Peers debate key DLA reforms: Government rejects test pilot plea


A disabled peer has failed to persuade the government to postpone the re-assessment of existing disability living allowance (DLA) claimants until it has piloted the new testing regime.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell called on the government to order a year-long trial of how the assessment process works for new claimants of its proposed personal independence payment (PIP) – followed by an independent review – before it starts using the test to re-assess existing DLA claimants.

The government plans to replace DLA with PIP through its welfare reform bill, which is in its committee stage in the House of Lords.

Baroness Campbell told fellow peers that trialling the new PIP assessment was “absolutely necessary” and warned that a review was needed so the government could avoid the problems caused by the introduction of the widely-criticised test for out-of-work disability benefits, the work capability assessment.

She said: “I am sure that the government wish to avoid introducing another assessment system which invites such public controversy and which seems to represent such poor value for money.”

Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said one year would not provide enough time for the assessment process to “bed in”, while the assessment itself had been heavily tested by disabled people.

But Baroness Campbell said this had just been “testing out questions and testing the ground, not the life that a person will have to lead after they have been given their award”, and said it was “absolutely crazy” not to carry out a trial.

She also called for disabled people’s organisations to be involved in the PIP assessment process, and for disabled people with the highest impairment-related costs to only face a fresh assessment every five years, if their impairment was unlikely to change in that time.

But Lord Freud said the government did not feel it would be “appropriate to make blanket rules for particular groups of people”.

Baroness Campbell also failed to persuade the government to take a “social model” approach to assessing eligibility for PIP.

She said the government had “said repeatedly that they want to help disabled people to overcome the barriers that they face to leading full and independent lives” but that its civil servants had “so far largely designed a medical model test with a tweak of social model now and then”.

She said: “Unless the assessment is clearly based on a social model approach the system will not be able to accurately identify which people really need to receive support from PIP.

“Disabled people know that many of the barriers they face do not directly arise from their own bodies, their conditions and impairments, but from social, environmental and practical barriers such as inaccessible transport, unsuitable housing or living in social isolation with nobody to support them.”

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson said the social model had been “a lifeline” when she was growing up, with parents who “brought me up to believe that having an impairment was not my fault”.

She said: “The social model outlines very clearly how disabled people can play their part in society. We should not take this for granted because it would be too easy to forget what the social model is.”

Lord Freud said the PIP assessment was intended to be “somewhere in between” the social model and the medical model, and it was “not administratively feasible to assess every aspect of disabled people’s lives, every barrier they face or every cost they might incur”.

But Baroness Campbell warned that “using a points-based, tick-boxed” approach would fail to capture enough information about the barriers and costs faced by disabled people.

17 November 2011

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