Many thousands more disabled people than previously thought could lose their entitlement to disability benefits when the government introduces its new personal independence payment (PIP), according to a user-led information service.
The government has repeatedly stated that it aims to cut spending on working-age disability living allowance – and the number of claimants – by 20 per cent by 2015-16, through the introduction of PIP over the three years from 2013.
But welfare experts at Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS) believe the reforms will lead to a far higher proportion of disabled people in the county – and maybe other parts of the country – losing their benefits and possibly being forced to rely on local authority and NHS services.
They have calculated that – based on the government’s current PIP award criteria – between 2,000 and 6,000 of approximately 7,500 working-age disabled people in Buckinghamshire who currently claim DLA may not be eligible for PIP.
Andrew Clark, BuDS’ chair of trustees, said their “working estimate” was that about 5,000 of the current claimants – or 70 per cent – may not be entitled to PIP.
The proportion losing their benefits in the county is likely to be higher than some other parts of the country because there is a higher proportion of working-age people receiving lower rates of DLA in Buckinghamshire, with the government stating that it wants to focus support on those with higher support needs.
Campaigners have been warning for months that disabled people who lose their DLA will be forced to seek more support from their local authorities and NHS services.
BuDS is so concerned that it has persuaded Buckinghamshire County Council to set up a working party to examine the figures and try to predict the impact on demand for council services caused by the benefit cuts.
Of about 90,000 disabled people in Buckinghamshire, only about 12,000 are currently eligible for social care support from the county council.
Early calculations suggest that the number eligible for council support could double to 24,000 disabled people as a result of the cuts to disability benefits, at a time when the cash-strapped local authority is trying to reduce the number of people using its services.
Clark called on the government to carry out a “holistic” assessment of its benefit cuts and reforms on disabled people.
He added: “The actual saving through reducing incapacity benefits and DLA may well turn out to be negligible, or in fact turn out that it will cost the government money.”
He said that just one person visiting their GP because of anxiety or depression caused by losing their benefits, and being referred to the community mental health service, could cost the NHS as much as £500.
In April, Disability Rights UK (DR UK) published a report, Impact Assessing the Abolition of Working Age DLA, which warned that the knock-on effects of the government’s huge cuts to spending on DLA could wipe out every penny of its planned savings.
This week, Clark told a DR UK conference that there was a “fundamental misconception” at the heart of the government’s welfare reforms, because it was far more expensive to support a disabled person through NHS and local authority services than by giving them disability benefits.
He said: “If you take money away from disabled people and those disabled people become more dependent on the local authority and NHS services, the government are going to end up spending more money, except it will be through another budget.”
15 November 2012