The government has refused to listen to the voices of thousands of disabled people who raised concerns over its disability living allowance (DLA) reforms, say campaigners.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week published its response to the consultation on its planned reforms, which drew more than 5,500 responses, including nearly 5,000 from individuals and scores of disabled people’s organisations.
The DWP confirms in the response that it will cut estimated spending on working-age DLA by 20 per cent in 2015/16, reducing it to the real terms equivalent of spending in 2009/10, which was £11.8 billion.
It has also said it will cut the number of working-age claimants by 20 per cent – although this is not mentioned in the response – as part of plans to introduce a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), its replacement for DLA. PIP is set to be introduced for working-age DLA claimants in 2013.
The DWP says it plans to pay the higher of the two rates of the new daily living and mobility components of PIP at least at the same level as the highest rates of the mobility and care components of DLA.
But it makes no such promise for the lower rates, or says what will happen to disabled people currently claiming the lowest of the three rates of the care component.
This will concern campaigners who fear the reforms will remove financial support for those with lower needs.
Despite the government’s efforts to persuade disabled people that it has listened to their concerns and will work with them as it develops the PIP, it has been unable to name a single change it has made to its reforms as a result of the consultation.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the government’s response to the consultation was “disappointing”, and added: “I didn’t detect any change whatsoever.
“Clearly people have expressed very valid concerns and although to some extent the government is recognising those valid concerns, it doesn’t appear to be responding in any way.”
Among those concerns is the “arbitrary figure” of 20 per cent cuts in spending, which she said was announced without any explanation of how such a figure was chosen.
She said: “You can’t mess about with people’s lives like that. People have needs.”
And she said the disabled people’s minister, Maria Miller, had repeatedly failed to explain what she meant when she said DLA was “not fit for the 21st century”.
Bott said DLA was “very progressive and supported by vast numbers of disabled people” and that she had concluded that the government’s reforms were simply a smokescreen for cutting spending.
She said the government’s plans for disabled people currently receiving lower rates of DLA were “definitely a worry”, particularly as they were unlikely to receive support from any other sources, as were proposals to increase the length of time people must wait before receiving support from three months (with DLA) to six months (under PIP).
Bott said the real impact of the reforms would not be known until the government released the “critical detail” on the new assessment process and eligibility for the new PIP.
She added: “I don’t think they are taking a truly transparent approach with us, or with parliament to be honest.”
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said ministers were meeting with disabled people and their organisations, but were not changing their policies as a result of the concerns they were hearing.
He said the government had used the DLA consultation to “cherry pick” the views it wanted to hear, and had ignored the criticisms of the disability movement and other disability organisations.
He said there was “nothing there to suggest they have done an about-turn” on any parts of the reforms.
Neil Coyle, director of policy at Disability Alliance, added: “The government’s decision to continue on a path which will deny help to thousands of disabled people and leave many more families in poverty is a bitter blow.
“It is hugely disappointing for the many disabled people and their families who have raised concerns with MPs and charities in an apparently vain attempt to ensure their voices were heard.”
When asked by Disability News Service whether it had made a single change to its plans as a result of the consultation, a DWP spokeswoman said: “There were a number of areas of the consultation where respondents were in agreement with our proposals and which we will now go ahead with.”
But when asked again whether it had made any changes to its plans, the spokeswoman declined to comment further.
7 April 2011