Disabled people ‘will lose more than £28 billion in benefits’

Disabled people are set to lose more than £28 billion in benefits by 2018 as a result of government cuts and reforms to the welfare system, according to new research.

The research – by the disability charity Scope and the thinktank Demos – calculates that 3.7 million disabled people will lose out as a result of the cuts.

By 2018, some disabled people could be affected by at least six different cuts, through reforms to working-age disability living allowance (DLA), housing benefit, and employment and support allowance (ESA). Some could lose more than £23,000 by 2018.

About 150,000 disabled people are set to lose more than £15,000 each by 2018, with the worst-hit likely to be those – in the work-related activity group – who are affected by the new 12-month time limit on the contributory form of ESA.

Those who lose their DLA when it is replaced by the new personal independence payment will also be hit hard.

The research was carried out in a bid to measure the cumulative impact of all of the government’s welfare cuts on disabled people, something the government insists is impossible.

But even the cuts assessed by Scope and Demos under-estimate the total impact of the government’s reforms.

The researchers found that the combined impact of other welfare cuts was too difficult to calculate, including the freezing of child benefit (affecting one million disabled parents), the closure of the Independent Living Fund (affecting 19,000 disabled people), and cuts to council tax credit (1.38 million disabled people) and local housing allowances for private tenants (827,000 disabled people).

There are also continuing restrictions on social care, with local authorities tightening eligibility criteria, increasing charges, and cutting services.

Richard Hawkes, Scope’s chief executive, said: “In 2013, disabled people are already struggling to pay the bills. Living costs are spiralling. Income is flat-lining. We know many are getting in debt, just to pay for essentials.

“What’s the government’s response? The same group of disabled people face not just one or two cuts to their support, but in some cases three, four, five or even six cuts.

“It paints a frightening picture of the financial struggles affecting disabled people in 2013.”

27 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Government’s ‘secret plan to strip claimants of DLA’

The government appears to have a secret plan to reassess disability living allowance (DLA) claimants who have “indefinite” awards, in a bid to sidestep delays to implementation of its benefit reforms.

Three disabled people, who all work or volunteer as welfare advisers in different parts of the country, have described to Disability News Service (DNS) what they say is a suspicious trend being seen among long-term DLA claimants.

All three say the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) seems to be trying to cut the number of people on indefinite awards by reassessing them for DLA, while at the same time promising that no-one with a lifetime or indefinite award will be reassessed for the new personal independence payment (PIP) – the replacement for working-age DLA – until 2015.

Only last December, Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, announced – following concerted campaigning by disability organisations – that those with lifetime or indefinite DLA awards would not be reassessed for PIP until October 2015 at the earliest, six months after the next general election.

But by reassessing claimants using existing DLA rules instead of PIP, the government can sidestep its own announcement.

A disabled activist, who tweets as Blueannoyed and volunteers on various disability-related internet forums, has spoken to DNS about her concerns, after dealing with at least five disabled people with indefinite DLA awards.

All five – including two from Wales, one from Swindon and one from Northumberland – have been told by DWP that they will need to be reassessed for DLA.

“Blueannoyed” said she had not previously heard of anyone with an indefinite award being reassessed during her three years on the forums.

She said: “I think there has been a dramatic shift. They are saying 2015 to the public but I think they are trying to shift the goalposts.”

Mick Dillon, chief executive of the Disability Resource Centre, in Bedfordshire, was another to raise the same concerns.

He said there had been a “very tangible shift” in the number of disabled people with indefinite or lifetime awards being reassessed. He said he was now expecting to be called in for a reassessment of his own indefinite DLA award.

Dillon said: “Our chair sits on the disability appeals panel, which is held in our building in Dunstable. She has been seeing, for quite a few months, people with lifetime awards being called in.”

Another advice centre, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), has seen a recent surge in disabled people with indefinite DLA awards being called in for reassessments.

