Watchdog rolls over for Treasury despite Spending Round equality fears

The equality watchdog has refused to investigate the Treasury’s apparent failure to meet its legal duty to consider in due depth how its spending decisions for 2015-16 will affect disabled people.

Two weeks ago, the Conservative chancellor, George Osborne, laid out how the government plans to allocate £740 billion of public expenditure in 2015-16, and how it will split £11.5 billion in cuts between government departments, including another £4 billion from disability benefits.

Among his Spending Round 2013 announcements, he told MPs there would be a new “welfare cap” – which will include spending on disability living allowance, personal independence payment and employment and support allowance (ESA) – and cuts of 10 per cent to local government spending.

He also announced new rules which will force anyone who loses their job to wait for a week – rather than the current three days – before claiming the income-related forms of jobseeker’s allowance and ESA.

In its equality impact analysis, the Treasury said the government was “aware of the risk that reducing spending may have negative consequences for groups of people with protected characteristics” and that “where possible, it has introduced measures that mitigate these impacts”.

And in the disability section of the analysis, the Treasury mentions increased spending on mental health treatment, the government’s special educational needs reforms, and money spent on improving access to the railway system, the NHS, disability employment programmes, and even supporting Paralympians.

But there is no mention of the welfare cap, the seven-day rule, or cuts of 10 per cent to local government spending, all almost certain to have a negative impact on hundreds of thousands of disabled people.

The Treasury has made it clear to Disability News Service (DNS) that it would be a serious matter if it had claimed it had met its obligations under the Equality Act, without carrying out the necessary background work.

It also made it clear that this underlying work had been completed, and that the section on disability was an accurate representation of the work it had done to assess the impact on disabled people.

A Treasury spokesman said: “Throughout the Spending Round, the government has taken care to consider the impacts of the tough decisions that have been made on groups with particular needs in society.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the body set up to “protect, enforce and promote” equality, has refused to examine the Treasury’s apparent failure to have “due regard” to its public sector equality duty (PSED) responsibilities under the Equality Act.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “Given our limited resources, we can’t analyse every decision in the spending review.

“We feel that improving the way the government takes spending decisions – for example on cumulative impact – is the right strategic priority.”

But when DNS asked her to explain what she meant by this, she said: “That is a matter for us and our staff.”

She refused to comment further, as did her manager.

Last year, the EHRC announced that the Treasury may have failed in its legal duty to consider how some of the cuts announced in its 2010 spending review would impact on disabled people.

Also last year, the government announced a review of the PSED, which forces public bodies – such as councils and government departments – to have “due regard” to the need to eliminate discrimination when forming policies.

The government has already slashed the EHRC’s budget, and delayed the implementation of discrimination laws that were due to be introduced as part of the Equality Act.

Meanwhile, Labour confirmed this week that it backs the idea of a cap on social security spending.

A Labour spokesman said: “The government has followed our call for a cap on structural social security spending, and we will look at the details of what they put forward as we develop our own.

“However, ministers have announced a cap without any plans in the spending review to make sure that social security spending falls under the cap in the long-term.

“They are spending £21 billion more on welfare than they planned. Without a plan to tackle the root causes of welfare spending, they will continue to fail to make the system sustainable in the long-term.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Osborne’s benefits spending cap will include DLA, PIP… and ESA

Two key benefits for disabled people will be included in a new “welfare cap”, even though new government research has revealed only a tiny minority of people want to cut spending on disability benefits.

The chancellor, George Osborne, announced last week that he would introduce the cap from 2015, and that it would include spending on disability benefits.

The Treasury was unable to say last week exactly which benefits would be included in the cap.

But this week, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed that both disability living allowance and its working-age replacement, personal independence payment (PIP), would be included.

It also revealed that spending on employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit, would be included in the cap, even though jobseeker’s allowance will be excluded.

It is still unclear exactly how the cap will work, but the Office for Budget Responsibility will be told to issue a “public warning” if social security spending approaches the limit set by the government.

If such a warning is issued, the government will “be forced to take action to cut welfare costs or publicly breach the cap”, which will be set for the first time at next year’s budget.

Labour has still not commented on the welfare cap, and its affect on disabled people, despite several requests from Disability News Service.

The confirmation of the benefits the government intends to include in its strict limit on social security spending came as a research report – published quietly this week by DWP – revealed new figures that will give a boost to disabled campaigners fighting spending cuts.

The survey found that nearly half (47 per cent) of more than 2,200 non-disabled people who were questioned thought the government should spend more on benefits for disabled people who cannot work, while only four per cent thought they should spend less.

The figures came from the latest Office for National Statistics Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, which measures changes in attitudes towards disabled people, and will feed into DWP’s disability strategy, Fulfilling Potential.

DWP also confirmed that new rules which will force anyone who loses their job to wait for a week – rather than the current three days – before claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), will apply to many people claiming out-of-work disability benefits.

The Treasury said last week that the new rules would not apply to those claiming the contributory form of JSA or ESA, but DWP has confirmed that it will apply to those on the means-tested, income-related version of ESA.

The measure is part of another £4 billion to be cut from spending on benefits in 2015-16, on top of previous cuts of £18 billion a year.

Meanwhile, the Treasury has again been unable to explain why it failed to take any account of the impact on disabled people of the “welfare cap”, the seven-day rule, and the cuts of 10 per cent to local government spending, in an equality impact analysis published alongside last week’s Spending Round 2013 report.

News provided by John Pring at http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com