Fresh doubts have been raised about the impact on disabled people of government plans to scrap the work capability assessment as part of a controversial package of welfare reforms.
As part of their Transforming Support white paper, ministers plan to abolish the assessment and introduce a new “health element” of universal credit, with eligibility linked to receipt of personal independence payment (PIP) or disability living allowance (DLA).
But among concerns raised about the plans – which would see DWP work coaches deciding if a disabled person could carry out work-related activity – are fears that they will lead to a sharp drop in the number of disabled people eligible for extra financial support because they are not able to work.
Last month, Disability News Service asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in a freedom of information request to explain its insistence that the changes would be “broadly cash neutral”.
It continues to refuse to release the figures on which it bases this conclusion because it says the policy is “still in development”.
But, in its response, it also said its internal costings show that “broadly the same number would be eligible for the new [universal credit] health element as the number of those who would no longer receive an additional element”.
When asked to clarify this response, a DWP spokesperson said this meant that “the total number of recipients of a work/health element will be broadly the same after the reform as before”.
DWP has previously confirmed that any legislation to scrap the work capability assessment would not be introduced until after the next general election.
Ken Butler, welfare and benefits policy adviser at Disability Rights UK, said: “The health element proposals will mean that around 632,000 disabled people who receive the employment and support allowance or universal credit support component will lose this as they do not receive PIP or DLA.
“Are the DWP really saying that around 632,000 disabled people who receive PIP but not currently the support component will then replace them?
“This seems very difficult to believe, and impossible to check given the sparse content of official DWP universal credit statistics.
“As ever, instead of increasing trust and transparency, the DWP plays at smoke and mirrors.
“Whatever, there is no justification for reducing some disabled people’s benefit entitlement by the equivalent of around £4,700 a year*.”
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, told disability minister Tom Pursglove in parliament last month that his proposal to “essentially collapse the work capability assessment into the PIP assessment” would mean up to one million people with fluctuating health conditions, or those recovering from treatment, could lose out on up to £350 a month, which he said was “causing considerable distress”.
Ashworth declined to comment this week on the latest information released by DWP.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The health and disability white paper commits to removing the financial disincentives that exist within the current system by scrapping the work capability assessment, improving support and the experience for people when applying for and receiving benefits.
“These are the biggest reforms in a decade.
“That’s why we will take time to carefully consider how best to implement the changes – and give security and certainty to claimants, continuing to engage with disabled people and people with health conditions, and our stakeholders, as our proposals develop, before the reforms are rolled out on a staged basis.
“We will put protections in place to ensure that no one experiences financial loss at the point at which the reform is enacted, while improving our offer of tailored support to help people find and stay in sustainable work.”
*The annual equivalent of the universal credit support component rate
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