Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Government disability benefits proposals are ‘divisive and deeply damaging’

Disability charities have voiced ‘deep concerns’ about new Government proposals to overhaul the disability benefits system with the aim of moving away from a fixed cash benefit system towards tailored support.

The Green Paper, Modernising Support for Independent Living, outlines the current government’s proposals for changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as well as the current eligibility criteria and assessments.

PIP was introduced in 2013 to replace Disability Living Allowance for people of working age to help with extra living costs caused by long-term disabilities or ill health.

A consultation has now been launched to explore how the welfare system could be redesigned to ensure people with disabilities and long-term health conditions get the support they need to achieve the best outcomes, with an approach that focuses support on those with the greatest needs and extra costs.

The Government says that there are now 2.6 million people of working age claiming PIP and Disability Living Allowance – with 33,000 new awards for PIP each month which is more than double the rate before the pandemic. This is expected to cost the taxpayer £28 billion a year by 2028/29 – a 110% increase in spending since 2019.

This is in part fuelled by the rise in people receiving PIP for mental health conditions such as mixed anxiety and depressive disorders, with monthly awards doubling from 2,200 to 5,300 a month since 2019.

Suggestion is that benefits are being ‘too readily’ handed out

National disability charity Sense said that this narrative around disability benefits lately has been divisive and deeply damaging, suggesting benefits are being ‘too readily’ handed out.

Tom Marsland, Policy Manager, added: “We’ve already heard from disabled people who feel sick with worry that they might lose their PIP, which gives them a vital financial lifeline.

“For most disabled people, disability benefits aren’t covering their costs as it stands – Sense research has found nearly half of disabled people found it difficult to afford costs related to their condition. Disabled people desperately need more support, not rhetoric that casts them as undeserving.

“Disability benefits are a good thing. They help disabled people to live full, happy lives. We should be proud as a country of having a system in place that provides disabled people with a safety net, not demonising those who need to use it.”

The Green Paper sets out proposals across three key priorities to fundamentally reform the system:

  • Providing the right support to the people who need it most.
  • Targeting our resources most effectively.
  • Supporting disabled people to reach their full potential and live independently.

These include looking at whether evidence of a formal diagnosis by a medical expert should be a requirement to be assessed as eligible for PIP. This will make it easier and quicker for people with severe or terminal conditions to get the vital support they need.

It also wants to explore alternative approaches to ensure people are given the right help to fulfil their potential and live independently. The UK has used a fixed cash transfer system since the 1970s but there are a number of international systems that look at the specific extra costs people have and provide more tailored support instead.

For example, in New Zealand, the amount of Disability Allowance is based on a person’s extra costs which are verified by a health practitioner. Norway’s Basic Benefit requires people to provide a letter from a GP outlining the nature of their condition and the associated extra costs.

The government says it is also considering options including one-off grants to better help people with significant costs such as home adaptations or expensive equipment, as well as giving vouchers to contribute towards specific costs, or reimbursing claimants who provide receipts for purchases of aids, appliances or services. Also whether some people receiving PIP who have lower, or no extra costs, may have better outcomes from improved access to treatment and support than from a cash payment.

Promised reform to social care has never been delivered

The National Autistic Society said that it was extremely concerned about the Government’s suggestion of restricting payments for people with ‘certain conditions’ such as ADHD and learning disabilities – both of which affect a significant number of autistic people.

Joey Nettleton Burrows, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, said: “Reforms are desperately needed, but we are concerned that changes to personal independent payments (PIP) could have a detrimental impact on autistic people in receipt of it.  Autistic people already face an unsuitable system in accessing the benefits they are entitled to – with only 19% of autistic people telling us that the location of their health assessment was suitable.

“Stricter rules won’t help, instead they are likely to take away a key source of income for autistic people who are unable to work or face numerous barriers to finding employment – currently only 3 in 10 autistic people are in work. The Minister also outlined that for many people in receipt of PIP, talking therapies and social care should be the answer – but he fails to acknowledge that social care reform has been promised and yet this Government has consistently failed to deliver.”

It is unlikely that any changes will be imposed before this year’s general election.

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