The government appears to have finally admitted that it could carry out an assessment of the overall impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people… if it had the right “tools”.
Ministers have consistently denied – despite evidence from their own social security and equality advisers, and independent experts – that it is possible to assess the overall damage caused to disabled people by their austerity policies on health, social care and welfare.
But now, in a response to a petition on the UK parliament website, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has suggested that its position has quietly shifted.
The petition was launched by the WOWcampaign – and is a follow-up to an earlier petition that forced a Commons debate on the need for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) – and has so far secured nearly 30,000 signatures.
As soon as the new petition passed 10,000 signatures, the government was forced to respond.
In this response, DWP argues that it is not possible, using its “existing analytical tools”, to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact of a range of policies on disabled people, because the “distributional model” used by the Treasury uses information from a survey that “does not have information on disability status”.
It also claims in the response that most analyses of the impact of welfare reforms only take “a static snapshot” of benefit changes, and take no account of the impact of supposed “behavioural change” resulting from the reforms.
Asked whether the response on the petition website meant that DWP now accepts that a CIA would be possible, but just not using the government’s current tools, a DWP spokesman said: “The government has been consistently clear that it is not possible to produce a cumulative assessment of the impact of policies on disabled people.
“Welfare changes since 2010 have included protections for key groups including those who need additional support as a result of disability.”
But Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said she was “appalled” by the government’s refusal to carry out a CIA.
She said: “It is simply incorrect for the minister to state that only one model can be used to analyse the effects of a policy, and I understand the Equality and Human Rights Commission have been in correspondence with the DWP on this issue.
“Disabled people deserve to know the impact of the government’s policies on their lives and I will continue to press ministers to produce a full cumulative impact assessment.”
Disabled actor and comedian Francesca Martinez, speaking for the WOWcampaign, said: “The government have once again shown how little they care about investigating the impact their cuts are having on disabled people and carers, and how willing they are to continue to push ahead with their heartless ‘reforms’.
“Their response makes us more determined to challenge their policies and fight to protect the rights of everyone, regardless of ability. We will not give up.”
Green party leader Natalie Bennett said the government’s response was “totally inadequate”, and added: “The government must surely be concerned that the United Nations committee on the rights of persons with disabilities has launched an inquiry into the impact of welfare reforms.
“It needs to act to turn around the grave concerns that launched that.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives and a professor in social policy at Brunel University, said: “The government again demonstrates its preparedness to ride roughshod over disabled citizens in rejecting the call for a full impact assessment of cuts to support and social care.
“It talks up the importance of evidence-based policy and practice but refuses to act on its own rhetoric.
“Social care provision is in a parlous state and this is being made worse by ongoing cuts and welfare benefits restrictions. No wonder the UN is investigating the situation of disabled people in the UK.”
The campaigning grassroots organisations Pat’s Petition and Carer Watch said that welfare and NHS reforms, cuts to legal aid and to local authority budgets, and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, were placing “unbearable pressure on families”.
They said: “We believe the breakneck speed from the government to be dangerous, especially taking into account that no-one within government has assessed the cumulative effect of all these changes.”
In July, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that the chancellor, George Osborne, had refused to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact of his summer budget and his next spending review – due later this month – despite being urged to do so by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The EHRC and the social security advisory committee – which advises the government on benefits – have both said that such an assessment could be done, despite ministers repeatedly ridiculing the idea.
Organisers of the petition say that Mike Penning, at the time the minister for disabled people, misled MPs in last year’s debate by claiming that the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) had said such an assessment could not be done.
They point out that the IFS has itself published research which includes a CIA, and that IFS has DNS that they do not know where the government’s views came from and that they “do think it is possible to do a CIA of tax and benefit changes for the disabled population as a whole”.