The minister for disabled people has ignored calls to give disabled people more time to respond to controversial proposals in his disability benefits green paper.
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and allies have written an open letter to Justin Tomlinson, to warn him that millions of disabled people will not have enough time to engage with his proposals if he does not allow an extension.
But when asked if Tomlinson (pictured) would provide extra time, a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) this week that the consultation would close as planned after 12 weeks, on 11 October.
The letter was sent by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), who want to see the consultation extended by six weeks.
They point out that the green paper was published on 20 July, just two days before parliament’s summer recess began, but with the standard 12-week consultation timeframe.
In the letter, they say that the timeframe puts disabled people and DPOs “in a position where they are either not able to respond in time, not going to be able to respond properly, or do not have time to engage with the people they work with in developing their responses.
“This will severely impinge upon your ability to pay due regard to the impact on disabled people of the proposals outlined in the paper.”
Caroline Collier, chief executive of Inclusion Barnet, who co-signed the letter on behalf of DBC as its DPOs representative, told DNS that “because these proposed changes could have a significant impact on many disabled people’s lives, it’s imperative that people are given a reasonable length of time to respond”.
She added: “These are lengthy and complex proposals and people will need time to consider them and respond.
“When you also consider the different access issues people may have in engaging with the proposals, I think there is a compelling case for a longer consultation period as a reasonable adjustment.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, who also co-signed the letter, said: “Proposals in this green paper will directly impact on the lives of millions of disabled people, potentially in very serious ways, so it’s imperative that there is an opportunity for people to have their say.
“Too often over previous years, changes have been made to the social security system that have caused widespread detriment.
“Measures included in the paper such as merging personal independence payment with universal credit threaten an end to non-means-tested disability benefits which would severely reduce the ability of many disabled people to look for and stay in employment.
“They cannot be taken lightly and legally ministers must take steps to ensure they fully understand the impacts of policies before they introduce them.”
Ella Abraham, policy and campaigns manager for the poverty charity Z2K and DBC’s campaigns co-chair, said: “The health and disability green paper is a really important consultation, with proposals that could have detrimental consequences for disabled people.
“We’re calling on this government to stand by their 2019 manifesto commitment to empower and support disabled people and act as an ally.
“They must at the very least extend the consultation period of the green paper.”
In a press release issued yesterday (Wednesday) to encourage responses to the consultation, Tomlinson highlighted proposals in the green paper on advocacy for benefit claimants, telephone and video assessments, reassessments, and employment support.
But he made no mention of apparent suggestions in the green paper that the government wants to cut rising spending on disability benefits, and that it is considering merging personal independence payment with universal credit.
Following the consultation, detailed proposals will be published in a white paper next year.
A DWP spokesperson refused to say why Tomlinson would not extend the consultation period.
But he said the government was “consulting on how the welfare system can better meet the needs of people with disability and health conditions – now and in the future, in their everyday lives”.
He said disabled people’s “voices, insights and experiences” were “central” to the government’s approach and that “all will be given the opportunity to respond properly in time and in alternative formats to meet their needs”.
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