Disabled peers have secured a string of key concessions from the government on its controversial disability living allowance reforms (DLA).
Members of the House of Lords this week debated amendments to the welfare reform bill on government plans to abolish DLA for working-age adults and replace it with a new personal independence payment (PIP).
Although the PIP proposals are now almost certain to become law, the government has been forced to make a series of concessions around eligibility and the new assessment process that will be introduced alongside the new benefit.
One of the key concessions was the government’s decision to back an amendment by the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, which reversed plans to extend the qualification period for PIP from three months (as it is with DLA) to six months.
Last week, the Responsible Reform report revealed that 98 per cent of groups that responded to the government’s own DLA consultation objected to plans to increase the qualifying period.
In the absence of Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who was ill in hospital, many of the other DLA amendments were proposed by her fellow disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.
The former Paralympic athlete, who has become a key rallying-point for disabled campaigners opposed to scrapping DLA, called on the government to allow hundreds of thousands of disabled people with lower care needs – who are currently set to lose the support they receive under DLA – to claim a new basic rate of the PIP daily living component, to mirror the lowest rate of the DLA care component.
She said: “Disability and ill health do not just disappear, and the costs and needs of disabled people will be exacerbated.”
She pointed to the government’s own figures, published only the day before the debate, which she said showed that about 400,000 disabled people would lose support for care under PIP.
The disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins added: “In proposing to abolish low-rate care provision, the department [for work and pensions] appears to fail to understand or, worse, to wilfully ignore the genuine needs of disabled people and carers.”
Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, said that the cost of moving to a three-tier system for the daily living component of PIP would be “significant”.
But after he promised to monitor the impact of the changes on disabled people who are “really dependent on that funding”, Baroness Grey-Thompson “very reluctantly” withdrew her amendment.
But she told peers that she had received nearly 600 emails in the previous two days from disabled people “terrified of the changes that are going to happen”.
She also asked the government to force civil servants deciding PIP claims to collect evidence from the claimant’s own healthcare professionals, to avoid problems experienced with the much-criticised work capability assessment, the new test for out-of-work disability benefits.
Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “Without that requirement, there is a danger that there will be a two-tier system, with the poorest and most vulnerable claimants unable to afford to pay for the evidence themselves and, as a result, at risk of receiving a less reliable decision.”
Baroness Thomas backed her amendment and said its importance “cannot be overstated”.
Lord Freud said the government was “planning to meet the concerns expressed” by peers, but asked for flexibility in how assessments were carried out.
Baroness Grey-Thompson agreed to withdraw her amendment as she said Lord Freud had “moved further than perhaps I expected”.
Another disabled crossbench peer, Lord [Colin] Low – backed by Baroness Wilkins – proposed an amendment that would have forced the government to promise that disabled people could continue receiving PIP after they reached pensionable age.
After Lord Freud said the government would introduce regulations attached to the bill that would allow this to happen, Lord Low withdrew his amendment, although he said he was “not entirely convinced” by the minister’s answer.
A proposed amendment by Baroness [Jane] Campbell to change the name of PIP to “personal disability costs payment” was withdrawn, because of her illness.
18 January 2012