The government must do more to ease the anxiety of disabled people over its disability living allowance (DLA) reforms, according to a committee of MPs.
The work and pensions select committee report says the plans to scrap working-age DLA and replace it with a new personal independence payment (PIP) – and cut spending by 20 per cent – have caused “high levels of anxiety” among disabled people.
Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the committee, said many of those likely to be reassessed when PIP is introduced would already have experienced the anxieties of the work capability assessment (WCA), the eligibility test introduced in 2008 for the new out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).
And she said they may also face reassessments by their local council, over their eligibility for care and support services.
She said: “It is the same people who are getting hit each time. I am certainly concerned that the same people might have to go through numerous different assessments.”
The report, Government Support Towards the Additional Living Costs of Working-Age Disabled People, calls on the coalition to learn from the mistakes the previous Labour government made with the introduction of ESA and WCA.
Dame Anne said the new assessment for PIP – being developed by the government – would have to avoid the “mechanistic, box-ticking approach initially used in the WCA”, and that the eligibility criteria must take more of a “social model” approach that assesses the barriers disabled people face, rather than their impairments.
The committee says the government should not roll out the new PIP assessment nationally until it is sure – following a pilot programme – that it is “empathetic and accurate”.
The report calls for “tighter monitoring and regulation” of companies that carry out benefits assessments for the government, and says companies that secure the contract for assessing eligibility for PIP should be paid according to how few successful appeals there are against the results of their tests.
The report also calls for a more “responsible approach” by the government to releasing statistics on disability benefits.
Two weeks ago, work and pensions ministers were warned again – this time by disabled peers – that their rhetoric on disability benefits was fuelling an atmosphere of hatred and hostility towards disabled people.
Although Dame Anne did not go that far, she said: “I think the ministers could do a lot more in condemning the kind of scaremongering that goes on in the press. I have not seen evidence that they have condemned it.”
The report also calls on the government to assess the impact of the reforms on those disabled people who lose their DLA and do not qualify for PIP.
It says: “DLA is unique in providing a universal benefit specifically designed to contribute to the extra costs of disability.
“If it is removed from some claimants who still have these extra costs, they are very likely to need to draw on services provided by other public agencies [such as local authorities and the NHS].”
20 February 2012