The Commons have already passed, and the Lords are currently voting on, the Welfare Reform Bill. It contains provisions which will scrap the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replace it with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). It also contains changes to time limit receipt of contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) (a sickness and disability benefit) to a maximum of 12 months.
As has been pointed out by Lib Dem blogger Caron Lindsay, the change to ESA is utterly destructive and senseless.
But DLA is what I want to talk to you about today. The changes include a cash freeze in the amount spent on it. Because of inflation, that effectively works out as a 20%+ cut over five years. The number of disabled in need of help won’t fall – it’ll just be that less of them get the help they need.
Meanwhile, shockingly the official Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) consultation on the changes to DLA has still not been published, despite the fact that parliament is on verge of signing the changes into law. On top of that, the consultation didn’t finish until after the legislation had been written – making a mockery of the idea of listening to responses.
Thankfully, a group of disabled people have used very clever Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to force disclosure of much of the consultation. Their report on what they’ve discoveredis published today and shows just how dangerous the changes are.
They found that the overwhelming majority of responses to the consultation raised serious concerns about flaws within the changes that could be devastating to disabled people. Only 7% of organisations that took part in the consultation were fully in support of plans to replace the DLA with the PIP.
One of the responses was from Boris Johnson who came out with damning criticism of the changes to the DLA. He rightly points out that the changes are unnecessary, that they will cause undue stress to claimants and that the effective abolition of the lowest tier of DLA is likely to remove the benefit completely from many people who depend on it – especially those with mental health problems, because the lowest rate of DLA is the only one they can qualify for.
And where are we as a party when it is the Tory Mayor of London whose voice is the loudest in defence of Britain’s most vulnerable? This is about to become a huge issue. Yet, our parliamentarians have known this was coming for months but have stayed silent.
If we don’t stand up on this issue then politicians from other parties will. And when they do, we will (rightly) be condemned for failing to stand up for disabled people. We are supposed to believe in fairness, in compassion, in looking after the vulnerable. To be seen to remain silent on this issue will be hugely damaging to us as a party and will utterly destroy any claim we ever had to be protecting the vulnerable from the worst excesses of the Tories.
* George Potter is the Secretary of Guildford Liberal Democrats, writing in a personal capacity.