are becoming increasingly angry at the government’s failure to listen to their views, despite its frequent references to how it is “co-producing” its reforms with disabled people.
This week’s events in the House of Lords, with peers again approving plans to scrap disability living allowance (DLA) and replace it with a new personal independence payment (PIP) – despite some government concessions – have increased frustration among DPOs.
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCDP), said the disability movement needed to get together “urgently” to discuss whether to stop co-operating with DWP.
He said the government was using “tokenistic consultation” to misrepresent disabled people’s views on welfare reform in a “cynical and nasty” way.
He added: “Therefore I think the whole of the disability movement and allies need to discuss a strategy and review their involvement completely.”
He said the position of NCDP’s trustees currently was to fight the government’s cuts and its decision to scrap DLA, but also to work with the DWP on “improving and mitigating the negative effects of what they are trying to implement”.
But he said this position could be reviewed when the welfare reform bill becomes law.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said she believed there was “a crunch point coming” when the issue of DPOs’ engagement with the government would become “unignorable” and would have to be examined by the disability movement.
She said: “Ultimately it will be an objective exercise about what we have gained from this and where is the evidence that we are being listened to.
“We are absolutely up for having that conversation and I think we could do it in quite an objective way.”
She added: “We use every opportunity we can to get access and be heard because it doesn’t happen very often but I think there is an increasing unease about doing so with a government that looks like it says it wants to engage but then just carries on regardless.”
She said that last week’s Responsible Reform report – which showed that the views of DPOs that took part in the DLA consultation were not reflected in how the government reported back to parliament – “adds to the unease of DPOs”.
She said: “The evidence that the government has listened to us is pretty thin on the ground.”
Sue Bott, director of development at Disability Rights UK, backed calls for discussions with other parts of the disability movement.
She said: “I think there is still some scope for trying to have some influence on how PIP is going to be implemented, but I am also well aware that the government have used talking to DPOs for their own purposes.”
Paul Swann, policy officer for independent living for Disability Wales (DW), was one of the first to float the idea this week that the time might have come for DPOs to end their engagement with DWP.
He attended his first meeting of DWP’s PIP development group this week, and said: “Stepping into DWP was like going back 30 years. There was a very dogmatic approach and an unwillingness to hear the concerns that were being expressed.”
He added: “It seemed to me that in reality there is very limited scope for disability charities to persuade DWP officials to change anything at all.”
Swann is particularly angry that the PIP assessment will be based not on the social model of disability but on the so-called “biopsychosocial model”, which places a heavy emphasis on psychological explanations for impairments and has been heavily promoted by the insurance industry.
The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson this week proposed an amendment to the bill that would have ensured the PIP assessment took a more “social model” approach.
The disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, who backed the amendment, said she feared the government were “reneging on their commitment to the social model of disability” and risked undoing “decades of campaigning for and progress towards a better and more equal society”.
Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, admitted that it would not be a “full social model assessment” but instead would follow the biopsychosocial model, which recognised the impact of a range of biological, psychological and social factors.
He said Baroness Grey-Thompson’s amendment would delay the introduction of PIP by at least a year and add £1.4 billion to government costs.
Although Baroness Grey-Thompson withdrew her amendment, she said: “It is obvious to me that if the minister were truly committed to helping disabled people, the full social model would be used.”
19 January 2012