“Threatening” new proposals to reform disability living allowance (DLA) are a “slap in the face” for campaigners who have tried to engage with the coalition government, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO).
In a searing attack on the government’s plans, the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) said they hinted at a “hidden agenda” to dismantle the support provided by the key benefit.
Sue Bott, NCIL’s director, said the proposals – launched this week by Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people – gave the impression that “virtually no-one is going to be entitled to the new benefit”.
She said the consultation document was “vague”, “rushed”, “half-hearted”, “full of contradictions” and disguised the government’s “hidden agenda”.
She said: “It comes across as the agenda is to abandon DLA entirely and to put in its place a dubious benefit that is not going to achieve the outcomes DLA has been achieving, and very few people will be entitled to.”
Bott said that proposals to take greater account of how people use aids such as wheelchairs, while removing eligibility from those “who don’t get support from anywhere else”, felt like “heads you lose, tails you lose”.
She said: “It just seems naive in the extreme, saying you have a wheelchair so you don’t have any mobility issues. I just don’t get it.”
Bott also warned that disabled people were losing trust in the new coalition government.
She said Miller had given the impression of “listening” to DPOs and attempting to understand DLA and the issues around it.
But she added: “What I was expecting in the consultation was not wholesale reform of DLA – because I think DLA works pretty well – but trying to improve assessment and trying to get better consistency of decision-making.”
She said it was clear that Miller’s views had been “over-ridden” by the Treasury, and added: “I think people will feel justifiably very, very angry.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), said it was “astonishing” that the proposals failed to mention the government’s intention to cut spending on DLA by 20 per cent by 2016.
He said there was no need for the new system and the associated costs of implementation, assessment and appeals.
He said: “The combined effects of the government agenda for DLA risks meaning disabled people are unable to participate, less likely to work and more likely to live in poverty.”
Coyle was also critical of the government’s decision to allow just 10 weeks for the public consultation – over the holiday period – rather than the usual 12.
DA has launched its own DLA consultation, which will examine disabled people’s needs and the “potential risks” of the government’s plans.
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the consultation document was clearly setting out how the government would cut the number of people claiming DLA by 20 per cent, which was “bound to increase levels of poverty”.
She said: “The way they are doing it is very severe. This is effectively a proposal to abolish DLA and replace it with something else.”
Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager, said there were “a lot of concerns about the proposals” but also many unanswered questions, such as how the government planned to cut DLA spending.
She added: “What is important to us is that if we have a new assessment, it should be less bureaucratic, with less red tape.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it was unable to comment in depth on the criticisms before the end of the consultation.
But a DWP spokesman said there would be a series of meetings with “stakeholders” in January, while the government had already consulted informally with disabled people and disability organisations.
And he said the new assessment was being produced in “co-production” with specialists in health, social care and disability, including disabled people.
Meanwhile, the government has admitted that 20,000 more people will be affected by the decision to remove the mobility component of DLA from most disabled residents of care homes.
Miller said the government now estimated that 80,000 people – rather than 60,000 – would be affected by the measure, which is set to be introduced in October 2012.
The figures were updated after the government received new information about care home residents who entered residential care before 1998.
To take part in the DA consultation, visit: www.disabilityalliance.org
9 December 2010