James Purnell heralds right to choice and control for disabled

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell has signalled that disabled adults in England will be given the legal right to receive individual budgets as part of a sweeping plan for reform of the welfare system, announced today.

The welfare reform white paper outlined proposals to legislate in the forthcoming Welfare Reform Bill to give disabled people a “right to control” much of the state funding that is spent on them. This would be piloted and, if successful, extended nationwide.

The scheme would be based around individual budgets, which were piloted in 13 areas in 2006-7 and allowed service users to control resources spent on them from social care and other funding streams.

Right to control

The right to control scheme is likely to cover many if not all of the same funding streams – social care, Independent Living Funds, Supporting People, Access to Work, disabled facilities grant and community equipment services. Disabled people will also have the right to take some or all of their funding as a direct payment, leaving the rest to be managed by their local authority or another agency.

However, there are differences in the proposals made today:-

  • While individual budgets were focused on social care service users, the government said the “right to control” would be for all disabled people receiving relevant state funding.
  • The evaluation of the individual budget pilots identified significant barriers to integrating funding streams, including legislative obstacles. The Welfare Reform Bill will aim to tackle these.
  • It will enshrine choice and control over support funding as a right for service users.
  • It may cover funding streams not covered by individual budgets, though not cash benefits.

Conditionality over benefits

The white paper also takes forward plans to extend the use of conditionality in the welfare system, under which people are required to undertake work-focused activities in return for benefits.

Ministers have decided to take up proposals from the recent review of conditionality by Professor Paul Gregg, which called for almost all out-of-work benefit recipients to face some element of conditionality, along with adequate support from a personal adviser.

The white paper said that:-

  • Claimants of the employment and support allowance – the replacement for incapacity benefit – will receive “work-focused interviews” for up to two years from when they start claiming. The current limit is eight months.
  • ESA claimants will undertake work-related activities tailored to their needs, with the help of a personal adviser. For problem drug users, this could involve a referral for treatment.
  • If they fail to comply, advisers will be able to require them to undertake the activity.
  • ESA claimants will also face a series of escalating sanctions if they fail to co-operate, including fines of up to £24.

These proposals will be piloted for new claimants in 2010 and for some existing claimants in 2011.

Lone parents

The government is already rolling out plans over the next three years to require lone parents to seek work – by transferring them from income support to jobseeker’s allowance – when their youngest child turns seven, down from 16.

However, today it said it would pilot increasing the requirements on lone parents with youngest children aged three to six to undertake work-related activity, including training where necessary. Gregg had proposed introducing this system for lone parents with youngest children aged over one.

The white paper also proposed scrapping income support as the first step towards creating a single benefit for people out of work. Those currently receiving income support would be moved on to either jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support.

Carers to stay on income support

However, the government has decided against earlier plans to move carers off income support pending a wider review of carers’ benefits.

Other proposals included encouraging private and voluntary sector providers to invest in getting people back into work, using the benefit savings to then pay providers.

Plans to allow parent on any income-related benefits keep the maintenance paid for their children has been confirmed by the white paper to support the government’s commitment to end child poverty by 2020.

Purnell also indicated that the government would be launching a consultation on the reform of housing benefit early next year.

Related articles

Single mothers and disabled people face benefit changes

Queen’s Speech: Welfare Reform Bill ‘may not deliver for disabled’

CPAG: Unemployment hike leaves welfare reform plans in tatters

James Purnell: Ministers will not prescribe personal budget streams

Employment and support allowance: how will it work?


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