Monday, January 09, 2012
What should the Spartacus Report mean for the Welfare Reform Bill? #spartacusreport
Disability campaigners, including Diary of a Benefit Scrounger author Sue Marsh have today released a report, Responsible Reform, which is highly critical of the Government's plans to reform disability benefits.
Under the plans, Disability Living Allowance will be renamed Personal Independence Payments, one level of support will be removed altogether, the qualifying period you have to be ill for before you can claim doubles from 3 to 6 months and there's a new assessment procedure. And we know how well the assessments for Employment and Support Allowance work now, don't we? Not.
The Report, Responsible Reform, alleges that the Government broke its own Code of Practice on Consultation by not giving enough time for responses, doing it through Christmas and introducing the completed Bill to Parliament before the consultation was complete.
While that's not good practice for the Government, the Report does reveal that the vast majority of responses to the Consultation, not released but obtained by its authors under Freedom of Information, were totally against the Government's plans. If they had done the consultation properly, frankly, I doubt it would have made much difference.
The Report analyses the responses in some detail. Many of course come from disability charities and organisations who clearly know what they are talking about. That they object to a 20% cut in benefits over 5 years is hardly surprising. They wouldn't be doing their job properly if they agreed to a cut for their clients. What surprised me was that one of the best, most articulate, well informed responses came from Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Responsible Reform also challenges the figures that form the basis of the Government's rationale for the reform, that the amount spent on DLA has gone up by 30% over 8 years. They argue that the rise is in fact only 13%.
The report also highlights discrepancies between the actual responses they've obtained and the Government's assessment of them in its official response to the Consultation.
Sue Marsh took part with the relevant minister Maria Miller on the Victoria Derbyshire show this morning on Radio 5 Live. You can listen to the exchange here:
Maria Miller seems very keen to imply ta high level of fraud on DLA, but doesn't provide much in the way of hard evidence to back that up. In fact Sue says that the rate of proven fraud is in fact 0.5%. Responsible Reform cites the Benefit Integrity Project, an exercise aimed at determining whether benefits were being appropriately paid way back in the 90s which came to similar, low fraud conclusions.
I think that our parliamentarians should be arguing for a rethink of the Government's plans and that the Bill should be put on hold while the evidence is re-examined. Sue Marsh was keen to make the point today that DLA is a benefit which is aimed at keeping people in work. Few people would argue that it works perfectly. Indeed, our own now Sir Bob Russell last year highlighted a particularly stupid decision to refuse DLA that meant a man with no use of his legs couldn't get to work because his mobility car was taken away. The Government has failed to convince people that its reforms will stop these wrong decisions being made.
I guess one thought that's crossed my mind several times recently is that you can see the different approach taken by Tory and Lib Dem ministers. The State Pension had its biggest ever annual increase this year thanks to Lib Dem minister Steve Webb's "triple lock". However, over at the Tory wing of the Department of Work and Pensions, we end up with time limited ESA and flawed proposals for disability benefits from Chris Grayling and Maria Miller.
The Welfare Reform Bill has much to commend it in terms of the Universal Credit which will end the poverty trap which keeps people on benefits because they'd lose money by taking a job. That reform can't come at the expense of ill judged cuts to benefits for the sick and disabled. Today's publication of the Spartacus Report, backed by charities such as Scope, the Disability Alliance and Mind, calls into question the Government's rationale for this reform and as such it's important to look at this again. Alternatively they can come up with evidence to reassure disabled people that their needs will continue to be met. They haven't, however, managed to do that so far.