Welfare reform bill ‘could breach human rights’


A committee of MPs and peers has suggested that parts of the government’s controversial welfare reform bill could breach disabled people’s human rights.

The joint committee on human rights (JCHR) – whose members include the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell – said some of the most controversial measures in the bill could contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

These include cuts of 20 per cent to spending on disability living allowance (DLA), a housing benefit cap, a proposal to time-limit employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement of DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP), and the introduction of tough new sanctions for those on out-of-work benefits.

The committee said there had been a “significant lack of clarity” from the government on how it would cut spending on working-age DLA by 20 per cent, while it had failed to provide “reasonable justification for the negative impact” of introducing PIP on disabled people’s right to independent living.

The committee also called for the proposed new PIP assessment to use a more social model approach, taking greater account of the barriers faced by disabled people.

And it said the government should trial the new assessment before it was widely introduced, mirroring a suggestion made by Baroness Campbell during a debate on the bill in the Lords last month.

Although disabled people who receive DLA or PIP will be exempt from the housing benefit cap, the committee said it feared that many disabled people who do not receive DLA – particularly as eligibility for PIP will be tighter than it is for DLA – may be forced to move house, leaving behind their adaptations and support networks.

The committee also warned that some disabled people found “fit for work” could face financial “sanctions” if they were not able to carry out compulsory work-related activity.

Although the bill says people will have five working days to alert the authorities of their reason for not carrying out this activity, such a deadline “may be unrealistic for people who are unwell”, the report says, and this could lead to “destitution”.

A DWP spokesman defended the changes to DLA, the proposal to time-limit ESA, the introduction of a housing benefit cap, and the plan to toughen sanctions.

He said: “The changes to the welfare system will protect those who need the most help, with more support, whilst encouraging others to take responsibility for their own lives and the lives of their families. Something the JCHR supports [in its report].”

He said the new PIP face-to-face assessment would “make sure people are getting the right levels of support”, and time-limiting ESA would bring it into line with other benefits, while those with lower savings would still receive income-based ESA.

He said the housing benefit cap would “bring fairness back to the system so that hard-working families no longer have to subsidise people living in properties they themselves could not afford”, while the new sanctions regime would “make the consequences of failing to meet requirements clear and robust”.

But when asked whether DWP believed these measures could breach disabled people’s human rights, he declined to comment further.

15 December 2011


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