Andrew Clark, chair of BuDS, said: “A number of people have said that they are being invited to go for a reassessment of their DLA because of a change of circumstances, but they have not actually reported any change of circumstance. They all had indefinite awards.”

He said he feared DWP was carrying out a “covert rolling programme of reassessments”.

A DWP spokesman said: “Awards of DLA, whether made for life, indefinitely, or for a fixed period, are made on the basis that the entitlement conditions continue to be met.

“An indefinite or life award would not generally be reviewed unless there is a change in circumstances that affects the entitlement.

“This would include a change reported by the claimant, as they are required to do to ensure they receive the correct amount of benefit, or through another source such as fraud referral.

“There are no plans to reassess people for PIP earlier than the timeline already set out by the government.”

14 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Number 10 denies Cameron misled MPs on DLA spending

The prime minister has been caught out for the second time giving MPs misleading information about cuts to disability benefits.

David Cameron had been asked last week about the impact on disabled people of the so-called “bedroom tax” – new regulations which will see housing benefit cut for families in social housing who are judged to have more bedrooms than they need.

But in a bid to defend the government’s overall record on disability benefits, Cameron claimed that government spending on disability living allowance (DLA) was rising, even though it is falling.

He told Labour leader Ed Miliband, who had asked the question: “The last thing he said before sitting down was that we are cutting the money going to disabled people. That is simply not the case.

“In 2009-10, the money spent on disability living allowance was £12.4 billion. By 2015 it will be £13.3 billion. There is no cut in the money going to the disabled.”

But Cameron failed to tell MPs that forecasted spending on DLA this year, 2012-13, is £13.6 billion. This means – according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ own figures – that spending on DLA will fall over the next two years.

A spokesman for Number 10 said the prime minister was pointing out that spending on DLA would rise over the course of this parliament, between 2010 and 2015.

He said: “That is often how we talk about spending, in terms of over a period, rather than year on year.”

Asked whether it was reasonable for the prime minister to use figures from three years ago, rather than the most up-to-date statistics, he said: “Yes, he was referring to the period over this parliament. That’s why he gave the date from 2009-10.”

Cameron had also claimed at last week’s prime minister’s questions that “people who need round-the-clock care” would be exempt from the bedroom tax, which come into force on 1 April.

But although disabled people who need a spare room for an overnight paid care worker will be exempt, those who rely on their partners for their support will not.

14 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Despite the decision to drop the appeal, Duncan Smith claimed there had been “no climb-downs at all” by his department.

He told Channel 4 News: “These are adjustments already because of the court case over the severely disabled children for local housing allowance [housing benefit] so this is nothing to do with it. This is a reality. We simply put the guidance out there to say this reality exists.”

It is still unclear what impact the appeal decision will have on a different court case, an attempt by 10 individuals and families to seek a judicial review of the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people.

Anne McMurdie, who represents three of the claimants – a disabled man with a mental health condition, the father of a disabled child who shares caring duties with the child’s mother, and a disabled woman cared for by a parent in a significantly-adapted property – said the government’s announcement was “not entirely clear in many respects as to how it will work and who is covered”.

McMurdie, from Public Law Solicitors in Birmingham, said the government had until the end of Monday (18 March) to produce its written response to the judicial review claims.

She said: “At that point we hope to have a clear picture about what concessions or exemptions apply in these cases and to whom and whether the regulations themselves will be amended. Once we have this info we can decide how to go forward.”

14 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Christiansen adds her voice to DLA transport fears

One of the stars of London 2012 has told MPs that government cuts to disability living allowance (DLA) risk making it even harder for disabled people to find work, because of the inaccessibility of public transport.

Sophie Christiansen, who won three equestrian gold medals at last summer’s Paralympics, told members of the transport select committee that she relied on her Motability vehicle, which like hundreds of thousands of other disabled people she pays for with her DLA mobility component.

She told the committee, which is conducting an inquiry into disabled people’s access to transport: “The message the government is sending is for more disabled people to get into employment and get off benefits, but how can they when they can’t get to work in the first place?

