Ministers are to push ahead with plans to tighten eligibility for their new disability benefit, ignoring the views of the overwhelming majority of disabled people and organisations who took part in a consultation on the changes.
The changes, which will apply from next January, will see £1.2 billion a year less spent on personal independence payment (PIP) by 2020-21 than if they had not been introduced.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that the number of people claiming the daily living element of PIP will be 290,000 lower in 2020-21 than without the new PIP measures, while another 80,000 will receive the standard rather than the advanced rate.
The OBR figures differ from those published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which says the changes will affect 640,000 people.
DWP says this difference is due to OBR taking into account “behavioural factors”, for example claimants now being likely to provide more information about the impact of their impairment when they are assessed than they would have done without the PIP change.
Documents published by OBR this week suggest that the government probably decided to tighten PIP eligibility because the move from disability living allowance to the new PIP for working-age claimants was not producing the savings of 20 per cent it hoped for in 2010.
The OBR estimates that the probability of someone receiving DLA being successful when they had to apply for PIP as part of the reassessment programme has risen from 74 to 83 per cent, with a “significantly higher proportion of claims being awarded the enhanced daily living and mobility payments”.
The OBR document says this meant that – without the new PIP cuts – Osborne would have saved about five per cent in the move from DLA to PIP, rather than 20 per cent.
But it predicts that the PIP cuts will now increase those savings “back towards the original target” of 20 per cent.
DWP has insisted, though, that the change was solely to ensure PIP was “meeting the initial policy intent to support people with extra costs associated with their disability”.
The announcement of the tightened criteria came in the DWP response to a public consultation, which laid out five possible changes to how PIP assessments take account of the way a disabled person uses independent living aids and appliances.
All of the five options laid out in that consultation document would have either reduced payments for many claimants, or made it harder to claim PIP.
The PIP change will only affect those claiming the daily living component of the benefit, and will mean that claimants will receive half the previous number of points (two points instead of one) for using aids and appliances for washing and dressing, and for managing toilet needs.
But this will mean hundreds of thousands of disabled people will either receive a lower rate of PIP than they would otherwise have received, or will receive no daily living component at all, when previously they would have received the standard rate.
Of 281 written responses to the consultation, just 11 – less than four per cent – agreed with the government that any changes at all were needed to how the use of aids and appliances are considered.
Those who took part in the consultation, which also included consultation events, were hugely critical of the government’s plans, according to the DWP document.
Among their comments, they said the use of aids and appliances was a good indicator of extra disability-related costs; they questioned the “effectiveness and accuracy” of the PIP assessment; they said that all of the five options would have a negative impact on PIP claimants; and they said they believed that any changes would increase people’s need for support from other public services and could eventually lead back to increased spending on PIP.
The change will apply from 1 January 2017 to new PIP claims, PIP claimants who report a change of circumstances, and disability living allowance claimants who are reassessed for PIP.
Existing PIP claimants who do not report a change of circumstances will be affected when DWP reviews their current award, as long as that is after 1 January.
The announcement caused anger among many campaigners at yet another cut to support for disabled people, although some relief that the changes were not as bad as they might have been if one of the other four options had been chosen.
Ella Sumpter, who tweets at @latentexistence, said: “Not as bad as it could have been, but they’ve still just made disability benefits much harder to get. Again.”
Disability Rights UK criticised the announcement, but said the other four options the government had been considering “would have had a devastating effect on those claiming PIP”.
Emma Nock, co-author of the Crippling Choices report for the Spartacus Network – which concluded last month that the government had failed to provide “adequate” evidence to justify any of the PIP changes suggested in the consultation – said mainstream coverage of the changes had missed a “crucial point”.
In a Spartacus blog, Nock pointed out that the small number of daily living activities covered by the PIP assessment act as a proxy for all the problems a disabled person could be facing, which was why it was important to keep the points for the use of aids and appliances as they were.
She said: “A person who needs to sit down while dressing likely has balance, mobility or strength issues that limit their capacity to engage in other household activities.
“They may struggle to lift a load of wet laundry out of the washing machine or to move around the kitchen while cooking and cleaning up afterwards. Neither of these activities are considered in the PIP assessment.”
Justin Tomlinson (pictured), the minister for disabled people, said the change was justified because many people were being found eligible for PIP “despite having minimal to no extra costs”, while the courts had “expanded the criteria for aids and appliances to include items we would expect people to have in their homes already”.
He said: “We consulted widely to find the best approach. And this new change will ensure that PIP is fairer and targets support at those who need it most.”
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith even claimed in parliament this week that the changes would “improve the lot of the worst off”, although he didn’t explain how.
When asked why ministers appeared to have ignored the views of 96 per cent of those who took part in the consultation, a DWP spokeswoman said: “We did listen. We are not implementing any of the first four options and are continuing to recognise aids and appliances in the same number of activities as before.
“When making a decision we took into account Paul Gray’s independent review [of PIP], reviews carried out by our health professionals as well as the consultation events and responses.”
But Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the proposals would cut another £1.2 billion a year from disabled people, only three days after the government had forced through cuts of £1,500-a-year to new claimants placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance.
She said: “In coming to this decision, the Tories are yet again ignoring the views of disabled people, carers and experts in the field.”
She added: “Labour rejected entirely the principles underlying the consultation; all of the proposed ‘options’ impact harmfully on disabled people and removing support for people who need help to use the toilet or dress is an attack on dignity.
“Tory cuts have already taken over £24 billion in support from disabled people. These further cuts would represent another huge blow, making life even more difficult for many people who are already facing huge barriers.”