A disabled researcher has accused the prime minister of breaking his promise to disabled veterans that they would not have to be assessed for the government’s new disability benefit.
David Cameron made headlines in July 2012 when he pledged in a speech at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan that seriously wounded veterans would be exempt from controversial reforms to replace working-age disability living allowance with the new personal independence payment (PIP).
Veterans would only have to undergo a military assessment to determine their eligibility for help with the costs associated with their injuries, and would not also have to be put through the PIP test faced by millions of other disabled people.
Cameron was reported as saying that “the military are going to have a special set of circumstances so they get a special deal. I intervened to make sure that happens and I think that is one of the many ways we should respect our armed services for what they do for us.”
But researcher and campaigner Mo Stewart told this week’s launch event of UK Disability History Month – which this year has a theme of “war and impairment” – that war pensioners had assumed that all disabled veterans would be exempt and retain access to DLA.
But she said it had now been confirmed that Cameron’s promise only applied to “modern veterans” – all those given an award under the armed forces compensation scheme (AFCS), which replaced the war pension scheme in 2005.
This means that about 80,000 working-age war pensioners currently claiming disability living allowance will eventually have to be reassessed for PIP, and will risk losing some or all of their benefits.
Stewart is best known for her research into the influence of the US insurance giant Unum on UK benefit reform, but is also a disabled veteran of the Women’s Royal Air Force, where she worked as a healthcare professional.
Stewart received a call from a civil servant in the Cabinet Office last year confirming that all war pensioners “could keep their DLA for life and will not be reassessed, as an acknowledgement of their service to the nation”.
But she has now been told by the Ministry of Defence that the new scheme, and the new armed forces independence payment (AFIP), introduced in April 2013, is “not applicable to recipients of the war pensions scheme”.
Stewart said this would be “a death sentence” for many working-age veterans who would not be able to afford to lose their DLA, and would face the stress of not knowing if they would be awarded PIP.
She said: “All disabled veterans were disabled serving this nation and all war pensioners should be treated the same, regardless of age, and be allowed to retain the promised access to DLA for life.”
She said the decision to remove DLA from working-age war pensioners – in contrast to the treatment of disabled war pensioners over 65 and modern severely disabled veterans – was “a totally indefensible decision given our much-proclaimed ‘service to the nation’, as frequently acknowledged by the prime minister only when in front of the TV cameras”.
A DWP spokesman said that no-one over 65 would be reassessed for PIP, and that half of war pensioners were aged over 70.
He said the reforms reflected the government’s commitment to the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant, and its belief that “special consideration should be given to our armed forces, especially those who have been injured”.
He said the government had “simplified the financial support available for injured veterans” so that instead of undergoing the new PIP assessment, they would “automatically receive on-going payments to help with the additional costs associated with their injuries”, which would be linked to their AFCS award.
He added: “We owe the men and women who have served their country a huge debt of gratitude and will do everything we can to help them to find work and make sure they get all the benefits they are entitled to if they are injured.
“That is exactly why seriously injured members of the armed forces will automatically get the support they need – through the newly introduced AFIP – to help them with the additional costs associated with their injuries and won’t have to do a separate assessment for PIP.”
Roddy Slorach, a disabled activist and member of the University and College Union, told the launch event this week that the government had “absolutely no care for the people who do the fighting and dying for them and therefore it is important for us in the disability movement to reach out to people who are disabled veterans and have common cause with them”.
He said that the power and strength of trade unions should be used “to unite us and make common cause against these wars”, which he said were always about “making the rich richer”.
Claire Glasman, from the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible, said that “however badly the disabled veterans were treated, as disabled people we have to think of the people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine and other places who do not have access to medical treatment for rehabilitation, do not have welfare and are really struggling, and how the communities have been devastated”.
She said: “When you have bombing from the air, the proportion of disability of the service people is small compared to the civilian casualties.
“We have to highlight the civilian casualties and how the military budgets that they fund are many times more than the so-called cost that we are to society.”
The launch event of UK Disability History Month, at the offices of the Unite union in central London, also heard from Paula Peters, from Disabled People Against Cuts, who spoke of her time working for the Ministry of Defence, which she joined – in the personnel department – on the day Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
She said she was thrown out of MoD after she had a breakdown, and that her experiences had left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, and rapid cycling bipolar disorder, as well as sleep disorders.
Peters described how the coalition’s cuts and reforms to social security had caused another breakdown and a suicide attempt, while friends had ended their lives as a result of the traumatic work capability assessment process.
She said that disabled people were now in “a battle and a war with the government over our rights for access to services and benefits”.
She said she was “damn proud to be fighting back alongside my disabled brothers and sisters in the fight for our rights and I know only this: the battle will be a long one, but the battle can be won”.
On Saturday 6 December, there will be a day-long conference in central London on “War and Impairment: the Social Consequences of Disablement”, as part of UK Disability History Month.
20 November 2014