“I rely on my [Motability car] for everything, to get out, and I use my car when I can’t access public transport.”

Christiansen was one of four disabled campaigners who gave evidence to the committee this week.

Tanvi Vyas, campaigns officer for the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners, said the DLA cuts could mean many more disabled people turning to public transport because they were no longer eligible for the Motability scheme.

But George Fielding, chair of the Kidz Board at the charity Whizz-Kidz, which “provides disabled children with the essential wheelchairs and other mobility equipment they need”, declined to comment on the impact of the change from DLA to the new personal independence payment (PIP) on the mobility of disabled people.

He told the committee: “I can’t comment. It is not something Whizz-Kidz has expertise in.”

Christiansen was highly critical of the accessibility of the public transport system.

She told the MPs that the need to book rail assistance 24 hours in advance “takes away spontaneity and flexibility”.

She added: “Many users have to sit on the train and just wait and see whether they get help at their station. It’s really unreliable.”

Christiansen told the MPs she believed that taxi-drivers were more willing to stop and get their ramps out for wheelchair-users since the Paralympics, while having trained staff on hand to support disabled people at the start and end of train journeys during London 2012 pointed the way to a “key legacy we could have from the games”.

But she said physical access was “still the key”, and raised fears that the giant Crossrail project across London might not be completely accessible, even though it was a new project and “access should be at the forefront of new planning provision”.

Christiansen said she was “very disappointed” that the Paralympics had not led to bigger improvements in the number of accessible stations.

She said: “I am very aware how expensive putting a lift in is, but other transport networks around the world are a million light years in front of us.

“I went to Vienna last year and their underground is perfect and I came back absolutely disgusted by London underground. I think we should be learning from other countries, quite frankly.”

Marije Davidson, policy and research manager for Disability Rights UK, told the committee that there was “inconsistency” in the levels of accessibility and reliability of public transport across the country.

She said it was “very important” to involve disabled people in making sure public transport was accessible.

And she said: “What is really important to bear in mind is that it may be OK for a disabled person to make a journey if it involves just one mode of transport, but if it involves train… bus… tube, it becomes very, very hard because there may be a weak link.”

Fielding said he now felt confident using all forms of public transport, and claimed that “the majority of the problems we have are attitudinal”.

He agreed that the rail assistance scheme was not “consistently reliable”, but added: “I believe that once you get to know the people who work at stations and bus stops you are absolutely fine.”

When asked later by Disability News Service why the charity did not want to comment on the DLA reforms – which will see the number of working-age people claiming DLA and PIP cut by as much as 28 per cent by 2018 – a Whizz-Kidz spokesman declined to comment.

13 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

New DLA reform confusion after senior civil servant ‘contradicts McVey’

The government has again been accused of sending out misleading and confusing information about its disability living allowance (DLA) cuts and reforms, after a senior civil servant apparently contradicted the minister for disabled people.

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) at a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) event had been anxious for clarity on eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), which will gradually replace working-age DLA from April this year.

But contradictory comments from Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, who spoke at the event, and one of her own senior civil servants, have only added to the confusion.

In December, McVey shocked disabled activists and DLA claimants by announcing that the key walking distance criteria for PIP had been reduced from 50 metres to 20 metres.

The following month, she bowed to intense campaigning pressure and agreed that PIP claimants should only be assessed on what they could do “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period”.

This should have meant that some people who could walk a little more than 20 metres could still claim the enhanced rate of PIP, and so still qualify for a Motability vehicle, and McVey confirmed this at last week’s PIP Delivery Update and Claimant Journey Teach-in.

But her comments were later apparently contradicted by a senior civil servant, when he agreed with a benefits expert from Disability Rights UK (DR UK) that current regulations only allow for this group of disabled people to receive the standard rate of PIP.

DR UK has now written to the minister, urging her to make the PIP position “legally clear”.

