The government has announced plans to tighten eligibility for a key disability benefit, which looks certain to remove entitlement from at least 360,000 disabled people with lower support needs.
Announcing a consultation on the plans, Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said spending on disability living allowance (DLA) had become “unsustainable” and “poorly targeted”.
As part of the reforms, DLA will be renamed personal independence payment (PIP), and will be “targeted at those disabled people who face the greatest challenges to leading independent lives”, she said.
A short equality impact assessment of the proposals warns that it is likely that “some disabled people with lesser barriers to leading independent lives will receive reduced support”.
The chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his emergency budget in June that the government would cut the 1.8 million working-age people claiming DLA – as well as spending on working-age DLA claimants – by 20 per cent by 2016, although the consultation paper makes no reference to this figure.
Instead of three levels of the care component of DLA and two of the mobility component, there will be a higher and lower rate for a “daily living” element of PIP and two rates for a “mobility” element.
And whereas disabled people currently need to have qualified for support for at least three months before they can receive DLA, this will now be extended to six months.
The government also warned that any claimant who “knowingly” fails to report a change that would have led to their DLA being cut could face a financial penalty or a prosecution for benefit fraud.
The new rules will take greater account of how a disabled person uses aids and adaptations. This is likely to mean that someone who uses a wheelchair will find it harder to claim PIP than under existing DLA rules.
The government will start to reassess all working-age claimants of DLA in 2013, through a new assessment. It has yet to decide whether to extend the reassessment to children and those over 65.
The consultation makes clear that medical “advice” from a healthcare professional will be “an important part” of the new assessment, which will take account of the “ability to get around, interact with others, manage personal care and treatment needs, and access food and drink”.
Far fewer disabled people – only those who are terminally-ill – will receive automatic entitlement to PIP, but claimants will still be able to use it to obtain a vehicle from the Motability scheme.
Miller pledged that the new benefit would remain non-means-tested and would continue to contribute to “the extra costs incurred by disabled people”.
She claimed the new benefit would be delivered in a “fairer, more consistent and sustainable manner” than DLA.
The consultation paper says that far more people are claiming DLA than had been intended when it was introduced in 1992. The original estimate was that 140,000 people would receive the lowest rate of the care component, whereas there are now 880,000 people receiving it.
The consultation ends on 14 February. To take part, visit: www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2010/dla-reform.shtml
8 December 2010