Denying disabled people support risks greater social exclusion, poverty and isolation.

By Neil Coyle

Last week’s prime ministers questions revealed a worrying misunderstanding at the highest level over the government agenda for disability benefit cuts. David Cameron apparently believes that plans for disability living allowance (DLA) cuts will not leave disabled people lacking mobility support.

DLA was designed by prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s government to help disabled people with higher costs of living, especially those with needs that went unmet by council services or the NHS. DLA is paid to disabled people with care or mobility support needs. The coalition has announced two significant changes to DLA:

– an end to DLA mobility support for disabled people living in care homes; and

– a 20% cut in resources (over £2 billion by 2015/16).

The chancellor announced in the June 2010 budget that DLA mobility support for disabled people living in care homes would be cut. The government initially suggested the end of this support would affect 50,000 disabled people and mean a £135 million saving for DWP. By the October spending review, figures had jumped by 60% to 80,000 disabled people affected with a revised saving of £160 million. The error demonstrates the poor analysis of the initial plans but the government also seems to be lacking clarity of purpose on the issue – including at PMQs.

The cut has been raised several times at PMQs and causes concern across the political spectrum. The Conservative manifesto in 2010 stated that DLA would be “protected”, which may be problematic for some government backbenchers. But concerns focus on the significantly disadvantaged disabled people affected and what the impact could mean.

Denying disabled people support risks greater social exclusion, poverty and isolation for the disabled people affected. The cut may not be cost-neutral either: there are costs implied to the Treasury through disabled people who use current support to attend medical appointments being unable to do so resulting in avoidable (and NHS resource-intensive) hospitalisation for example.

The initial government plan was to end support from October 2012. This has been delayed to March 2013 and is now connected to broader DLA cuts to be implemented from the same date. The prime minister announced last week however, that a review of the current situation is being undertaken. Many disability organisations are concerned that the nature of the review is unconfirmed: there are no terms of reference available and no start or completion date. How to be involved in the review or to help the government produce the most effective outcome for disabled people is unclear.

What is clear however, is that part 4, clause 83 of the welfare reform bill will end access to DLA support for disabled people living in care homes from March 2013. This clause will automatically disqualify disabled care home residents from accessing the ‘personal independence payment’ (PIP). The PIP is being introduced to replace DLA for all working age disabled people from March 2013 and will end the help some 643,000 disabled people currently receive. MPs will be voting on clause 83 and ending support before any review is completed it seems; possibly before the terms of the review are even announced.

This is deeply unfortunate and leaves the government exposed to accusations of confusion, unfairness and irresponsibility. More disturbingly, it leaves disabled people and their families deeply anxious about what the future may hold.

Neil Coyle is the director of policy at the Disability Alliance.

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