Ministers’ own advisers slam disability benefit cuts

The government's own welfare advisers have slammed its plan to make £2.2bn worth of cuts to disability living allowance.

The government’s own welfare advisers have slammed its plan to make £2.2bn worth of cuts to disability living allowance.

The plans to replace DLA with a personal independence payment appeared to be driven by the need to cut costs, said the Social Security Advisory Committee in a consultation response.

Committee members also criticised controversial plans to scrap the mobility component of DLA for publicly-funded care home residents and residential special school pupils. They said the independence of disabled people in residential care would be substantially reduced.

Their opposition adds weight to widespread criticism of the proposed reforms in the Welfare Reform Bill across the disability movement.

The government wants the reforms to save £2.2bn from 2013-14 to 2015-16, though it still does not know how many people would be affected. The changes would reduce spending on working-age claimants by 20% a year.

The committee said it was worried that cost-cutting appeared to be driving the need for reform and called for clarity on this from the government. It raised specific concerns about plans to extend the qualifying period for the benefit to six months after the onset of disability, up from three, and to introduce face-to-face assessments for all claimants.

It was concerned about how assessments would be resourced, about how well trained assessors would be in learning disability and mental health, and said the need for a face-to-face test could lead to long delays.

The committee warned that any assessment should not replicate the controversial work capability assessment for claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit. This has been heavily criticised by disability groups for wrongly finding people fit for work.

“ESA and DLA are not the same and the considerations are not the same,” it said. “The work activity tests of the ESA, such as the ability to move safely around a work place and to be able to communicate simple messages to other workers, are not relevant to the ability to access a full and active daily life.”

The Department for Work and Pensions insisted the government was committed to protecting DLA and had already pledged that it would remain a non means-tested cash benefit.

“We need to reform DLA to ensure that the £12bn we spend on it makes the most difference and that people can rely on it for years to come,” a DWP spokesperson said. “We are working with disabled people and disability groups on the reforms and will respond to the public consultation shortly.”

Read an expert comment on the DLA reforms from our welfare rights columnist, Gary Vaux.

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