From the TUC

The threat to Disability Living Allowance

29 Sep 2011, by in Society & Welfare

The Welfare Reform Bill proposes replacing Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments

No one could argue with the government’s stated aim of the Welfare Reform Bill: to make it easier for people to access financial support when they need it. However there are a great number of concerns about the unintended consequences of the Bill, and the fact that changes are being made in the context of needing to find a cost saving of 20%.

Under proposals in the Bill, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) will be replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP). DLA is an effective way of supporting some of the most disadvantaged families in theUK. It is available to disabled children and adults to help them meet the extra costs associated with having a disability. Although PIP will initially be rolled out to those aged 16-64, the Bill provides the legislative framework for children under-16 to be moved onto PIP in the future.

The Children’s Society has serious concerns about the impact of these proposed changes on disabled children and young people.

‘There will be winners and losers’: The financial impact of moving from DLA to PIP

All DLA claimants aged 16-64 will be re-assessed to qualify for PIP. The draft assessment criteria are being consulted on and no points system or rates have been announced so it is impossible to know the financial impact on individuals. We are very concerned however that the government has stated that it wishes to focus support on ‘those with the greatest needs’ and that the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller MP, has confirmed that the government is looking at saving 20% of the DLA expenditure.

Clearly then, there will be some who currently qualify for DLA but who will not be able to claim PIP. It is likely that many of those receiving the lower-rate DLA care component will miss out under the new system; we estimate approximately 40,000 disabled young people aged 16-24 may be affected.

Proposals to remove the mobility component for those in residential care will make young people prisoners in their own home

Currently, all children and adults who receive the mobility component of DLA continue to do so whether or not they live in a residential school or home. Under PIP, those who live in residential facilities will not receive the mobility element.

The proposals seem to be based on an assumption that transport is provided by residential school and homes. This is simply not the case.

Transport provided by an education or care provider is often limited, with no extra provision for spending time with family and friends, going shopping or accessing leisure activities. The mobility component enables families to pay for adaptations to vehicles; it enables families to take children out during term time and provide for transport during holidays. Losing such a significant benefit would significantly affect young people’s independence and quality of life.

Extending the qualifying period will mean people are left without support when they need it most

Under DLA a person must have needed help for at least 3 months before they are eligible for support; under PIP this will be extended to 6 months. This could leave many young people and their families without financial support for a long time and will particularly impact on those with sudden onset conditions such as cancer or a serious accident. If this were to be applied to under 16s, those born with specific complex needs would not receive vital support for an extended period.

It is hard not to read this as a cost-saving measure, however the government says that it has introduced this proposal to bring the system into line with definitions of disability under the Equality Act 2010, under which disability is defined as lasting for at least 12 months. We would suggest that it would be better to maintain the current qualifying period and have a provision in place indicating support should be required for a period of at least 9 months from qualifying.

Children aged 16 and 17 are treated as adults under PIP

The government’s response to the consultation on DLA reform recognises that ‘the needs of children are very different to those of adults’. The Minister has also stated that the PIP assessment for 16-64 year olds is unsuitable for children. Yet this assessment will be applied to 16 and 17 year olds who are considered to be children under other legislation and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Research also reveals the anxiety young people experience when they re-apply at 16. Young people are often going through a number of complex transitions at this point in their lives and it is unhelpful to force reassessment with all the uncertainties that can bring. Should the government proceed we would urge them to ensure appropriate support for young people as they move onto the new system.

The Children’s Society urges the government to make changes to ensure the Welfare Reform Bill delivers for disabled children and young people

  • The assessment must be fair and objective. Information on the assessment criteria and the likely financial impact on individuals must be made available for parliamentarians to allow for informed and robust scrutiny of the Bill.
  • It is essential that the mobility component of DLA for those in residential care be maintained under PIP.
  • The extension of the qualifying period must be reconsidered in order to avoid having a damaging effect on disabled children, young people and their families.
  • The Bill should bring the welfare system into line with other legislation relating to children and recognise that those aged 16 and 17 should not be treated as adults.

Without such changes the intention of the reforms will be undermined: accessing vital support for some of the most vulnerable will not be made easier, indeed they may be denied it altogether.

GUEST POST: Liz Lovell is a Policy Adviser at The Children’s Society leading (alongside her job share partner) on policies in relation to disabled children and children with special educational needs. Liz has over 10 years’ experience of working on children’s policy issues for the voluntary sector. Prior to working as a policy adviser, she worked as a policy researcher at the NSPCC. She has extensive experience of initiating, planning and delivering research reports to support policy development and campaigning.