The government has been accused of “incompetence” after it finally abandoned plans to remove mobility support from disabled people in residential homes.
The decision was announced today by Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, following months of criticism and campaigning by disabled activists.
The plan to save £160 million by removing the mobility component of the personal independence payment (PIP) – the planned replacement for disability living allowance (DLA) – from 78,000 people in state-funded residential care was one of the most controversial of the coalition’s package of welfare reforms.
Miller had already announced that the removal of the mobility component of DLA would not go ahead as originally planned in October 2012, but she had refused to confirm whether the measure would be applied to the new PIP on its introduction in 2013.
She said she reached the decision following “months of consultation” with disabled people and disability organisations, and had taken into account a review of mobility in residential care that was fronted by the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low.
Miller had argued that the reason for removing the mobility component was that many disabled people already received mobility funding through their council care packages.
Announcing the u-turn, she insisted that local authorities dealt with mobility in “very different ways” but claimed she had “always been clear” that she “would not make any change that would stop disabled people from getting out and about”.
But Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “The change in the government’s position demonstrates a certain level of incompetence in the initial decision to target this bit of DLA for cuts.
“The fear we have is that that same lack of understanding is replicated in the broader cuts to disabled people’s support.”
Ju Gosling, co-chair of Regard, the national organisation of disabled lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, welcomed the government u-turn.
She said: “Without mobility allowance, LGBT disabled people would have faced being completely cut off from their communities.”
But she added: “We are delighted that the government has finally seen sense. However, this underlines the fact that the months of appalling worry caused to both current and future care home residents could have been avoided.”
The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg also welcomed the announcement as “the right decision”, but added: “They shouldn’t have made the original decision in the first place.”
And she said she feared the energy of campaigners had been diverted from opposing other “quite nasty” measures in the welfare reform bill.
Anne McGuire, the shadow minister for disabled people, said: “This particular issue should never have been included in the welfare reform package. It was obvious right from the beginning that the government’s position was unsustainable.”
She added: “I hope this success will not allow the government to get off the hook on some of the other major issues which will impact on disabled people in the welfare reform legislation.”
Disabled activists will now turn their attention to some of these other deeply unpopular measures in the welfare reform bill, particularly around DLA reform, including cuts of 20 per cent to DLA spending, and cuts to employment and support allowance.
Meanwhile, Miller has been rebuked by the Commons speaker, John Bercow, for announcing the mobility component u-turn in an interview in The Times newspaper, days before informing MPs.
Bercow said that “policy announcements should first be made in the House and not through the newspapers. I understand the very real concern that exists on this matter because it is shared by me…”
The next stage of the welfare reform bill – the report stage in the House of Lords – is due to begin on 12 December.
1 December 2011