The disabled activists behind a ground-breaking report that accused the government of misleading parliament over its welfare reforms say major concessions agreed by a coalition minister are a victory for disabled people.
As peers prepared again to consider plans to scrap disability living allowance (DLA) for working-age people and replace it with a new personal independence payment (PIP), they were swamped with letters and emails from disabled people begging them to think again.
Meanwhile, more than 100 disabled people sent their stories to the Spartacus-Stories blog describing how important DLA was to them.
It was all part of a continuing campaign around last week’s Responsible Reform report – otherwise known as the Spartacus Report – which was researched, funded and published by disabled people.
The authors of the report were behind an amendment to the welfare reform bill, proposed by the disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.
Her amendment – defeated by just 16 votes – called on the government to delay its plans to scrap DLA, and carry out an independent review of the new PIP assessment, including a full trial, before it was introduced.
Baroness Grey-Thompson said the government had only published details of the planned eligibility thresholds for PIP the previous day (16 January) and so had not given peers time to examine how disabled people would lose out.
She demanded a vote on the amendment because of “the social cost… to the lives of disabled people”.
Her fellow disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low said the current proposals for the PIP assessment “could cost as much in long-term NHS social care and tribunal costs as they save, to say nothing of the distress and hardship that certainly will be caused to individuals”.
The previous day, the Conservative welfare reform minister Lord Freud had written to peers dismissing the Responsible Reform report, failing to respond to its key points, and claiming that it “grossly misrepresents the way the DWP has been conducting disability reform thus far”.
But just 24 hours later, in order to avoid another embarrassing defeat over his bill – this time on the amendment drafted by the report’s authors – he was forced to make a number of humiliating concessions.
He promised that all of the details around PIP and its eligibility criteria – which will be added through regulations over the coming months – will have to be agreed in full by both the Commons and the Lords through what is known as an “affirmative procedure”.
Lord Freud also agreed to limit the number of new claimants to “a few thousand per month” for the first few months of PIP’s implementation, while he said the government would not start reassessing existing DLA claimants until about six months later, from the autumn of 2013.
He said: “As well as getting the whole development process right, I recognise the value in moving away from a big-bang approach to implementation which would see both new claims and reassessments beginning in April 2013.”
In yet another concession, he agreed to increase the number of independent reviews of PIP, now pledging to have two within its first four years, with a third after that if needed, rather than just the one previously promised.
Lord Freud said this entire process essentially amounted to a trial of the new PIP system.
But he claimed the cost of accepting the amendment in full – and delaying the reforms – would reach £1.4 billion.
Despite the lengthy list of concessions, the government still won the vote on the amendment by just 16 votes, with only two Liberal Democrat peers voting against the coalition.
In her blog the following day, Sue Marsh – one of the disabled activists behind Responsible Reform – said the concessions were the result of the “truly extraordinary” pressure that disabled people had exerted on the government and peers.
She said that although PIP was not halted in its tracks, the government was forced to make “very considerable compromises to avoid another embarrassing defeat” and would certainly have lost the vote if it hadn’t made those concessions.
Marsh said Lord Freud’s agreement to use the affirmative procedure was “a huge concession” and “means the government cannot sneak unfit plans through without the agreement of parliament”.
18 January 2012