Ministers humiliated over cumulative impact assessment


newslatestWork and pensions ministers are facing acute embarrassment after losing their main excuse for refusing to assess the overall impact of their welfare cuts and reforms on disabled people.

Ministers have repeatedly insisted that such a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) would be too difficult and the results would be meaningless.

To defend their position, they repeatedly claimed that this view was shared by the “authoritative” Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

But this week – in a humiliating reversal for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – IFS published research which included just such an analysis, which looked at the impact of 35 benefit and tax changes on disabled people.

It was included in an updated IFS report on the “distributional effects” of the UK government’s tax and welfare reforms in Wales since the coalition came to power in 2010.

Once the package of reforms has been rolled out – including the delayed move from disability living allowance to personal independence payment (PIP), and the much-delayed universal credit – the report calculates that working-age households in Wales with someone eligible to claim disability benefits will see a loss of nearly £34 a week (or 6.5 per cent of net income).

This compares to an average of nearly £10 a week (1.5 per cent of net income) among other working-age households.

Although the research does not include cuts to spending on public services – because it believes that would be “very difficult” – IFS confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) that the report does provide a CIA. 

David Phillips, senior research economist for IFS, who wrote the report, said it was unclear where the government’s view about the organisation’s position on CIAs had come from.

He said: “We can’t find anything we have written down saying we can’t do a CIA. Perhaps someone asked us about it at one of our events a couple of years ago – at that time we weren’t modelling all the disability benefit reforms.

“Maybe it was an impression someone in government got from an informal conversation with one of our researchers.

“But we do think it is possible to do a CIA of tax and benefit changes for the disabled population as a whole.

“What we probably wouldn’t want to do would be to split results by disabled and non-disabled households and by income distribution at the same time.

“That’s because the way we model some reforms, such as the introduction of PIP, isn’t accurate enough to do that.”

He added: “We have looked at the impact of all the tax and benefit changes coming into effect between June 2010 and April 2015, and also looked at things that were meant to come in, but were then delayed – universal credit and PIP – so yes, it is the impact of a whole package of reforms.”

IFS has modelled the impact of tax and benefit changes both with the introduction of the universal credit and PIP and without them.

The report will further increase the mounting pressure on DWP to carry out a CIA.

Experts commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission are to publish a report this summer which will include an assessment of the cumulative impact of tax, welfare and other spending cuts on disabled people and those with other “protected characteristics” during the 2010-15 parliament.

Disabled activists and other campaigners have been demanding since at least 2011 that DWP carries out a CIA, even though three work and pensions ministers have previously ridiculed the idea.

Activists and opposition politicians say ministers fear that such research will show clearly how disabled people have borne the brunt of the coalition’s spending cuts.

Mark Hoban, at the time the Conservative minister for employment, said last July that a CIA would be “so complex and subject to so many variables that it would be meaningless”.

Esther McVey also dismissed the idea, telling DNS that the information gathered would be “incoherent and inconsistent”.

And Mike Penning, her successor as minister for disabled people, told MPs that a CIA was not possible because there were “no real results that can be broken down and are reliable enough to show the effect on disabled people”.

A DWP spokeswoman refused today (Thursday) to say whether ministers accepted the IFS’s figures on the impact of their reforms on disabled people in Wales; whether they believed a CIA was now possible; or whether ministers would now commit to carrying out a CIA by the end of the year.

10 July 2014