The letter, from DR UK chief executive Liz Sayce, says: “While we along with other DPOs welcome your clarification, the present wording of the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 provides for those disabled people who cannot stand and move up to 50 metres safely, reliably, repeatedly or in a reasonable time period to be awarded only the standard (lowest) PIP mobility rate.

“This was acknowledged and confirmed to us by a senior DWP officer at the end of yesterday’s meeting.”

Sue Bott, DR UK’s director of development, said she feared the government intended that people who could walk a little more than 20 metres – even if they could not do it “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period” – would only receive the lower PIP mobility rate.

She said the situation facing disabled people preparing for the move to PIP was now “very unclear” and a “lawyer’s paradise” that would end up having to be tested in the courts.

She said she was “a little bit suspicious” about the government’s motivation in stirring up confusion, and added: “It feels like trying to implement a cut by the back door.”

She said: “The problem with something that is obscure is that it is very easy then for people to not get what they are entitled to.

“You can imagine how the likes of Atos [the controversial IT company which will be carrying out many of the PIP assessments] will interpret this descriptor.

“As usual, it will be left to people knowing their rights and having the energy to pursue an appeal to get what they ought to be entitled to.”

She added: “The [PIP] system was supposed to be simple, but it has turned out to be anything but.”

A DWP spokeswoman insisted that there was no confusion, and that “individuals who cannot stand and then move 20 metres will receive the enhanced rate of the mobility component”.

She said that if a claimant could “move distances between 20 metres and 50 metres but cannot do so safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period, they would also receive the enhanced rate”.

She added: “The minister made this clear, as have our officials.”

She said that McVey would be responding to DR UK’s letter in due course.

It is just the latest example of confusion and apparently misleading information from DWP over its DLA reforms.

Last month, Disability News Service reported that the government’s own telephone helpline advisers had been passing DLA claimants with lifetime or indefinite awards out-of-date information about when they would face reassessments.

And last week, DWP was accused by MPs of “manipulating” its own DLA statistics in a bid to justify scrapping the benefit.

7 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government ‘manipulated’ DLA figures to try to justify cuts

The government has been accused by MPs of “manipulating” its own benefit statistics in a bid to justify scrapping working-age disability living allowance (DLA).

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claimed that the number of DLA claimants was increasing, but neglected to point out that working-age recipients have actually been falling.

On Monday – the same day that Channel 4 aired a Dispatches investigation into the reforms – DWP released a “statistical update”, which it said showed the number of successful claimants of DLA had risen by 15,000 between February and May 2012.

But analysis of DWP figures by Disability News Service (DNS) has shown that the rise in claimants is due to increases in the number of children and older people receiving DLA, while the number of claimants aged 16-64 actually fell by more than 1,600.

This is important because the reforms and cuts will only affect working-age claimants, with DLA for that group to be gradually replaced by the new personal independence payment (PIP) from April.

Stephen Lloyd, the disabled Liberal Democrat MP, who has previously criticised the coalition for “pandering to the Daily Mail” – after it published a misleading press release about the results of its “fitness for work” tests –  said he was “extremely angry at this sleight of hand by the DWP”.

He is to write to Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, to highlight his concerns about her department’s “massaging of the stats”.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said it was “yet another example of the DWP manipulating the figures on DLA to suit their agenda of abolishing DLA”.

She said: “I find it astonishing that it was not made clear that the number of working age applicants are falling, and can only conclude that this did not suit their agenda.

“The DWP have form in creating impressions rather than dealing with the real facts.  Transparency surely means that you should not need to be a qualified statistician to get to the truth.

“The DWP ministers and its press office have been found guilty yet again of trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by its failure to be clear what exactly the statistics show.”

DWP used its new figures to persuade two right-wing newspapers to run stories claiming that the rise in DLA claimants proved the need for reform.

The Sun newspaper claimed the number of DLA claimants was “soaring” at the rate of “one every ten minutes”, and that ministers believed the figures “proved they are right to scrap DLA from April” and replace it with the “tough” new PIP.

