The government is to limit the total amount spent every year on social security, including key disability benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) and disability living allowance (DLA).
The Conservative chancellor, George Osborne, confirmed today (Thursday) in his autumn statement that he was pushing ahead with plans for a cap on “overall welfare spending”.
Osborne said the government needed to take further action to curb social security spending, on top of the £21.6 billion annual cuts already announced since 2010.
He confirmed that spending on the state pension – which makes up nearly half of total social security spending – would be exempt from the cap, although he made no mention of disabled people or disability in his speech.
The spending cap will also not apply to jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), JSA-passported housing benefit expenditure, and their equivalents under the new universal credit, although all other social security spending will be included.
A Treasury spokesman confirmed to Disability News Service that this meant that DLA, attendance allowance (AA), personal independence payment (PIP) and ESA would all be included in the spending cap.
Treasury documents claim that excluding spending on state pensions and jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) was “consistent with the scope of the cap”, before stating that spending on DLA increased by £4.5 billion in real terms in the 10 years from 2000-01, and warning that the “projected cost” of ESA “continues to increase”.
The level of the cap for the first year, 2015-16, will be set at next year’s spring budget.
If the government wants to change the level of the cap, there will be a Commons debate and vote, led by the work and pensions secretary. There will also be a debate and vote if the government breaches the cap.
Kate Green, Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people, confirmed that Labour would itself adopt a spending cap on social security, but had yet to “define any of the detail”.
Asked whether Labour would include DLA, PIP and AA in its cap, she said that was “a very good question”.
She said: “You are trying to bear down on rising benefits as a result of economic failure. It is about trying to bear down on the drivers of economic failure, it is not about trying to beat up on disabled people.”
But she said that what drove PIP was “more complicated” than other benefits being considered for the cap, as the benefit represented “the failure of society to meet the needs of disabled people in other ways”.
She said: “It might be quite hard to penalise them for societal failure, but equally you want [a welfare cap] that drives that societal improvement.”
Green said that setting such targets for government had been proved to work, and pointed to the child poverty target set by the Labour government, which she said had proved “immensely helpful” as it “really concentrated policy-makers’ minds on how we were going to meet that target”.
She added: “The benefit cap, operated with the right intentions, could have the same effect; it actually forces concentration on the right policy solutions.”
Green said that until the government provided all of the details on its cap she couldn’t say whether disabled people should be worried or not.
But Steve Winyard, head of policy and campaigns for RNIB, said that setting a cap would mean the government would have to “cut help for blind and partially-sighted people”, or find some way of capping the number of people seeking help.
He said: “The government cannot cap blindness but has a duty to ensure support is available to people with genuine needs.
“Blind and partially-sighted people fear further cuts in help. Plans to cap support for disadvantaged disabled people need examining very carefully to ensure genuine needs do not go unmet.”
5 December 2013