Asking the Lords to make welfare reform fair and safe

Yesterday I went to meet the "Amendment Lords" ahead of today's crucial votes in the second chamber, where the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) debate moves from Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the income replacement benefit for people with work-limiting conditions, to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is intended to help with the extra costs people incur as a result of severe disability.

With a clutch of emails of support from charities, groups and thousands of individuals, I explained why we felt there had to be a pause in the shift to the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) system.

I explained how worried we were that legislation would pass with so few details decided. I said we had lost trust in politicians to act with transparency, and even integrity. Leaving so much in their hands to decide under secondary legislation, later, means we don't actually know how the law they are passing will affect our lives. Or the lives of our carers.

They asked me what the single biggest concern was. I suggested that it was fear over another ESA style mess. I argued that unless assessments were designed by disabled people and took all medical evidence into account, they would just add to the disaster we already face with Work Capability Assessment (WCAs - the assessments used to decide Employment and Support Allowance)

I suggested that in any case, the ESA assessment process was already creaking under the strain of the sheer numbers of people the DWP want assessed. In my opinion, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would find it impossible to train enough extra people to assess 3.2 million DLA claimants anyway. I suggested a paper assessment as a first stage, and only once all medical and social evidence had been considered should an assessor decide whether or not to conduct a face to face assessment.

Most importantly, I begged them not to roll this out until we could make sure we had a policy that would work.

ESA is a three year experiment using real people as guinea pigs. The DWP admitted there were serious problems with it, yet maintained it was better to modify the ongoing process rather than pause it while they got it right. That means that every day, for three years, vulnerable people have been let down, denied support they need and been forced through stressful appeals. While we wait for the Harrington Review to decide our futures, every day, people are suffering. We cannot let that happen again.

This morning, the following amendment has been tabled :

Clause 80 - Amendment 50E

BARONESS GREY-THOMPSON
BARONESS WILKINS
LORD LOW OF DALSTON
BARONESS CAMPBELL OF SURBITON

Page 58, line 26, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an independent review of the plans for implementation of the assessments under section 79 before the provisions are brought into effect, and such plans must in particular provide for—

(a) a trial period before any assessment process is implemented fully for new applicants and those transferring from DLA;

(b) disabled persons organisations to be involved in formulating the assessment process.

We have just a few hours to make sure that as many peers know about it as possible. To show them that it has a coalition of support difficult to ignore. Charities, politicians and journalists are all ready with statements and letters and articles. TV interviews are lined up all day. We have done all we possibly can to make sure that if the Lords decided to table an amendment expressing our concerns, we would be able to tell peers about it.

The reform of DLA will cost £675 million. Half a million disabled people will lose support. We have made a very strong case in our report, Responsible Reform, arguing that ill conceived reform will simply end up costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions more in costly appeals and further strain on NHS and social care budgets.

Please, write emails, tweet (#spartacusreport), contact journalists, blog, plead and persuade. Use evidence, tell them how it will affect you, urge peers to attend the debate and vote for amendment 50E.

We must get this right. Lives and futures depend on it. The lives of those very same "vulnerable" people the Government have pledged so publicly to protect and support.

We are just asking for reform to be safe. At the very least, surely that is not too much to ask?

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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. Read Sue's blogs on Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/suemarsh

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