London councils set to pose question DWP fears to ask


theweeksubLocal authorities in London are set to do what the government has refused to do, and commission research into the impact of the coalition’s welfare reforms on disabled people.

The research will look at the impact of three of the government’s major welfare reforms: universal credit, the “bedroom tax” and the benefit cap.

The decision by London Councils, which represents the capital’s local authorities, to commission the research raises new questions about the refusal by work and pensions ministers to investigate the cumulative impact of their own reforms and cuts to benefits on disabled people.

Only last month, Mark Hoban, the Conservative minister for employment, said that a cumulative impact assessment would be “so complex and subject to so many variables that it would be meaningless, helping neither individuals nor policy makers, and it would soon be incorrect and out of date”.

Although the London Councils research will not look at the impact of all of the many benefit cuts and reforms, the three it will be examining are central to the government’s welfare agenda and will have a significant impact on disabled people.

Universal credit, which is gradually being introduced, will see key means-tested benefits and tax credits combined into a single payment, but a report published last year, Holes in the Safety Net, concluded that about 450,000 disabled people could eventually lose out under the changes.

The “bedroom tax” housing regulations came into force on 1 April and financially punish tenants in social housing who are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes, with campaigners warning that it is leading to disabled people across the country facing the risk of eviction.

And the benefit cap, currently being rolled out across the country, restricts the total amount of benefits working-age households can receive to £500 per week, with many families set to lose hundreds of pounds a month.

Because of exemptions and other measures aimed at disabled people with higher support needs, all three reforms are set to hit those with lower support needs hardest, matching the prime minister’s pledge to target government funding at those who are “most disabled”.

Marie Pye, former head of public sector delivery at the Disability Rights Commission and now a Labour councillor in Waltham Forest and lead on equality for London Councils, said: “We need to understand across London what the impact of these three changes is on disabled people. We need to look at the reality of what they are doing to disabled people’s lives.

“We also need to try and identify the best practice among authorities that are trying to mitigate the impact and support disabled people, so we can all learn from that.”

Pye said London Councils had decided not to look at the impact of cuts and reforms to disability benefits, but to examine instead the impact of the government’s wider welfare reform agenda on disabled people, many of whom would not qualify for benefits such as the new personal independence payment.

London’s high rent levels also mean that measures affecting housing benefit – as all three of the reforms do – are particularly significant to disabled people in the capital.

Pye added: “I think it is absolutely essential that any analysis of the impact of welfare reform specifically looks at the impact on disabled people as a wider group, on all of us in our different situations.”

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the decision to carry out the research was “brilliant news”.

She said: “It is very welcome and we would be really keen to be involved.”

And she added: “We think it is very interesting that London Councils are doing it but the government is still insisting that it is too complex to do.”

A London Councils spokesman said the report was “currently at the commissioning stage”, with officers “writing up the criteria for shortlisting” researchers to carry out the work, and the report itself likely to be published “around Christmas”.

But he later sent a statement claiming – despite his own comments and those of Marie Pye – that “no final decision has been made on whether to go ahead with the research as it is still in the pre-commissioning stage”.

8 August 2013