New report exposes government's hidden disability benefit reforms

LONDON, January 9, 2012:

* REVEALED: New Report shows overwhelming opposition to coalition's disability benefit reforms kept hidden by the government

* Conservative Mayor of London heavily critical of government's plans for Disability Living Allowance

* Report entirely researched, written, funded and supported by disabled people

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A NEW REPORT entitled Responsible Reform, published today by disabled people (9 January 2012), finds that government misled MPs and peers over the hostility to disability benefit reform. You can read the full document here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/responsiblereformDLA

It finds that Parliament has been given only a partial view of the overwhelming opposition to the Coalition's planned reforms of a key disability benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

It also finds that this opposition was previously not released to public scrutiny by the Government.

The report is based on the responses to the government's own consultation on its planned DLA reforms, which were only made public once disabled people requested them under the Freedom of Information Act.
Findings include:

* 98 per cent of respondents objected to the qualifying period for benefits being raised from three months to six months
* 99 per cent of respondents objected to Disability Living Allowance no longer being used as a qualification for other benefits
* 92 per cent opposed removing the lowest rate of support for disabled people

In all three cases, as well as many others, London's Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson also objected to the proposed changes. He said in his response to the official consultation:

"The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the three-month qualifying period as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period. People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life."

"We would recommend that the passporting system remains the same as under DLA, as it has worked well when signposting people to additional benefits to which they may be entitled."

"The Mayor does not support this change, as those on the lower rate care component may have additional costs as a result of their impairment but may lose their access to this benefit as part of the proposed removal under the reforms."

The Mayor also objected to the government's strategy for clamping down on disability benefit fraud, arguing:

"The government proposes imposing penalties if disabled people do not inform the government in changes in their circumstances. However, the Department of Work and Pensions statistics give the overall fraud rate for Disability Living Allowance as being less than 0.5 per cent. For those with fluctuating conditions asking them to report every change to their condition would prove very stressful."

The Mayor's views were representative of the overwhelming majority of responses to the government's consultation.

The new report, Responsible Reform, suggests that the government's DLA consultation breached the government's own code of practice and was "highly misleading".

Researchers have used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain more than 500 responses to the consultation that were submitted by disabled people's organisations, disability charities and other groups - including the response submitted by Boris Johnson - and have carried out the first detailed, independent analysis of those responses.

The analysis showed overwhelming opposition to replacing DLA with a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The government also plans to cut spending on DLA/PIP by 20 per cent.

The new report has been researched, written and funded by sick and disabled people, thousands of whom contributed to the research through their use of social media.

Its authors now hope to use the report to persuade members of the House of Lords to back an adjournment debate calling for a pause of at least six months. In that time, plans for PIP should be reconsidered with the views of disabled people properly taken into account.

The report has already been backed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and disability experts including Disability Alliance, Mind, Papworth Trust, Scope, and the thinktank Ekklesia, along with Sir Bert Massie CBE.

A Disability Alliance spokseperson said: "The Government's mis-portrayal of the DLA consultation response is truly shocking and could represent a betrayal of the process of consultation and engagement with disabled people. The Government has refused to provide a justification for a 20 per cent cut in DLA expenditure and we fear that the same faulty rationale, misunderstanding of disability and higher costs of living and poor judgement exposed in this report sadly underpin the basis of the entire reform plans."

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: "The 'Responsible Reform' report is essential reading for everyone with an interest in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) reform including the Government and Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee. It is a vital contribution to the debate on reform and a huge achievement for the volunteers who have produced it.

"As well as forensically deconstructing many of the arguments offered by the Government for their proposed reform, the report shows that much of the rise in claimants over recent years has been down to better access to the benefit for people with mental health problems, whose needs are often fluctuating and invisible.

"Rather than getting out of control as the Government claims, DLA has been increasingly going to people who really need it. The proposed 20 per cent cut to the budget will have an enormous impact on many people with illnesses and disabilities, and we remain very concerned about the unintended consequences this could lead to."

The Papworth Trust says it "supports this report's concerns that the decision to reduce DLA by 20 per cent may have been based on incomplete or misleading data about the reasons for growth in DLA. Our recent survey found that almost nine out of 10 people would have to cut back on essentials such as food or being able to get out and about if their DLA payments were reduced or stopped under PIP. We believe that the proposed 20 per cent cut will push more disabled people into poverty."

"Given that this report was entirely researched, written, funded and supported by the people that these changes will affect, we believe that the questions it raises should be answered by the Government."

Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope, said: "This report once again reveals the very real concerns disabled people have about the government's reform of Disability Living Allowance.

