The refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions to try to assess the impact on disabled people of all of its welfare reforms has been exposed as a sham after new research was announced by the equality watchdog.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is working with the Treasury and other “key” departments to develop a way of assessing the cumulative impact of government spending decisions.
In its work plan for 2014-15, published this week, the commission said the project would promote “equality and fair financial decision-making” in next year’s spending review.
The project will build on EHRC’s “formal assessment” of the 2010 spending review – which concluded, in May 2012, that the Treasury may have failed in its legal duty to consider how some cuts would impact on disabled people – with the aim of ensuring that “the potential of future spending decisions to exacerbate or close equality gaps is given proper consideration”.
In February, members of the WOW petition forced MPs to debate the need for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of all of the government cuts and reforms affecting disabled people, after securing backing from more than 100,000 people.
The WOW petition welcomed the EHRC announcement and its “recognition that any assessment of the equality considerations flowing out of official spending reviews must consider the cumulative impact of these spending decisions on people sharing protected characteristics”.
Ian Jones, a co-founder of the campaign, said today (4 April): “Yet another organisation has called for a CIA of the effects of welfare reform on ill and disabled people.
“This government appears to be blind to the impact that its welfare reforms are having on ill and disabled people and the WOW petition will not accept without challenge their reckless willingness to pass into law welfare reforms when they have very little idea of what the cumulative actual effects of these reforms will be on people that share protected characteristics.”
John McDonnell, the Labour MP who led February’s debate and has backed the WOW campaign, added: “Overwhelmingly, the evidence demonstrates the scale of suffering of disabled people as a result of the cuts to welfare budget.
“The government must now address the widespread concerns expressed by religious leaders, voluntary organisations and numerous experts in implementing a full cumulative impact assessment of the impact of changes in the welfare system on sick and disabled people.”
The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the work and pensions select committee, told that debate in February that a CIA was vital because “no one knows precisely the full force of everything that may be falling on individual families and individual households”.
She added: “Unless we do that cumulative impact assessment, we will never know, and in the meantime those families and households are struggling to makes ends meet, falling into debt and having to make the choice between eating and heating.”
She said that disabled people had been hardest hit by social care cuts, the bedroom tax, and changes to council tax relief and housing benefit, as well as employment and support allowance reforms, and cuts introduced through the new personal independence payment.
The commission’s suggestion that a CIA can and should be carried out will be severely embarrassing to Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has consistently refused to order such research.
Other ministers have joined him in insisting that such a piece of work would not be possible.
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, helping neither individuals nor policy-makers, and it would soon be incorrect and out of date”.
Esther McVey also dismissed the idea, telling Disability News Service last year that the information gathered would be “incoherent and inconsistent”.
And Mike Penning, her successor as minister for disabled people, told MPs on Monday this week 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”.
But despite his comments, an EHRC spokesman said work on the project had already begun and that he believed progress was being made, although he did not know which government departments were working with the Treasury.
Inclusion London said it was “very interested to hear that the EHRC is going to consider developing new ways of assessing the cumulative impact of decisions by government departments”, although what those “new ways” actually were would be “crucial”.
An Inclusion London spokeswoman said: “For instance, will the ‘new ways’ have to be in a manner that the government ‘would like’ before the government acts on them?”
Philip Connolly, policy and communications manager for Disability Rights UK, said it was “very good news” that the commission was carrying out the work, and added: “I am glad the EHRC have taken it on. I am sure it can be done.”
4 April 2014