Plans to introduce medical assessments for disability living allowance claimants, announced in today’s Budget, may not reduce the benefits bill, as intended.
The proposal, unveiled today by chancellor George Osborne, will be introduced for new and existing claimants from 2013 and is designed to save £360m in 2013-14 and £1,075m in 2014-15.
However, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, set up by the coalition to scrutinise public spending and taxation, identified disability benefits as one of three areas where the impact of policies announced today by Osborne were uncertain.
Currently, DLA claimants must complete a 59-page form and submit supporting medical evidence for their claim.
In his speech to the House of Commons, Osborne said the proposed assessment would be “a simple process rather than the complex forms [disabled people] have to fill out at the moment”.
However, Mark Shrimpton, deputy chief executive of disability charity Radar, said: “They are making a gut reaction but they have no understanding of what the real impact will be.”
Shrimpton added Radar could not support yet another assessment regime arguing there should be a single point of access to all benefits. He said: “Neither the taxpayer nor disabled people should support these multiple, expensive, exhausting and unnecessary burdens of bureaucracy.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy at Disability Alliance, said it was “highly likely” that the assessment used would be the much-criticised work capability assessment, which is used to determine eligibility for employment and support allowance, the replacement for incapacity benefit.
Coyle said the WCA was “generating significant concern for its inability to recognise the impact an impairment or health condition has on a disabled person’s life”.
Osborne said three times as many people claimed DLA now as when it was introduced 18 years ago.
However, Rich Watts, director of operations at the Essex Coalition of Disabled People, responded on his blog, Arbitrary Constant, that this reflected the fact that more disabled people were living independently than in residential care. He said “effectively cutting DLA risks reversing this rise in independent living”.
Osborne also announced that housing benefit will, from April 2011, be paid to disabled people requiring an extra room to support a carer.
He also promised that full proposals on welfare reform will be announced by October this year, when the government publishes its spending review, which will set out public expenditure limits for 2011-12 to 2014-15.