Welfare reform bill faces Lords rebellion
Government proposals to cut spending on working-age disability living allowance criticised in House of Lords
The government faces another rebellion over its controversial welfare reform bill after opponents tabled an amendment threatening to once again split support in the House of Lords.
Opening a new front against the government plans, Baroness Grey-Thompson, one of the most successful disabled athletes in the UK and a TV sports presenter, will seek to amend parts of the bill with provisions that mean that there would have to be a pilot scheme before a tough new assessment regime for disability living allowance is introduced.
Campaigners against the bill argue that only once the scheme is shown to work safely can it be expanded to include all two million claimants of the benefit.
Grey-Thompson said she was motivated by real worries about the proposed big changes to how disabled people are supported. “It makes sense to have a trial,” she said.
“It does not have to be long. In my experience as an athlete, you can have all the training plans you like but it’s only when you start doing it that you can see whether it works or not.
“Hundreds of thousands of people will be affected by these changes. We want the government to do what it says, which is helping people.”
The vote in the House of Lords on Tuesday follows a defeat for the government over three other amendments last week.
The coalition proposes to replace the working-age disability living allowance (DLA) with a new personal independence payment, and cut spending by 20%.
DLA is a welfare payment designed to help people look after themselves and aimed at those who find it difficult to walk or get around.
At present the government says it will review its proposals after three years. However, critics point out that after 36 months the system would be bedded down and hundreds of thousands of people will have lost their benefits.
The allowance pays out a maximum of £73.60 a week, its middle rate is a little over £49 and the lowest payment less than £20. However the government argues that in just eight years the numbers claiming DLA has risen from 2.5 million to 3.2 million, an increase of around 30%, which will cost the taxpayer £12.6bn this year.
Ministers have argued that there are no checks on who gets the benefit, hence the need for an assessment system.
However, campaigners say achieving the level of saving required would mean cutting 460,000 people from the benefit roll – a chop that would mean arbitrary judgments being made.
There is disquiet about any system that resembles the controversial working capability assessment, which is used in other parts of the welfare system to encourage people off benefits and into employment. However, it has been criticised for “widespread inaccuracies” in the medical reports used to help to determine whether individuals are eligible for sickness benefits.
The government had to revise the assessment after its own independent reviewer found that it had underestimated the number of people who needed support by 60% in one benefit.
Of particular concern are mental health problems which is the only area of working-age DLA benefits that is growing. Mental health problems are notoriously difficult to diagnose and campaigners say that without a medical consensus on how it affects work readiness, the assessment will be used to force people back to work.