DLA is a payment to help people cope with disabilities. It is not an out-of-work benefit: if you need to use a wheelchair, for example, or someone to help you get out of bed and go to work, it helps towards the cost. If you're working but need expensive medication and/or transport to distant hospital appointments, your DLA softens the cost impact.
How does it work?
The amounts are awarded on a fixed scale according how 'disabled' the government thinks you are; it's not related to the actual costs of the assistance you need. It is, however, a passport or gateway benefit. Getting DLA qualifies you for other help such as a blue badge that lets you park as close as possible to where you need to go, home heating or the scheme that allows claimants to sacrifice part of their DLA and rent an adapted mobility car instead.
What's the problem?
The number of DLA claimants has rocketed from 2.25 million in 2000 to 3.2 million this year. About £12.6 billion is paid out in DLA. The Government has implied this is because of cheating, however the DWP's own fraud team say fewer than 1 out of every 200 claimants is lying. The more likely reason for the increase is that disabled people are expected to fend for themselves more nowadays and also live longer due to medical advances.
Ten years ago, a disabled person might have got a home help from their care team or have been kept in hospital when they couldn't cope. That kind of support has almost vanished, so people look to the benefit to help deal with their disability problems. The passport effect of DLA is important, too - it's often worth more than the benefit itself. The increase is also partly due to rising mental health problems - again, largely thanks to reduced in-patient care, and made worse by widespread problems with stress and depression.
If DLA isn't about unemployment and fraud is tiny, why is it being scrapped?
- The DLA 'disability' test is poorly designed, is weighted against people with social and psychiatric problems, and often clumsily executed. Up to 70% of DLA refusals are overturned on appeal to a tribunal.
- To save money. The Government has stated it wants to save 20% on DLA. Since only half a percent of claims are fake, this means they want to cut 1 in 5 disabled people off from support.
How will the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit differ?
- It's a (somewhat) simplified benefit with only 4 levels of award instead of 11.
- You will have to have been disabled for 6 months before qualifying, instead of 3.
- We're told the criteria will change to be less biased against psychiatric & variable conditions.
- The government will pay out 20% less to help disabled people - taking away £20 for every £100.
- It will probably be administered by ATOS, who make all the bad decisions on DLA.
- The appeals process will be more difficult.
So how much will the country save by not helping 1 in 5 disabled people?
- The Government wants to shave £2,170 million off the DLA bill
- It has estimated the implementation cost at £675 million.
- Even if the cost estimate is accurate (they're usually too low), net savings will be £1,495 million.
Just to remind you, the national deficit is approx 1,000,000 million. The DLA saving represents 0.0015% which looks like a small gain for a lot of human misery.
They claim there's "some evidence" that people getting DLA tend to become unemployed. Their implication is that receiving DLA makes you workshy: I'd say it's more likely that being disabled makes you unemployed.
Why is everyone so worried?
In the process of simplifying the rules several key changes have been made, including treating those who can propel their own wheelchairs as though they have no mobility problems at all this clearly is not true and does not recognise the additional costs to individuals who, for the most part, are unable to use public transport and rely on either adapted mobility cars or taxis.
Another is that needing ongoing assistance or supervision are not mentioned in the drafts. Those caring for people with learning difficulties, disabilities which can flare up at random (like epilepsy), or whose behaviour can be unpredictable and difficult to manage (like Autism) are concerned that they will lose not just DLA but also their Carers Allowance if they are re-classified and deemed fit, a significant loss for those who cannot stay safe in their own homes or go out alone.
Atos's continuing involvement is also very worrying, given their poor record. Amongst many complaints a commentor on a Guardian article about this issue claimed that when they attended an interview with an Atos assessor they refused her request for a female assessor, despite the fact that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being raped, the interviewer:
"insisted on examining me physically without a chaperone. Despite sobbing and panicking during the exam, he then informed me that because I'd let him touch me, I was obviously lying about being raped and therefore couldn't have any of the mental health issues I said I had because I'd been raped.
I was so distressed I don't really remember getting home and was affected for weeks, having to have my meds increased by the doctor... [I] was so distressed that the receptionist refused to let me travel home alone and called me a cab. I got zero points for mental health and was passed 'fit for work'... Just to top it off, he gave me zero points for physical health as well and I had to appeal, leaving me in a financial black hole for months and very grateful for my overdraft."
Some people, for example those with Autism or those with complex disabilities like deafblindness are likely to struggle to interact with the assessor sufficiently to complete the assesment at all, and should be made exempt from the process. In fact it seems possible that those intending on claiming disability benefits illegally will have an easier time 'faking' infront of an assesor with little in-depth knowledge of many disabilities than a person genuinely suffering but who struggles to communicate this.
Other individuals with lower level needs may still need support - they're not being classed as medically fit, but just fit 'enough' to be denied assistance. This does not recognise the impact that disability has on many people with low-level needs and a low-level payment should remain in order to support them to live and work as normally as possible.
How can you help?
Write to Lib-Dem, Crossbench and non-Conservative Lords and Bishops and let them know you expect their support and to vote for amendements that recognise that disability is complex and those who have disabilities need extra support, you can use all the areas we've picked out from the 'Why are people worried?' section, just some of them, or your own words - the Lords did really well against the ESA changes last week, they can do it again.
Write to your MP! The whole welfare reform bill will be back in the House of Commons soon - tell your MP to agree changes made by the House of Lords. We know the economy isn't in perfect shape, but if cuts need to be made hitting the sick and disabled first is the wrong kind of moral decision - it isn't their fault. Remind them how low the fraud rate of DLA is (just half a percent), and that 20% cuts will harm those who are genuinely disabled.
Sign Pat's Petition! which asks Parliament to have a pause, stop and consider the impact of cuts on disabled people.
And finally... keep tweeting! #Frothers #Spartacusreport #ttd, you can even tweet @UKHouseOfLords!
By Stubbs and Frothingangry