Experts commissioned by the equality watchdog have told Disability News Service (DNS) that it is possible to assess the overall impact of coalition spending cuts on disabled people, despite ministers repeatedly claiming such a project would be impossible.
Disabled activists and other campaigners have been demanding since at least 2011 that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) carries out a “cumulative” assessment of the impact of its welfare cuts and reforms on disabled people, even though ministers have ridiculed the idea.
But the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been working with the Treasury and other departments – including DWP – to find a way to assess the cumulative impact of spending decisions on different equality groups.
EHRC commissioned the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the consultancy Landman Economics to develop and pilot a way of assessing these impacts.
The work is not due to be published until the summer, but Landman Economics has confirmed to DNS that, working with NIESR, it has been able to produce such a model and that it was “not actually that difficult”.
The confirmation will pile further pressure on Conservative work and pensions ministers, who have insisted that this could not be done.
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.
At least three work and pensions ministers have previously ridiculed the idea of carrying out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA).
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”.
But when asked this week by DNS to confirm that it was possible to carry out a CIA, Howard Reed, Landman’s director, said: “That’s absolutely right. It isn’t actually that difficult to do, as far as I can see.”
Although he was not able to discuss the precise results of the project, he confirmed that a report is set to be published this summer.
It will include an assessment of the cumulative impact of tax, welfare and other spending changes on disabled people and those with other “protected characteristics” during the 2010-15 parliament.
Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, which began calling for a CIA in 2011, said: “Pat’s Petition campaigned so long and hard for a CIA and we are delighted that it is finally happening.
“The idea that you could build a bridge without looking at the safety of the project first would be laughable and illegal.
“The idea that you can conduct a social experiment on the chronically sick, disabled people and carers, in the dark with no forward projections and then not bother to monitor the damage you are doing is beyond belief.”
Ian Jones, one of the founders of the WOWcampaign – which succeeded in forcing a Commons debate on the need for a CIA – said the chancellor, George Osborne, had vowed that “those with the broadest shoulders must bear the broadest burden”, even as he laid out plans to cut billions from the welfare budget in 2010.
But last year, he said, the Centre for Welfare Reform produced analysis which showed that disabled people (eight per cent of the population) would suffer 29 per cent of the government’s cuts.
He said: “The WOWcampaign believes Mr Penning is attempting to hide the truth of whom his government’s cuts are targeted at and hoping these questions all disappear as he knows the answers will embarrass Mr Osborne and the prime minister.”
Rick Burgess, a WOW co-founder but now working on abolishing and replacing the work capability assessment for the New Approach project, said: “Yet again the government and specifically DWP ministers are proven to be liars.
“A CIA is of course possible. What they don’t want to do is expose the truly devastating impact of their vicious policies.”
The EHRC this week published a progress report, Fair Financial Decision-Making, which welcomes progress by the Treasury in improving the analysis and consideration of equality in making policy, and discusses the NIESR and Landman work.
The report sets out further steps that need to be taken by the government to ensure that financial decision-making is as fair as possible.
Public bodies, including government departments, are legally obliged under the Equality Act to consider the potential effects of their decisions on equality of opportunity for disabled people and other groups.
The act – through its public sector equality duty – says departments should consider how any negative impact on particular groups could be reduced and how to minimise disadvantages faced by those different groups.
The report concludes: “Overall, the Commission welcomes progress made by HM Treasury on ensuring that equality evidence informs the decisions taken in the Spending Review process.”
The commission wants the Treasury to develop a way to use CIAs on different equality groups when making financial policy decisions and drawing up future spending reviews, including the review due in 2015.
In a blog published alongside the progress report, Jonathan Portes, director of NIESR, says it is vital to look at the cumulative impact of all the decisions taken in a budget or spending review.
He adds: “The Treasury does this already for income… but it does not do so for gender, age, ethnicity or disability.
“In my view, there is no reason, either in theory or in practice, why such analyses should not be carried out – and published.”
19 June 2014