"We know that this benefit is a lifeline for millions of people and families. It gives them the opportunity to meet the extra living costs they incur as a result of living with a condition or impairment and we know that people are genuinely worried about the impact these reforms will have on their quality of life.

"We urge the government to listen and act on these concerns and to ensure its replacement takes into consideration all the barriers disabled people face in everyday life so they can live independently and play an active role in their local community."

Sir Bert Massie CBE said: "The Government's proposed changes to the system of financial support for disabled people, from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment, has caused anxiety to many disabled people. I have always found the explanations offered by the Government to be unconvincing and I therefore welcome this report which analyses the evidence on which the decisions were based. It shows that rather than being broadly welcomed by disabled people and disability organisations the new proposals were subject to widespread criticism and alarm. I hope this report will result in the Government reviewing its proposals so they enhance rather than damage the lives of disabled people.

Simon Barrow, Co-Director of the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia, commented: "This is an excellent piece of research. There remains a gaping chasm between the government's rhetoric about maintaining support for disabled people and the actual evidence about the impact of the changes and cuts it is imposing. The voices of those at the sharp end are not being listened to in a way that shapes policy. The concepts of justice dignity and social solidarity are being eroded and replaced with a piecemeal approach to provision which sees care as essentially voluntary."

Sue Marsh, the disabled blogger and activist who led the research, alongside Dr Sarah J Campbell, said: "For some years now, poorly designed Social Security reforms have created a 'trust deficit' among disabled people towards government.

"We believe that reform must be measured, responsible and transparent, based on available evidence and designed with disabled people at the very heart of decision-making. Currently, we do not believe this to be the case.

"While disabled people welcome reform of DLA where it will simplify the system and better support their needs, they do not want a new benefit. They believe it is a costly irrelevance during a time of austerity.

"We urge members of the House of Lords - across party political boundaries - to take note of this research and the strength of opposition to the proposals. It is not too late for them to halt these deeply damaging reforms."

Another contributor to the report, Kaliya Franklin, said: "Cutting spending on DLA will increase the burden on local authorities, the NHS and community services at the very time they are seeking to find savings by reducing eligibility, particularly for social care support.

"Sick and disabled people have voluntarily combined our skills, experience and talent to produce this report, demonstrating that if we are able to work in the way our conditions demand, we can participate in the world of employment, but only if it is willing to receive us on our terms, with more flexible ways of working and participating."

Among the report's conclusions are that:

* Only seven per cent of organisations that took part in the consultation were fully in support of plans to replace DLA with PIP
* There was overwhelming opposition in the consultation responses to nearly all of the government's proposals for DLA reform
* The government has consistently used inaccurate figures to exaggerate the rise in DLA claimants
* The report shows that nearly all of the recent increase in working-age claimants of DLA has been associated with mental health conditions and learning difficulties. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of working-age DLA claimants - excluding those with mental health conditions and learning difficulties remained remarkably stable
* 98 per cent of those who responded opposed plans to change the qualifying period for PIP from three months (as it is with DLA) to six months
* 90 per cent opposed plans for a new assessment, which disabled people fear will be far too similar to the much-criticised work capability assessment used to test eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA)
* Respondents to the consultation repeatedly warned that the government's plans could breach the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

ENDS

1. The full report, 'Responsible Reform' is being made available online at Ekklesia and elsewhere. See: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/responsiblereformDLA An easy-read version has been made available by United Response here: http://bit.ly/xy0elw
2. The government's response to the consultation on its DLA reforms was published in April 2011.
3. Discussion of the Welfare Reform Bill is due to resume at its report stage on 11 January 2012 in the House of Lords.
4. The report was written by Sue Marsh, the author of the blog Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, and Dr Sarah J Campbell.
5. Employment and Support Allowance is the replacement for Incapacity Benefit, introduced by the Labour government in 2008.
6. The research suggests that, although the number of people with mental health conditions claiming DLA has risen continuously over the last 15 years, only one in 100 working-age adults is claiming DLA in association with a mental health condition. This is far lower than estimates of the population prevalence of more severe mental health conditions. This is a global phenomenon and unlikely to be related to the design of the UK benefit system.
7. The research also suggests that the rise in the number of people with learning difficulties claiming DLA is likely to be due to earlier diagnosis of certain conditions.
8. London Mayor Boris Johnson's full response to the consultation can be found here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat file).
9. Individuals and agencies are being encouraged to show support by tweeting with the hashtag #spartacusreport and using that tag to follow developments.
10. This press release is being distributed by supporting agencies, including Ekklesia. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective, in dialogue with others. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml DLA coverage from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/disabilitylivingallowance