The new minister for disabled people has agreed to consider fresh demands for the government to assess the full impact on disabled people of all of its cuts and reforms to benefits and services.
But Esther McVey, who replaced Maria Miller as minister last month offered no suggestion that she would attempt to soften cuts to spending on disability benefits, particularly to working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
McVey, who was appearing at a joint meeting of disability-related all-party parliamentary groups to discuss the impact of welfare reform on disabled people, claimed that DLA spending had risen “exponentially”.
She said that spending on disability benefits was one fifth higher than the European Union average, while the government spends about £50 billion a year on disabled people.
But McVey said that while she was “happy to meet with people, listen to the concerns”, she said she would also explain to those lobbying her the “conditions and constraints we are working under”.
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said she believed that the concerns revealed by The Tipping Point – last week’s report by The Hardest Hit campaign alliance on cuts to disability benefits – were just “the tip of the iceberg”.
She warned McVey that there were “high levels of anxiety and high levels of concern” among disabled people about the cuts to their support.
And she said that she had been “stunned” to discover that 85 per cent of those claiming DLA who responded to the survey did not currently receive social care from their local authority.
She said this showed that a “significant number” of the 500,000 people set to lose their working-age DLA in the reforms would as a result need to rely on council-funded social care instead, even though those councils were already facing significant financial pressures.
The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson repeated concerns she raised in another report earlier this month that the government’s cuts risked “ghettoising” disabled people in segregated settings, with many fewer in work.
McVey told her: “That’s for me to make sure that people do not think that we are going backwards.”
The disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins called again for McVey to order an assessment of the overall impact on disabled people of the government’s cuts and reforms.
She said the DLA cuts would not save money but would instead cause “a huge cost to the public purse” through unnecessary face-to-face assessments and reassessments, increased social care costs, and the loss of income tax receipts from disabled people forced to give up their jobs.
McVey said there had so far been 55 weeks of consultations during the development of personal independence payment, the planned replacement for DLA, but she promised to consider Baroness Wilkins’ request, and said: “I will take that away. We are looking at other assessments I am doing [and] I will take that away.”
30 October 2012