One of the quietest announcements in the Budget Reports relates to Disability Living Allowance : “the government will introduce the use of objective medical assessments for all DLA claimants from 2013-14 to ensure payments are only made for as long as claimants need them.”
The Chancellor was rather more open in his speech, where he put this proposal in the context of concerns that “the costs have quadrupled in real terms to over £11 billion, making it one of the largest items of government spending.”The Chancellor made it clear that existing claimants will have to be re-tested to keep their benefit, and the context makes it plain that claimants can expect the new test to make sure that many of them will cease to qualify. In an attempt to justify this, Mr. Osborne spoke of the need to “continue to afford paying this important benefit to those with the greatest needs, while significantly improving incentives to work for others.”
The Chancellor seems to be a bit confused – DLA is not an out of work benefit, making it harder for disabled people to qualify for it will do nothing to improve – or worsen – incentives to work. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that disabled people will be paying the price for deficit reduction.
The government has a short memory. In 1997, the new Labour government inherited a similar initiative, the Benefits Integrity Project, which aimed to re-assess thousands of disabled people’s benefit entitlement. As news spread that disabled people were being forced into abject poverty and some were considering suicide, the government discovered that cutting benefits can quickly become very unpopular. The Daily Mail and its Sunday sister were particularly critical, and disabled demonstrators chained their wheelchairs to the gates of Parliament.
There is only one paragraph on this in the Budget Report, but it could turn out to be one of the most contentious measures in the whole Budget.