Lib Dem conference: Peer and MP suggest DLA reform fears are exaggerated


theweeksubTwo influential Liberal Democrats have claimed that the coalition’s disability living allowance reforms (DLA) will have a far less serious impact on disabled people than the government has predicted.

One senior Liberal Democrat peer told Disability News Service (DNS) at this week’s party conference in Glasgow that he believes there will be “nothing like” the number of disabled people the government estimates will lose support.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has predicted that 600,000 fewer disabled people will receive the new personal independence payment (PIP) by 2018 than would have received DLA if it had not been scrapped for working-age people.

But Lord German, the party’s work and pensions spokesman in the Lords, told DNS that the estimates produced by DWP statisticians were just “educated guesswork”.

And he said he believed that spending on working-age DLA would rise, rather than stay at current levels, as the government has predicted.

He said: “My guess is we won’t see much difference in shape at the end of it. My suspicion is that it will be nothing like the numbers of changes that people are anticipating. I don’t think these estimates can in any way be made to be accurate.”

He said the key issue was to ensure that the new PIP assessment was “right and appropriate”.

He said: “That’s what matters more than anything else: is the test good, accurate, fit for purpose and fair.”

Lord German said that once the “outcry” about the change in the PIP moving around criteria from 50 metres to 20 metres had been settled, “we can have high levels of confidence in the test itself”, although he could not give the same guarantee about the two companies carrying out the assessments, Atos Healthcare and Capita.

Stephen Lloyd, the disabled Liberal Democrat MP, told DNS that he was convinced that the Treasury would not allow DWP to make any further concessions on the change from 50 to 20 metres.

He said that this change had “come out of nowhere”, and that he had been “furious” when it was announced last December.

But Lloyd said that further changes had been made so that regulations now state that claimants who can walk more than 20 metres can still receive the enhanced mobility rate, if they cannot do so “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period” (SRRR).

He said he was reassured by the change to regulations and “cannot envisage” how a current DLA claimant could lose their Motability vehicle if they were able to walk up to 50 metres but could not meet the SRRR test.

Lloyd said: “As a regulation, that will ensure that the vast majority of people who are entitled to a Motability car on the basis of mobility will keep their car.”

And he said he had been furious when disability charities – after securing the SRRR regulation concession – said they still wanted to go back to 50 metres.

He said: “I would be delighted to be proved wrong, but the mood music from the Treasury has been an absolute, ‘No, we have given you the regulation, which is going to cover 95 per cent of people.’

“If I am wrong, I am wrong. But the mood music from the Treasury is that they are not going to budge.”

18 September 2013