A coalition minister ordered civil servants to prevent two disability charities from attending meetings on how to improve personal independence payment (PIP), the government’s new disability benefit.
Officials ensured that representatives from the National Autistic Society (NAS) and Mind did not attend at least one meeting of the PIP implementation development group, before the minister backed down and allowed them to rejoin the committee.
Disability News Service (DNS) understands that the NAS representative was not informed about the ban until arriving for the meeting at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices in Whitehall, and had to be turned away at the door by a civil servant.
The Mind representative was deliberately not invited to the same meeting.
The group was set up to offer independent advice on the design of PIP, which will begin to replace working-age disability living allowance from next year.
A DWP spokesman said: “It was a communication mix-up.”
When DNS questioned this response, based on information from several sources, he added: “I have given you our response. I have got nothing else to add to it.”
Mind declined to discuss the details of the incident, but Sophie Corlett, the charity’s director of external relations, said: “We haven’t had any official communication from the DWP to suggest that we were recently excluded or not invited to a meeting about personal independence payments.”
NAS declined to comment.
The minister’s decision is understood to be linked to government concerns about legal action – apparently backed by the two charities – that is being taken over the impact of the work capability assessment (WCA), the controversial “fitness for work” test.
Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, resigned in April from the government’s WCA review panel because he said the DWP was failing to make vital changes to the test.
Conservative employment minister Chris Grayling subsequently suggested that Farmer had been asked to leave because of Mind’s backing for the legal action.
Now government frustration over the court case has spread to its development of PIP.
The attempt to punish Mind and NAS for supporting legal action has again raised questions over the decision by disability charities – including some disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – to continue to work with the government while opposing many of its reforms.
Earlier this year, leading figures in the disability movement said they had been discussing a potential boycott of any further consultations, because they believed ministers were ignoring their views on welfare reform.
DPOs have become increasingly angry at the government’s failure to listen to their concerns, despite frequent references by ministers to how they are “co-producing” their reforms with disabled people.
7 June 2012