Friday, 20 January 2012

Changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

The proposed changes to the current disability benefit is once again in the headlines and the debate on the Welfare Reform Bill continues.

Recently the Government suffered defeats in the House of Lords and the debates have moved away from employment and support allowance (ESA - the income replacement benefit for people with work-limiting conditions) to disability living allowance (DLA).

In stark contrast to ESA, DLA is there to help with the extra costs people incur as a result of severe disability. Many of these relate to how independent a disabled person can be. As highlighted in my previous blogs, dramatic changes to DLA may well push many disabled people into poverty and hinder their independence. This action can only be seen as unjustified towards a “soft” target as disabled people do not always have a strong enough voice to challenge these changes but help may be at hand from a group of disabled activitists. Last week, they outlined in a Responsible Reform Report (Spartacus report) that the Government’s reform proposals are defined by a series of slapdash evidence and the containment of overpoweringly negative consultation.

There can be little doubt that the reforms to the DLA are instigated by the Governments’ aim to reduce the overall costs by some 20% as they have stated:-

"This measure will introduce an objective medical assessment and revised eligibility criteria for both new and existing working age claims for Disability Living Allowance to be rolled out from 2013/14. The assessment will follow a similar process to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) used for claims to Employment and Support Allowance … Drawing on the evidence of the impact of WCA the central assumption of this policy is that it will result in a 20 per cent reduction in caseload and expenditure once fully rolled out."

Instead of trying to steamroller ahead with the reforms, the Government should consider putting the brakes on and re-assess its flawed approach to date.

It is my opinion that they need to concentrate on certain aspects:

* Look more closely at the independent review by Sir Malcolm Harrington which the Government commissioned. His report supported many of the criticisms previously voiced by disability organisations;

* Provide clear evidence that it has fully assessed the impact the reforms will make on all claimants;

* Ensure that any assessments are conducted by independent and suitably qualified experts to ensure a reasonable, just and fair system is in place;

* Conduct a full review and debate the relevant findings; and

* Somehow restore the confidence of disabled people in changes to the system.

The Government has been heavy handed in its approach so far to this reform and this has made disabled people uneasy and anxious.

As a disabled person, I am not against reform but we must ensure that the right safeguards are in place before any new system can be adopted.