An influential committee of MPs has heard direct evidence from disabled people about their fears over the government’s disability benefit reforms.
Dame Anne Begg the Labour MP who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee, had asked disabled people to take part in the experimental session so she and her colleagues could hear the “real voices of the people that are affected” by the reforms.
One of those invited, Kate Gordon, told the committee about her fears over disability living allowance (DLA) reforms, and said DLA had “totally supported me to get into work”, while being able to obtain a car under the Motability scheme had “totally transformed my life”.
She raised the fear that wheelchair-users like herself who were able to wheel a certain distance would not be found eligible to receive the personal independence payment (PIP), which is set to replace DLA.
Caroline Richardson, another wheelchair-user, added: “Immediately you develop those skills you’re no longer disabled – that’s the inference of [the DLA consultation]document.”
She said the consultation document was “inaccurate” and that she could “go through it line by line” and “tear it apart”.
Dr Sharon McConville, who has a mental health condition and receives DLA, said she would probably be assessed as having “lower needs” under the government’s reforms and so would lose her DLA funding.
If that happened, she said, she could “quite rapidly fall into the category of the greatest need”.
Jayne Leak, who has autism, told the MPs she was “very concerned” that she was “one of those people that is going to be marginalised and fall out under the PIP”, and would develop mental health problems as a result.
But the Conservative MP Oliver Heald said that neither the development of new independent living aids nor the Disability Discrimination Act had stopped the “remorseless rise in the number of people claiming and the amount of money being spent” on DLA.
The second half of the session was devoted to concerns around the work capability assessment (WCA) – the controversial eligibility test for out-of-work disability benefits.
Among the concerns, MPs heard about the failure of Atos Healthcare, the company that carries out the assessments, to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people taking the test.
Afterwards, Dame Anne said the committee would visit Burnley next month where she hoped to arrange a “town hall meeting” to hear from disabled people who have been involved in the pilot scheme to use the WCA to test the “fitness for work” of incapacity benefit claimants.
16 February 2011