Why changes to DLA should put disabled people first, not targets

Guest post from Eugene Grant – Scope’s Public Policy Advisor on poverty and welfare.

In 2013, with the economy in recession, unemployment levels still high and wages flat-lining, times are tough for everyone. But disabled people in particular are struggling to make ends meet and the way ahead is hazardous and foreboding. Already disproportionately likely to live in poverty, be out of work or paid less than non-disabled people, disabled people are about to be hit from all sides by a barrage of cuts to much-needed welfare benefits and changes to social care services.

Among these, one of the biggest concerns for disabled people is the future of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). DLA is a life-line for millions for the simple reason that it costs more to live in our society as a disabled person. The little things so many of us do without thinking – like getting out into our communities, running errands or travelling to work – can be much more expensive – often prohibitively so – if you’re disabled. DLA helps people meet these extra costs. In fact, such is the impact of these costs on disabled people’s living standards that academics estimate that taking these into account when measuring poverty could put almost half of all disabled people in the UK below the breadline.

With this in mind, disabled people are understandably frightened by the government’s plans to bring DLA to an end and introduce a new benefit called the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the subject of tonight’s Dispatches on Channel 4. Come the new financial year and PIP is to be piloted in a select few areas; in June it will be rolled out for new claims only; in October those affected will include those whose current DLA award is due to expire around that time and thereafter. In 2015, everyone else receiving DLA will be told that their support is soon coming to an end and they will have to apply anew for PIP; they will not be moved across automatically. While the department for work and pensions (DWP) has launched an online toolkit showing people chronology of changes, lots of people are confused about how they will actually be affected when the reforms come into effect.

The government’s aim of creating a better targeted benefit through PIP is laudable, but what we and many disabled people are really worried about is that the assessment with which the government wants to re-test almost two million disabled people is not fit for purpose. As our past research shows and as we’ve said before, this is because it doesn’t take into account the range of practical and social barriers that disabled people face in daily life. We’re anxious because the government is set to get rid of the low rate of DLA care and that, under the new system, disabled people who might have less visible impairments but still face real barriers to living full and independent lives will lose out.

But most concerning is that the government is already predicting how many disabled people will receive support before PIP has even been rolled-out. As a result of introducing PIP, the department for work and pensions reckon more than half a million people who would’ve have received support now won’t get it. For us and disabled people across the country, this raises alarming questions as to whether the government is working to predetermined targets instead of what’s best for disabled people and their families. It looks set to repeat past mistakes it made with the much-derided Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The government has to make some difficult decisions in terms of the country’s finances; but, at the same time, some people need benefits. They aren’t feckless, they aren’t scroungers; they just need a bit more support to live the full and independent lives that so many of us take for granted. If the government is really serious about leaving a lasting legacy after the Paralympics – one in which disabled people can fulfil their potential – then they urgently need to reconsider their approach to welfare.