Government waters down disability living allowance cuts

The government has watered down its controversial cuts to disabilty living allowance (DLA) by dropping plans to double the period after the onset of disability before which people can qualify for the benefit (Image: Rex).

The government has watered down its controversial cuts to disabilty living allowance (DLA) by dropping plans to double the period after the onset of disability before which people can qualify for the benefit.

Ministers had proposed to impose a six-month qualifying period for personal independence payment (PIP), the benefit which would replace DLA, which has a three-month qualifying period.

This was among a number of measures that would, in effect, raise the eligibility threshold for PIP above that for DLA, to cut the overall bill for the benefit for people of working-age.

However, the government has now agreed to back an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill that would retain a three-month qualifying period, saying it has listened to disabled people’s reviews. The bill is being debated in the House of Lords tomorrow.

The shift was welcomed by Leonard Cheshire Disability and Macmillan Cancer Support. “Making disabled people wait six months rather than the current three for this vital benefit would have had a catastrophic impact, pushing many into immediate poverty and debt,” said Leonard Cheshire’s director of corporate affairs, Shaun Williams.

“Cancer patients experience the greatest costs in the first six months following their diagnosis,” said Macmillan director of policy and research Mike Hobday. “They will often have to give up work to undergo gruelling treatment and still find money to put food on the table. Extending the waiting time would have been devastating.”

This is the second major government concession on its planned reform of the benefit, following ministers’ decision to scrap plans to remove up to £50 a week in DLA mobility payments to people receiving state-funded residential care.

However, Williams added: “The fact that plans remain to reduce spending by £1 billion as the Personal Independence Payment is introduced will inevitably mean that more disabled people will lose out on vital support and find themselves trapped in poverty.”

The government is also due to launch a consultation today on the assessment criteria for PIP, eligibility for which, unlike DLA, will be through face-to-face assessments and subject to regular reviews. It said it had made significant changes to the criteria based on feedback from disability organisations.

It also follows three major House of Lords defeats on disability benefit cuts for the government last week. Peers voted to amend the Welfare Reform Bill to:-

  • Enable people with limited capacity to work to claim employment and support allowance on a non-means-tested basis, based on National Insurance contributions, for two years rather than one, as proposed by the government.
  • Remove any such limit for claiming ESA for cancer patients.
  • Enable young people who have never worked to continue claiming ESA on a non-means-tested basis.

However, ministers have vowed to reverse these defeats when the bill returns to the House of Commons.

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