Last night, I met a group of parents of children with disabilities who were very concerned about the government's consultation on changes to the DLA. They are right to be concerned. The Disability Alliance has a good website highlighting the changes and the effects. I've also received details of a new campaign covering cuts in disability support but also benefit cuts more widely. (UPDATE: Also new report on this from Capability Scotland).
These are only some of the individuals and organisations who have contacted me who are worried about changes to DLA, and other cutbacks affecting people with disabilities, eg the Independent Living Fund. I've some comments and information about these issuses on my MP website - on disability benefits here, on the independent living fund here, and on changes to tax credits and the benefits system more generally here.
I've made my own submission to the government consultation on Disability Living Allowance, as follows:
I am writing in response to the consultation on reforms of the Disability Living Allowance. I have been contacted by a large number of constituents with strong concerns about the proposed changes which I share. There are several aspects of the proposed reforms to DLA that I wish to discuss further in this letter.
Firstly, I have reservations about the intention to reassess everyone who claims DLA. Even those who have life-long conditions and receive the higher DLA rate for Care and Mobility will be subjected to new medical tests. Repeat assessments can be very stressful for those who undergo them. The Government is intent on reducing costs for the administration of the DLA but reassessing all current claimants of the benefit would be a significant administrative cost.
Furthermore, reassessing those in receipt of the higher rate of the benefit is not just stressful for the recipient, but unlikely to result in a change in status as a higher rate recipient. It is often exhausting for disabled people to repeatedly validate their disability. This can become an arduous task in itself on top of having to cope with a disability.
The focus of the new medical test for the Disability Living Allowance is also of concern. It concentrates not on specific conditions and disabilities, but the ability of the applicant to carry out everyday tasks with the use of aids - in line with the Government’s intention to change the Care component to the ‘Daily Living’ component.
I have received letters from constituents questioning this. Disability is something that should be assessed without the use of aids, as the allowance should be tailored towards specific conditions that have different costs associated with them. It is questionable whether the costs associated with living with a disability can be accurately measured in this way. Disability costs affect people in a variety of ways such as employment, housing and transport. Many disabled people with less complex needs but very high disability-costs will be left without vital support.
The new medical assessment for DLA is to be closely modelled on that of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which has been criticised by a number of organisations working in this field and also in the Harrington Review which was set up by the last Government. It therefore becomes difficult to see the justification for using it as a template for the reforms to DLA. Work by Citizens’ Advice analysis suggests that the WCA frequently fails to accurately measure fitness for work. However, using a medical test based on the ability to work as a basis for the reforms to DLA is also concerning as it represents a trend in referring to the DLA as an out-of-work benefit. One of the stated aims of the reforms to the Disability Living Allowance is to reduce costs and to ‘reduce dependency and promote work’ (Budget 2010). Disability Living Allowance is not an out-of-work benefit but assesses the need for additional benefits associated with specific disabilities.
In addition to the medical test, the government’s intention to alter the Care component of Disability Living Allowance to become the Daily Living component also has consequences for in the levels of support available to disabled people. Currently, there are three rates to the Care component but the Government intends only to have two rates in its Daily Living component. I have received correspondence from constituents who are concerned that this simplification of the system will affect the support that they receive. Often the complexities of the costs associated with disability are so severe that to simplify the system in such an arbitrary manner fails to take in consideration the vastly varying severity of conditions.
The abolition of the mobility aspect of the Disability Living Allowance, as part of the changes that will see DLA being replaced by the Personal Independence Payment, is also of concern. The mobility aspect of the DLA is something relied upon by many disabled people to remain as independent as possible. It makes a vital difference in ensuring that disabled people can participate in everyday activities that non-disabled people take for granted. I am concerned by the intention to remove this aspect of the Disability Living Allowance and do not want to see disabled residents of care homes restricted in leading as independent a life as possible.
The Government has argued that the mobility aspect of the Disability Living Allowance is something that is catered for in agreements between Local Authorities and Care Providers. However, the charity Mencap recently surveyed thirty of the leading national Care Providers in the UK. None of those contacted had an agreement with a Local Authority to provide a mobility allowance for their residents. It is also highly concerning that local authorities will be expected to cover the cost of the removal of the mobility aspect of the Disability Living Allowance at a time when they are facing budget cuts of up to 28%.
I hope that you will give careful consideration to the points I have made. In previous years, there has been significant progress in helping disabled people to live as independent a life as possible, with improving access to many of the things that non-disabled people enjoy. It would be tragic if that progress were to be set back as a result of the changes being proposed to the benefit system.
Mark Lazarowicz MP
UPDATE: Apparently the DWP have been having 'IT problems' with their consultation on changes to DLA. As a result they have extended the deadline for submissions by 1 week (!), until 18 February. See here for details. (Of course, if the government had allowed the 12 week consultation period they are meant to, instead of 9, now 10, weeks, including the Christmas/New Year break, it would have been even better!)