More than half a million disabled people are set to lose out financially through controversial reforms to the disability benefit assessment system, government figures suggest.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released figures that suggest that 516,000 claimants across England and Wales would have seen their benefits gradually eroded if its proposals to scrap the work capability assessment had been introduced last November.
The plans, which will not be introduced until after the next general election, will see eligibility for the extra payment for those currently assessed as having limited capability for work and work-related activity (LCWRA) awarded instead to anyone who receives both universal credit and personal independence payment (PIP).
This would mean eligibility for the new “health element” of universal credit being decided through the PIP assessment.
Those found not eligible for PIP would not receive the health element.
DWP claims that those who see their benefits cut will receive “transitional protection”, but this is likely to be eaten away by inflation, and will not apply to new claimants, who will lose out on nearly £400 a month at current benefit rates.
The new figures show that, as of November 2022, there were 516,000 people who were receiving about £390 extra a month because of their limited capability for work and work-related activity (LCWRA) – either through universal credit or income-related employment and support allowance (ESA) – but were not receiving PIP.
The figures were published by DWP on the day the House of Commons adjourned for its summer recess, so MPs will not have the opportunity to question ministers about them until September.
Disabled activists have previously said the “heartless” reforms – the centrepiece of the government’s long-awaited Transforming Support white paper – “defy logic” and pose significant risks to sick and disabled people who cannot work.
Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy adviser for Disability Rights UK, said this week: “A scrapping of the work capability assessment that leads to disabled people losing nearly £5,000 per year is totally unacceptable.
“Nearly half of poverty in the UK is already directly associated with disability.
“While the DWP maintain that existing claimants will receive transitional protection, this is by its nature temporary and will inevitably reduce.
“And if the reforms are introduced, new claimants will feel their effects immediately.”
He added: “Using PIP as a passport to the health component of UC is extremely problematic.
“All the issues relating to the lack of accuracy of WCA assessments apply equally to PIP – perhaps unsurprisingly, given five weeks of online virtual training for [the healthcare professionals who carry them out].
“Many disabled people have shorter-term debilitating health conditions and may not be eligible to receive PIP. Others will have claimed PIP but been wrongly refused it.
“In addition, the PIP assessment isn’t intended to assess a disabled claimant’s capability to work.
“It’s meant to capture the extra costs disabled people face in life (although it doesn’t do this very well).”
Butler also pointed to the “major concern” that scrapping the WCA would mean no disabled person would be exempt from work-related conditionality on the grounds of disability.
He said: “It would be left to individual jobcentre work coaches to decide what should be required of the claimant and the extent to which sanctions would be imposed.
“It’s a move from a system based on rights, to one based on discretion.”
The anti-poverty charity Z2K pointed out that decisions on PIP claims are “highly unreliable” and that DWP loses or concedes 80 per cent of appeals lodged with the independent tribunal.
Ayla Ozmen, Z2K’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “Seriously ill and disabled people are already more likely to be in poverty – and these figures show half a million could lose vital income under government’s proposals.
“The Department for Work and Pensions needs to fix its broken PIP system, and guarantee that people too unwell to work aren’t forced to get by on the inadequate basic levels of benefits.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We support millions of disabled people every year and the reforms in the health and disability white paper will improve the experience of the benefits system for disabled people.
“Many people who have the LCWRA top-up will become eligible for PIP.
“Transitional protection will be provided to those not in receipt of PIP, so that nobody will see a financial loss as these reforms come into place.”
DWP declined to say if it accepted that new disabled claimants of universal credit who do not receive PIP would be negatively financially affected by the proposals.
It also declined to say what would happen under the proposals to about 125,000 disabled people currently receiving contribution-based ESA or incapacity benefit.
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