The government looks set to tighten eligibility for its new disability benefit, just two years after it was introduced.
Activists this week described the move as another government attack that would lead to more disabled people being driven into poverty and despair.
A consultation document issued by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last week examines possible changes to how the use of independent living aids and appliances by a claimant is “accounted for” during assessments for personal independence payment (PIP).
The changes would affect those trying to claim for the daily living component of PIP in England, Wales and Scotland, but would not affect mobility component of PIP, which is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
Government documents have estimated that the number of working-age claimants would be cut by as much as 28 per cent by 2018, with 900,000 fewer people receiving PIP than if DLA had not been replaced.
PIP currently takes into account claimants’ need to use aids and appliances to complete the assessed activities, with two points – the lowest level – scored for most questions, such as “needs to use an aid or appliance to be able to dress or undress” and “needs to use an aid or appliance to be able to speak or hear”.
The government’s independent reviewer of PIP, Paul Gray, suggested last December that DWP should review how aids and appliances were taken into account in assessments, as some concerns had been raised by DWP managers.
A subsequent review of about 100 cases by DWP doctors concluded that “significant numbers of people who are likely to have low or minimal additional costs are being awarded the daily living component of the benefit solely because they may benefit from aids and appliances across a number of the activities”.
DWP concludes in its consultation document that this, and recent judicial decisions that had “broadened the scope of aids and appliances”, were “inconsistent with the original policy intent of awarding the benefit to claimants with the greatest need”.
It lays out five possible options for change: giving claimants who score all their assessment points from aids and appliances a single lump sum instead of a regular weekly payment; awarding such claimants a lower regular payment; removing their eligibility altogether; changing the definition of aids and appliances; or reducing the points awarded for the use of aids and appliances.
Disabled campaigners said the government’s move was simply a bid to tighten the criteria and cut spending on PIP.
Caroline Richardson, a member of the Spartacus Network of online disabled campaigners, said: “This is a clear attempt to further restrict benefits following the dramatic cuts set in place during the last parliament, and flies in the face of the stated reasoning behind the design of PIP.
“Spartacus Network will be seeking input from other disabled people and preparing a response to the consultation.”
Spartacus has launched a survey asking for views on the government proposals, which will feed into its response.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the proposals could take “very significant amounts of money away from people”, as they would lose not only PIP but entitlement to carer’s allowance and other passported benefits, while the changes would “significantly increase the number of disabled people affected by the benefit cap”.
She said: “Overall it is yet another cut that will push more disabled people into deeper poverty and despair.”
Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOWcampaign and petition, said: “When the Labour and LibDem peers voted against George Osborne’s tax credit proposals they must have realized he would have turned to his favourite target, disabled people, to deliver the saving he needs.
“We trust the peers will fight just as hard and effectively to defeat this new attack on hard-working disabled taxpayers.”
Disabled campaigner John Brennand said in a blog: “They clearly want to reduce the amount of money they are spending on PIP, and the easiest way to do this, and the least likely to have a massive amount of backlash, is to target people on the boundary of qualifying for the benefit.”
Nick Dilworth, co-founder of the New Approach campaign group and welfare benefits specialist for the website ilegal, said in a blog that the consultation was “all part of the Tories’ hideous and purely ideological plan to take a look at disabled people and say ‘you are not disabled at all’ and thus alleviate any responsibility for doing anything to help them”.
Another campaigner, on her blog The Poor Side of Life, said the plans were “unfair” and another attack on disabled people, adding: “I’ve yet to meet a disabled person claiming DLA or PIP that have been wealthy enough to be able to pay for all the aids that they need.
“On the contrary they often have to fight hard with social services or other organisations to get these aids that provide the essential support that they need.”
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, defended the consultation.
He said: “The criteria for aids and appliances has expanded to, in some cases, include items we would expect people to have in their homes already, have only a one-off cost associated with them, or are already available free of charge on the NHS.
“With 35 per cent of claimants for daily living allowance doing so solely on the basis of their use of aids and appliances, we think it is important to consult widely on this issue to ensure we’re getting it right, and we look forward to hearing the responses.”
The consultation ends on 29 January 2016.