The Conservative party appears to be considering highly-controversial plans to means-test disability benefits as a way of cutting spending.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been told that participants in focus groups have been asked questions about which people “deserve” various benefits and what they think about the idea of means-testing “extra cost” benefits.
This is likely to mean benefits such as personal independence payment (PIP), disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA).
The introduction of means-testing could mean these benefits eventually being folded into the universal credit system, and payments in future only going to those with less than a certain level of income, savings and investments.
A disabled person who attended one of the focus groups last week told DNS she had been briefed in advance that it would examine the cost-of-living and inflation crisis, but the second half of the session focused on benefits.
Participants were asked to pick which groups, including disabled people, “deserved” the benefits they received, which groups they would remove benefits from “if they had to”, and which benefits were “too high”.
The questions about the “extra cost benefit” ended with a question on whether it should be means-tested on the grounds of “affordability”.
Although DNS has not been able to confirm that it was the Conservative party that paid for and ran the focus groups, there have been concerns about the possibility of a Conservative-led government means-testing PIP since the publication of its Shaping Future Support green paper, two years ago.
That green paper suggested that ministers could create a “new single benefit” to simplify the disability benefit application and assessment process, which could “provide support for disabled people and people with health conditions on low income and with extra costs”.
The then work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey then told DNS at a fringe meeting (pictured) at the party’s annual conference in October 2021 that merging PIP with universal credit was “on the table” as part of a fresh wave of social security reforms.
Just a month later, DNS reported how a Department for Work and Pensions civil servant had told a disability charity that the government planned to merge PIP with universal credit, although not for at least six years.
Last year, Tom Pursglove, the minister for disabled people, said in a written answer to a question from disabled Labour MP Marsha De Cordova that there were no plans to means-test DLA and PIP.
A Conservative spokesperson declined to comment on the focus group sessions this week.
Roots Research, which recruited people to take part in the focus groups, said it had no involvement in the sessions other than recruiting participants, and so declined to comment.
Neither the Conservatives nor Roots Research denied that the party had been leading the focus groups.
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