The government is set to launch a major reform of disability living allowance (DLA) – with tighter eligibility, a new medical test and reassessments for all claimants of working age.
The chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his emergency budget on Tuesday that the new medical test would be applied to “new and existing” DLA claimants from 2013.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said later that reassessments of existing DLA claimants would only apply to adults of working age.
A DWP spokeswoman told Disability News Service: “It has not been ruled out that we would look at other claimants of DLA later on. We might, we might not.”
The announcement was one of a series of measures designed to deal with what Osborne said was the “staggering” increase of £60 billion in the welfare budget over the last ten years.
He said the annual cost of DLA had quadrupled to more than £11 billion and that he wanted to improve “incentives to work”.
He also announced budget cuts of an average 25 per cent for all government departments – apart from health and international development – which the Institute for Fiscal Studies later said would lead to “the longest, deepest sustained period of cuts to public services spending at least since World War Two”.
Inclusion London said the DLA changes would be “bad for disabled people and bad for equality”, while Disability Alliance said the government’s austerity package raised “the spectre of grinding poverty and increased social isolation for disabled people and their families”.
Further details obtained by Disability News Service appear to confirm that the government wants to make it harder for disabled people to claim DLA, a key benefit in helping disabled people live independently.
The DWP spokeswoman said current spending on DLA was “unsustainable” and the new “more objective” assessment would make DLA “fairer and ensure its financial sustainability”, with support “targeted on those with greatest need”.
Asked if this would mean stricter criteria, in order to cut the number of people claiming DLA, she said: “It looks like that is the way it could go if they want to reduce the numbers on the benefit. I think so, yes.”
Budget documents also make it clear the government intends to tighten eligibility, stating that DLA reform would “ensure support is targeted on those with the highest medical need”.
RADAR and the National Centre for Independent Living are among those that have raised serious concerns over Osborne’s suggestion that receiving DLA could lower a disabled person’s incentive to find a job. DLA is intended to help with the extra costs of disability, and has no connection with whether the recipient is in work.
But in his budget statement, Osborne said the reforms would mean “we can continue to afford paying this important benefit to those with the greatest needs, while significantly improving incentives to work for others”.
The DWP spokeswoman said the government was committed to ensuring that DLA “improves work incentives and encourages responsibility and fairness”.
She added: “How the work incentives element will play out is still to be worked out.”
The DWP also confirmed that there would be an entirely new medical assessment for DLA claimants, which would be separate to the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA), the new test for out-of-work disability benefits.
The DWP said it would “use some of the learning we have had from implementing the WCA, but it would be a different assessment”.
News provided by John Pring