The government misled parliament and the public about the scale of opposition to its reform of disability living allowance (DLA), according to a ground-breaking new report researched, written and funded by disabled people.
Responsible Reform is based on the first independent analysis of the responses to a government consultation on its DLA reforms, which ended last year.
The researchers used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the 523 responses to the consultation that had been submitted by disabled people’s organisations, disability charities and other groups.
They concluded that there was “overwhelming” opposition to replacing DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP) for working-age claimants, with only seven per cent fully in favour.
The new report also shows that the government has consistently used inaccurate figures – as revealed last year by Disability News Service – to exaggerate the rise in the number of DLA claimants as a justification for its reforms and cuts to working-age DLA spending.
But it also reveals that nearly all of the real increase in working-age claimants of DLA has been associated with people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.
Between 2002 and 2010, the number of working-age DLA claimants – excluding those with mental health conditions and learning difficulties – remained remarkably stable, says the report.
In all, 98 per cent of groups that responded to the consultation objected to plans to increase the qualifying period from three months (under DLA) to six months (under PIP); 99 per cent objected to DLA no longer being used as a “passport” to other benefits; and 92 per cent were opposed to government plans to remove the lowest rate of support for those with care needs (currently, the lower rate care component).
Nine in ten groups were opposed to plans for a new assessment, which disabled people fear will be far too similar to the much-criticised work capability assessment that is used to test eligibility for employment and support allowance.
But in the government’s response to the consultation last April, there was no suggestion that the vast majority of organisations were opposed to moving from three to two rates of the care component, or that 99 per cent of groups wanted DLA to continue to be used as a passport to other benefits.
And the government said that “many organisations” were opposed to the move from three to six months, when the true figure was a massive 98 per cent.
The government response also failed to point out that a huge majority of groups and organisations were opposed to plans for a new assessment.
The report was published as peers prepared to continue debating the report stage of the government’s welfare reform bill, which includes the DLA proposals.
Campaigners hope to use their new report to persuade peers to call for a delay of at least six months to the reforms, while the PIP plans are reconsidered.
Sue Marsh, the disabled blogger and activist who led the research, alongside Dr Sarah Campbell, said it was not too late for peers to halt the “deeply damaging reforms”.
Another contributor, disabled activist Kaliya Franklin, said: “Cutting spending on DLA will increase the burden on local authorities, the NHS and community services at the very time they are seeking to find savings by reducing eligibility, particularly for social care support.”
The report has been welcomed by disability charities including Disability Alliance, Mind, Papworth Trust and Scope, and by Sir Bert Massie, former chair of the Disability Rights Commission.
Disability Alliance said the government’s “mis-portrayal” of the responses to the DLA consultation was “truly shocking” and “could represent a betrayal of the process of consultation and engagement with disabled people”.
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman described DLA as “an outdated benefit” and said that the reforms would “make sure support is going to those who need it most”.
She said the DWP did not believe there should be a six-month pause while its DLA reforms were reconsidered.
But DWP avoided answering a series of crucial questions based on key parts of the report, submitted by Disability News Service, instead claiming that it was “working closely” with disabled people on the introduction of PIP and had “listened to their views”.
12 January 2012