Replacement of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independence Payments (PIP) has begun in parts of the UK, ahead of a national roll-out.
The new PIPs are being introduced gradually for new claimants, starting in Merseyside, Cumbria, Cheshire and North East England. From June, new claims will be treated under the PIP system elsewhere – and in October some current DLA claimants will start moving to PIP if their circumstances change or an existing award ends. But it will be two years before most existing claimants begin moving to PIP.
There are currently 3.3m people claiming DLA, compared to 1.1m when it was introduced in 1992. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that more than 70% of claimants get DLA for life. But ministers believe the circumstances of some individuals can improve over time, so there is a case for more regular assessment.
The charity Scope says the changes have been designed purely to save money and that the new scheme will mean that 600,000 people will eventually lose their financial support.
But that is denied by the government, which says spending will not be reduced, but more help will be given to those who need it most. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith described the current system – where people were given benefit with no further checks – as “ridiculous” and said it must end.
Mr Duncan Smith told the Daily Mail; “Seventy per cent of people on it have lifetime awards which means no-one sees you ever again. It doesn’t matter if you get better or your condition worsens – it’s quite ridiculous. Taxpayers pay out £50bn in sickness and disability benefits – we’re ahead of pretty much every other major country in the G20. So this is not exactly what you would call harsh – this is quite reasonable to get it back under control and stop the unnecessary growth levels”.
Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey said the PIP would give more targeted support than DLA. “Disability Living Allowance is an outdated benefit… and needs reform to better reflect today’s understanding of disability,” she said. “The Personal Independence Payment will include a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews – something missing in the current system. This will ensure the billions we spend give more targeted support to those who need it most.”
Scope says DLA does need to be reformed but that the new changes mean a “financial lifeline is being cut”. One of the new assessment criteria that has been heavily criticised is tougher rules to judge how far a person can walk. Under the new regulations, claimants who are unable to walk more than 20m will qualify for the benefit, rather than the previous distance of 50m.
The charity’s chief executive, Richard Hawkes, said: “Day-to-day life can be more expensive if people are disabled. These are tough times for everybody and times are even tougher if your everyday life experience is more expensive. The assessment itself has been redesigned to achieve a budget target of the reductions that the government talked about in the comprehensive spending review. They said there was going to be a 20 per cent reduction then developed an assessment that will deliver that.
“The assessment looks at an individual’s condition, the health or medical condition of an individual, it doesn’t look at what the fuller picture is and what the additional cost might be of being a disabled person.”
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