Welfare Reform Bill: Key issues for disabled and sick people

The extraordinary triple victory on specific benefit issues in the House of Lords on 11 January 2012 has raised questions for a number of people about the larger situation regarding the Welfare Reform Bill. Some of the bill might be helpful, but I want to be very clear today about which parts sick and disabled campaigners know to be unacceptable - and why.

1) Removing Disability Living Allowance mobility payments from adults in residential care.

An adult who needs to live in residential care will have extensive needs and are often amongst the most severely disabled. The mobility component of DLA afforded them their only freedom, allowing them to choose to fund a power wheelchair otherwise unavailable on the NHS, or to pay for taxis or transport to get out now and then. Taking this away would leave the most vulnerable disabled people effectively housebound. There is no support for this change anywhere - charities, independent benefit reports and even the government’s own advisers have called for this to be removed from the bill

2) Scrapping Disability Living Allowance (DLA) entirely and replacing it with Personal Independent Payments (PIPs).

DLA is a very effective benefit with fraud rates of less than one per cent (the DWP's own figures) It is already incredibly hard to claim and the qualification criteria are very narrow. The government have announced that DLA claimants will also soon face assessment and that the overall number of claimants will be reduced by at least 20 per cent. The government’s own advisory committee concluded that they could find no justification for this reform and have asked for clarification from the government.

If a benefit is already very efficient, yet a government announces a 20 per cent cull before a single assessment has even taken place, we conclude it can only be a cost cutting measure that will ignore genuine need.

3) Time limiting contributory Employment Support Allowance (CESA, previously Incapacity Benefit) to one year

Many people who need to claim ESA have “long term variable” or chronic illnesses such as MS, Parkinson’s, Bowel Disease, Leukaemia or severe Mental Illness. These conditions often do not go away after a year and sadly, often get worse over time. A high percentage of those with these conditions are being found “capable of limited work” under ESA, and not qualifying for unconditional support (known as the Support group who are not affected by the time limit) but after 1 year, if they have a working partner, they will receive no ESA whatsoever. All of their benefit will simply be stopped, a loss of just under £5000 a year.

4) ATOS assessments are “unfit for purpose” and a better way of assessing need must be implemented.

ATOS are the private company charged with assessing over 1.5 million sick and disabled people during this parliament.

• The assessments are not necessarily carried out by a doctor.
• 40 per cent of rejected claims are going to appeal with up to 70 per cent of those decisions being overturned.
• Assessments are humiliating and degrading causing great anxiety to those genuinely in need.
• Just per cent of claimants are being found unfit to work.
• Testimony from consultants and GPs is often ignored entirely.
• People are dying before lengthy appeals can be heard.
• Even the professor who designed these assessments calls them a “complete mess”
• The descriptors exclude many serious, long term conditions or disabilities. This means that many serious conditions are simply unlikely to qualify.

There are other problems with the bill - capping housing benefit; re-classifying “mobility” so that those who use their wheelchairs too efficiently can be classed as “fully mobile”; removing an age related payment from ESA; scrapping the Independent Living Fund; cutting community care provision; cutting the Access to Work programme and many more - all of which will hurt sick and disabled people disproportionately, but the four points above must be addressed before the Welfare Reform Bill is passed.

They are causing, or will cause, real hardship. They will not achieve savings as pressures will only be shifted to the NHS or social care provision. They will increase homelessness, mental illness and poverty amongst this most vulnerable group of all. They will leave many in genuine need without support. They reduce the independence, standard of life and dignity of those we have a basic duty to protect.

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© Sue Marsh is co-author of the report 'Responsible Reform' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/responsiblereformDLA) on the government's flawed Disability Living Allowance (DLA) reform. A commentator, blogger and campaigner, she writes regularly at The Diary of a Benefit Scrounger (http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/), from which this is adapted and excerpted.

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