Legislation to extend direct payments beyond social care and to use to use benefit conditions to get more claimants into work was launched today.
The Welfare Reform Bill , which received its first reading in the House of Commons today, takes forward many of the proposals in last month’s Raising expectations and increasing support white paper.
The Bill would grant disabled people a “right to control” the way state services are provided for them, including by receiving direct payments in areas where they are currently not available, including:-
- Further education and training.
- Services to secure or maintain employment.
- Provision to boost independence or remove barriers to participating in society.
Further details will be defined in regulations.
Right to control pilots
The Department for Work and Pensions plans to use the legislation to pilot schemes similar to individual budgets from 2010, under which disabled people would be allowed to draw together resources from different funding streams to better meet their needs.
The legislation does not cover social care, as the right to receive direct payments is covered by pre-existing legislation, but social care funds are expected to form part of the pilots.
However, Community Care today reported concerns among social care leaders about the DWP’s plans to pilot the ‘right to control’ scheme, given its similarity to individual budgets, which were piloted by the Department of Health from 2005-7. There are also concerns about a “turf war” arising from two government departments running separate but similar programmes, but the Department of Health has insisted that they are complementary schemes.
The Bill also contains provisions to require lone parents whose youngest children are younger than seven to improve their employability. This toughens an existing policy to slash the age of the youngest child at which lone parents’ lose their eligibility for income support – which is unconditional – from 16 to seven from 2008-11.
The Bill would also require disabled people and those with long-term health conditions claiming employment and support allowance to undertake specific work-related activities. Under existing legislation, ESA claimants are under a requirement to undertake work-related activities but can choose the activity.
Those who fail to undertake required activities would face sanctions, including benefit cuts.
A number of proposals concerning drug users have been included in the Bill despite opposition from the charity DrugsScope.
The new powers could require benefit claimants to be interviewed about their drug use, and if necessary to answer questions about any treatment they may be receiving. In addition they may be required to undertake an assessment by a doctor or registered nurse if it is felt their drug use is affecting their work prospects.
Those who fail to turn up to assessments could be required to undertake drugs test to determine their level of use.
Last month, DrugScope chief executive Martin Barnes said that he opposed the introduction of drug testing by job centres and that he was “extremely concerned” over the threat to withdraw benefits from problem drug users.