Disability organisations have greeted the government’s new welfare reform bill with a mixture of caution and outright hostility.
The bill will see disability living allowance (DLA) replaced by a new personal independence payment (PIP), with a new assessment to test eligibility. The government plans to cut spending on the benefit for working-age recipients by a fifth and target it at “those who really need it”.
A new “universal credit” will see working tax credit, child tax credit, housing benefit, council tax benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and income-related employment and support allowance replaced by one single payment. This will be withdrawn at a single “taper” rate as a claimant’s earnings increase.
The bill will also impose a limit of 12 months on those receiving “contributory” employment and support allowance (ESA) who are in the work-related activity group of disabled people expected to prepare for work.
And there will be new powers to tackle benefit fraud and error, and a “benefit ban” of up to three years for those who repeatedly fail to look for work or take a job when available.
The prime minister, David Cameron, said the bill would give “those with disabilities who can work the opportunity to work” while “those who can’t work and can’t be expected to work will be supported”, with “sanctions for those who abuse the system”.
Disability Alliance (DA) said the bill “contains some positive elements” but the “overall package of welfare cuts risks increasing poverty and despair for disabled people and their families”.
DA said it welcomed efforts to simplify access to benefits, provide more support to help disabled people find jobs through the new Work Programme, and create the universal credit taper for those in work but on low earnings.
But it warned that the universal credit’s “aspiration to tackle poverty” would be undermined by the overall package of cuts to support for disabled people.
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the bill was “a disaster”, with cuts to ESA, DLA and housing benefit, and concerns around universal credit.
She said the measures would be “nothing but negative for very, very large numbers of disabled people in terms of cutting income and reducing independence and increasing poverty”.
RADAR said it supported efforts to simplify the benefits system and remove disincentives to work, but was concerned that disabled people would be penalised for society’s failure to break down barriers such as negative attitudes and inaccessible workplaces.
Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, warned that much of the bill’s detail was still unknown, and called on the government to “provide full transparency about their proposals”.
The government has also launched a review of the system of sickness absence from work, in a bid to “explore radical new ways” to “help more people stay in work and reduce costs”.
17 February 2011