By Steve McIntosh, Policy & Public Affairs Manager at Carers UK
Next year will mark one of the biggest changes to disability benefits since the introduction of Disability Living Allowance in 1992. On April 8th 2013 the Government will introduce the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the replacement benefit for Disability Living Allowance.
As we get closer to that date, Government is publishing more and more details about what the new benefit and the process for reassessments will look like and Carers UK has just submitted more evidence to the Government on what they’re calling their ‘detailed design’ of PIP.
First off, we’ve said very clearly that we question the very basis of these reforms, and stated our complete opposition to the massive cut in the number of people who will be eligible for PIP by the time the implementation process is complete. I never get tired of saying that - despite all the media reporting - the fraud rate for Disability Living Allowance is just 0.5% - which means that the over 20% reduction in spending on the benefit cannot be justified in terms of stripping the benefit from people who are fiddling the system.
However, alongside these headlines it is essential that the small details of the proposals are thoroughly scrutinised – because they could have significant and potentially disastrous consequences for families who are often already struggling to make ends meet prior to these reforms.
Here are a couple of examples from our response to this latest consultation.
- Linking rules: these are rules which currently allow people who have come off DLA to reclaim the benefit within 2 years if they need it again, without having to ‘requalify.’ The Government plans to limit this to 1 year for PIP. Inevitably this will hit people with fluctuating conditions, like mental health conditions or Multiple Sclerosis for example, who might have reduced symptoms for twelve months but then need DLA again and have to go through the needlessly bureaucratic and stressful process of making a whole new claim.
- Motability: Under PIP, families will lose the right to retain Motability vehicles if they spend 28 days or more as a hospital in-patient in any 365 day period. This fails to recognise just how much families depend on these vehicles, often as their only vehicle in the family, and just how often many disabled people with complex needs have to stay in hospital. Losing their Motability vehicle could be devastating for families.
In our response we have made our opposition to these proposals very clear. Arguing for the retention of the existing 2 year linking period and strongly urging the Government to completely reconsider the Motability changes.
This kind of detailed work is therefore essential, as a few sentences in these regulations could mean the loss of benefits or other support for thousands of families.
In addition, we still have the big outstanding question about how carers will be directly affected – either because their family has to bear the wider impact of the loss of disability benefits, or because they lose Carer’s Allowance as a result of the person they care for losing their benefit.
None of the existing Government impact assessments address the first point – and we have pointed to the real risks that stripping disabled people of a key benefit could have serious knock on impacts for carers. If the people they support lose income which enables them to afford transport, aids and adaptions, help with domestic chores or care services, then carers are going to be put under more pressure. If people are forced to give up work or reach breaking point as a result, this is going to bring much bigger costs in the long term.
The latest impact assessment from Government does however address the question of Carer’s Allowance, saying that the cuts to PIP will not reduce the number of people receiving Carer’s Allowance. We question this. The cuts will mean a total 23% reduction in the number of people getting PIP, and a 6% reduction in the number of people in the key groups which act as a gateway to Carer’s Allowance (the ‘daily living’ component of PIP). How is it possible that this cut will not be mirrored by a reduction in the numbers of people getting Carer’s Allowance?
A 6% cut in the relevant group of carers would amount to a fall of over 15,000 carers receiving Carer’s Allowance – at a time that their family was already losing DLA/PIP. In short, these families would face complete financial disaster.
To trust these figures we have asked the Government to publish the full details of their impact assessment and to urgently carry out a full examination of how carers will be affected. As, if our worries turn out to be true, not only will thousands of families face crippling cuts to their benefits, but the NHS and social care services are going to end up paying in the long-term as families already struggling to make ends meet are left unable to cope.
To read our full response to the consultation, click here.
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