Effect of benefit reforms on disabled people unknown, says minister

Minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, has said she does not know how many disabled people will be affected by government plans to reform disability living allowance (DLA), or how much the changes will cost.

The admissions came in an interview with Community Care that followed the publication of plans to replace DLA with a new benefit – personal independence payment – that would have tighter eligibilty criteria.

Miller said: “Because the assessment process hasn’t been finalised we don’t have those figures. You can’t estimate the impact of something until you have finalised it.”

Community Care pressed Miller to disclose how many people the DLA reforms would effect. Listen to her answers.

The Budget said the government wanted to reduce the number of working-age claimants of DLA – currently 1.8 million – by 20%. This would reduce annual expenditure on the client group by a similar proportion, amounting to £1.075bn by 2014-15.

Yesterday’s plans have raised questions among disabled campaigners over exactly how people with different impairments will be affected, and whether the proposed assessment regime will be cost-effective.

But speaking to Community Care, Miller was not able to answer these questions.

“We haven’t yet finalised what the assessment system is. We are working with health care professionals, disability groups and disabled people to establish what the assessment is. We have not finalised that so we are not in a position to cost-out an implementation plan,” she said.

Miller restated the government’s commitment to target the benefit at those who needed it most, but said the department had not conducted an analysis of the number of people it believed to be claiming DLA inappropriately.

“We absolutely are committed to the role of the benefit in supporting disabled people and we want to make sure this non-means tested cash benefit is there to support disabled people in the way it was intended,” she added.

“It’s very disappointing that the Department for Work and Pensions cannot explain why it wants to cut 20% from the disability living allowance budget or estimate how people will lose out,” said Neil Coyle, head of policy at Disability Alliance. “For 1.8 million working age disabled adults this is a worrying issue and the department’s nonchalance is disturbing.”

Guy Parckar, acting director of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said it was important that policies were well evidenced and clear to enable people to understand them. “It’s an area where the government has to be very sensitive because people are reliant on disability living allowance.”

Richard Watts, policy officer at the Essex Coalition for Disabled People, said: “I’m surprised because it felt to me that they do have the numbers.” He said the government should be open in the way it had been with its child benefit proposals in which it provided numbers for how many families would lose the benefit.

Miller did reveal that plans to reassess claimants’ eligibility on a periodic basis would be dependent upon their particular conditions or impairmenets.

Coyle said this was an expensive process to enforce for those whose condition was degenerative or had no prospect of changing. He said the individual would incur additional costs in attending a second assessment and the government money spent on assessing could be better used to support more disabled people.

It was also revealed today that the government had underestimated how many people will lose out from plans to remove the DLA mobility component from care home residents who receive public funding. Miller admitted in a parliamentary answer that 80,000 people would be affected, compared with an initial estimate of 60,000, when the policy was announced in October.

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