Hundreds of thousands of disabled people who claim disability living allowance (DLA) will not have to be reassessed for at least two years, after the coalition announced a major retreat on its reform timetable.
Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, told MPs today that working-age disabled people with a lifetime or indefinite DLA award would now not be reassessed until October 2015 at the earliest, six months after the next general election.
The government is introducing a new personal independence payment (PIP) to replace DLA for working-age claimants.
The intention had been to begin reassessing all current DLA claimants from next year, but McVey told MPs this was being delayed because ministers had “listened carefully to concerns about the speed of reassessment”.
This could save the government from the prospect of many tens of thousands of disabled people having their benefits cut or withdrawn, and possibly their Motability vehicles removed – with many having to quit their jobs as a result – in the run-up to the next election.
McVey also announced that the new PIP rates would be set at the same level as DLA, with the DLA higher and middle care component rates replaced by PIP daily living standard and enhanced rates. There will be no PIP daily living lower rate. The two PIP mobility rates will be the same as the current DLA rates.
She also confirmed that PIP and DLA would continue to be uprated every year by the rate of inflation.
McVey said PIP would first be introduced for new claimants in the north-west and parts of the north-east of England, from April 2013, and rolled out to all new claimants nationally from June 2013.
But despite the delays, tens of thousands of disabled people will still face having their benefits cut or removed from next year. Reassessment of existing DLA claimants will begin in October 2013, for those whose DLA award is due to end, who report a change in their condition, or who reach the age of 16.
McVey said about 560,000 of this group would be reassessed by October 2015, with 160,000 likely to have their support cut, and 170,000 having it removed completely. The other 230,000 people will receive the same or more support than under DLA.
McVey confirmed that the government wanted to target support on those “most in need”, and that almost a quarter of those receiving PIP would receive both of the higher rates – worth £134.40 per week – compared with only a sixth of claimants who receive the two higher rates of DLA.
Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP, welcomed the decision to delay the implementation of the reforms, but added: “I hope they will continue to keep the timetable under review because I suspect it will not be as easy as the minister implies today.”
And she attacked the government’s use of rising numbers of DLA claimants as an excuse for cutting spending.
She said: “If more people are getting DLA then more people are living independent lives and more people are engaging in society in a way they were not doing previously.”
Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, questioned why the government refused to carry out a “cumulative impact assessment” of all of its welfare changes on disabled people.
McVey said Labour never carried out such an assessment itself when it was in power and claimed that “for such large reforms and changes like that it would be impossible to measure the impact”.
McGuire also asked her for a commitment from the government not to remove DLA from any disabled person in work.
And she questioned why PIP rates were being set at the same level as DLA if the government was promising “more support for those with the highest support needs”.
There was also anger in the Commons after Conservative backbencher Philip Davies accused Labour of wanting “unlimited levels of welfare”, and added: “Most of my constituents will support the principle that the money should be directed at those people that need it instead of those people who do not.”
The disabled Labour MP and former home secretary David Blunkett said Davies’ remarks were “a disgrace”.
The PIP regulations will be debated in Parliament early next year.
13 December 2012