The Daily Mail claimed that a new DLA claimant was “signing on” every nine minutes, and that “the rush to secure the state payout is thought to be because its replacement will have tougher eligibility tests”.

Both the Sun and the Mail published their stories as – and probably before – DWP released the statistics to other media, with the Mail even having time to commission a cartoon to illustrate its article.

McVey claimed – in a statement accompanying the figures – that DLA was an “outdated benefit” and that the government’s welfare reforms were about “ensuring the billions we spend on disability benefits give more targeted support to those who need it most”.

But Lloyd said: “Someone [at DWP] fed their, frankly, misleading line to the Sun and the Daily Mail and I doubt whether either of those papers have sufficient interest in getting to the actual truth over disability issues to do the proper research with the figures to see they’d been spun.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Given the interest in this reform, and to be transparent, we decided to publish a web story on Monday highlighting the top-line figures, with a link for anyone who would wish to investigate the data further.”

She claimed the figures were made “publicly available” four days before the DWP press release was issued.

But when asked why the press release did not make it clear that the number of working-age DLA claimants had fallen, the spokeswoman said these statistics were available to “anyone who wants to dig down into those figures”.

A link in the press release transfers the reader to DWP’s “statistical tabulation tool”, which allows a researcher to search the entire benefits database and produce “bespoke” tables of figures.

The DWP spokeswoman said: “I have done nothing more than be open and transparent. We always talk about the overall caseload. That is what we have done. I have put a press release on the website in the interests of transparency.”

When DNS questioned how the Mail and the Sun knew in advance about the figures, she said: “I am sorry but I am not going to give you a blow-by-blow description of who the press office deals with.”

And when asked why the DWP press office was not being open and transparent about when it told the Mail and the Sun about the figures, she said: “I am not giving you a running commentary.”

1 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012’s golden girl says DLA cuts and reforms are ‘massive step back’

One of the stars of the London 2012 Paralympics has said that the government’s disability living allowance (DLA) reforms and spending cuts will damage her chances of defending her two track gold medals at Rio 2016.

Hannah Cockroft is the most high-profile Paralympian yet to speak out about the coalition’s reforms and its plans to cut spending by nearly 30 per cent and replace working-age DLA with the new personal independence payment (PIP).

The 20-year-old wheelchair-racer told Disability News Service: “As a disabled person, I don’t agree with the new proposals. I don’t think they realise how much they are going to take away and how much it is going to take the country backwards.

“We have come so far since London 2012, with disabled people getting their own individuality, freedom and confidence, in believing in themselves.

“By doing this, it is taking all that support away. It is just a massive step back.”

The number of working-age people claiming DLA or PIP – as well as spending on working-age DLA or PIP – will be cut by as much as 28 per cent by 2018, with 900,000 fewer people receiving PIP than if DLA had not been replaced.

Cockroft, who has received huge media and public attention since winning gold at both 100 metres and 200 metres at London 2012, believes she will lose all of her DLA once she is reassessed for PIP.

She said: “I am pretty sure I am going to lose my support. That’s my personal view. If they want to prove me wrong, please do so.”

If she has her benefit removed, she will lose her Motability vehicle, and will then have to reply on her parents to drive her to training and races. If she bought her own car, she would need to find the money to have it fitted with expensive hand controls and adaptations.

She said: “I can’t just hop on a bus with my racing chair. I have no chance without a car.

“My car is a Motability vehicle and it is part of my freedom and helps me get out there. It is a massive worry. I am about to lose my confidence, my freedom.”

Cockroft used some of her DLA to learn how to drive, so she did not have to rely on her parents for transport.

It allowed her to drive to training for wheelchair basketball, the sport she played before making her mark in athletics.

She said: “DLA helped me get to basketball matches and all the other crazy things in my life, so I could see my friends and live a normal teenage life.

“People say, ‘You’re a Paralympian, you can do anything,’ but in everyday life there are things you struggle with, and DLA helps you with that, so you can find another way of doing things.”

28 February 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com