Disability organisations have given a cool reception to a government document that pledges sweeping changes to the benefits system.
Although the plans outlined in 21st Century Welfare are lacking in detail and include several options for reform, they focus on a new “Universal Credit”, which would replace a range of benefits and tax credits with a single payment.
Launching a consultation on the plans, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said he was proposing a “fundamental change” to the welfare system, and promised to “end the culture of worklessness and dependency”.
The government claims the new system would provide greater incentives to work by changing the way in which benefits are reduced as incomes rise and allowing people to keep more of their earnings.
Disabled people unable to work would still have to undergo the unpopular work capability assessment (WCA), but the document says the government would not cut support for people “in the most vulnerable circumstances”, and there would still be “extra support for families, disabled people and carers”.
Disability campaigners pointed to the lack of policy detail in the document and are likely to focus their efforts instead on the government’s planned reform of disability living allowance, as well as pushing for improvements to the WCA.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “The aspiration to simplify the benefits system is a good one and one that Disability Alliance supports.
“Whether we think that this paper is the approach we would recommend is a different issue.”
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said: “Disabled people’s organisations will want to study the detail of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare proposals carefully.”
But she said the government had made it clear that it wanted to cut spending on benefits, increase means-testing and cut back on the public sector. “Iain Duncan Smith says he wants to ‘make work pay’ but the government is reducing the supports disabled people use to help them take up work and live independent lives, such as disability living allowance.”
Mark Baker, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium’s policy group, said there was too little detail in the document to comment, but that the consortium was “committed to ensure that welfare reform doesn’t impact negatively on disabled people” and that the government takes disabled people’s rights and interests into account.
The consultation lasts until 1 October. For further details, visit: www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/
3 August 2010