The government says it is introducing the new benefit payments for disabled people of working age to update an “outdated” system, but campaigners have suggested that the changes are more about saving money.
The new “personal independence payments” have replaced disability living allowance (DLA). Both DLA and the new payments are aimed at making the world a level playing field for disabled people, supporting them to live independent lives by helping to pay for additional travel costs or care.
But DLA was first introduced more than 20 years ago, and since then, the government says the numbers of claimants has spiralled out of control. In the past decade, the number of people claiming DLA has risen by almost a third from 2.4 million to 3.3 million, costing almost £13bn a year.
The new payment will include more face-to-face assessments and regular reviews of the payments, which the government says will take into account fluctuating conditions and ensure the right people are getting the support they need.
Esther McVey, minister for disabled people, said: “Disability living allowance is an outdated benefit introduced over 20 years ago and was very much a product of its time.
“The personal independence payment (PIP) has been designed to better reflect today’s understanding of disability, particularly to update our thinking on mental health and fluctuating conditions.
“We are introducing a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews – something missing in the current system. This will ensure the billions we spend on the benefit give more targeted support to those who need it most.”
The new assessment includes an individual’s ability to carry out a broad range of activities such as washing, dressing, cooking and getting around as well as reading and communicating. Pilots began in April and PIP will now be rolled out across England, Wales and Scotland.
But campaigners say that the changes are about saving money – the government expects to save around 20 per cent from the current bill – and this means that 600,000 disabled people will lose support. DLA fraud only accounts for 0.5 per cent of the total bill.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said: “Life costs more if you’re disabled, but this year with living costs spiralling and income flat-lining, disabled people are really struggling to make ends meet. Disabled people are getting into debt to pay for essentials.
“What’s the government’s response? It is cutting the very financial life-line designed to help them meet the extra costs they face. DLA needed reforming and could be better targeted. But disabled people believe this reform is just an excuse to save money.”