Ministers want the welfare reform bill to become law by the end of this parliamentary session in May. Ministers are targeting a total of £18bn in welfare savings by 2015. Introducing time limits for ESA is expected to save £2bn a year while the benefit cap will save an estimated £270m a year. Plans to remove the “mobility component” of DLA from people in residential care – which have already been abandoned – were meant to save £135m a year. However the bill has already made much progress through Parliament so is unlikely to run out of time before May. Iain Duncan Smith says he is determined that his reforms will get through – and says MPs will overturn any defeats from the Lords, when the Bill returns to the Commons.
What this means and what we’ve won in the Lords
Concessions already won can be overturned with a majority of Tories and Lib Dems in the house. That’s why we must work to convince our MP’s to oppose even more misery for disabled people. We’ve already lost a lot. In the House of Commons vote we risk losing on other key issues of fairness and equality-we’d like to see the whole welfare reform bill scrapped but here are the things we need to save
- Peers voted down plans that would have meant some cancer patients receiving contributory ESA would have been means tested for the benefit after 12 months. Instead they voted to make it two years to give them longer to recover.
- They also rejected the 12-month limit for ESA claimants who are judged capable of working at some stage in the future.
- And they rejected moves to stop disabled young people who have never worked, due to illness or disability, from receiving contributory ESA – usually paid to those who have been paying National Insurance
- Plans for a £26,000-a-year household benefit cap were also rejected
The Bill goes to House of Commons this month –act now!
You can tweet to your MP from http://tweetminister.co.uk/mps
Here is a template letter to send or just say what the changes in the welfare reform bill will mean to you and your families.
I/We are writing to express our concern over numerous aspects of the current Welfare Reform proposals and to ask you to vote against it as you are now being asked to consider and vote. Many of these measures will adversely affect the lives of disabled people and children and will in many cases remove disabled people’s rights supposedly guaranteed under the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities. If passed as they are many of these changes will result in widespread increases in poverty and homelessness and further exclusion of disabled people from society.
A number of my/our concerns around the Welfare Reform Bill include the introduction of Personal Independence Payments to replace Disability Living Allowance with a stated aim of reducing the number of claimants by 20% when the fraud rate for DLA is according to DWP figures only 0.5% and the social security advisory committee have said they can see no reason for the changes. Re-testing of claimants regularly although their conditions will never change will be a further waste of £675 million of public money and will merely add another test for disabled people to fear. 500 000 disabled people (already assessed as having high support needs) will lose their DLA, not because of a change in circumstance but a change in attitude.
Capping overall maximum benefits will lead to massive increases in poverty for those living in areas such as London and the South East where rents are so high. Disabled people cannot easily move to cheaper properties as care funding is not portable and cannot be moved from one local authority to another. Many families with disabled children are forced to give up work to care for them due to the lack of adequate alternatives.
There is a massive lack of accessible properties, both in the social and private rented sectors, available thus making it almost impossible for disabled people to find cheaper alternative accommodation. Further for anyone with a visual impairment or a learning difficulty it is often vital for them to remain in surroundings that they are familiar with and to maintain contact with medical and other professionals who know them well.
Another potential problem with housing is that the bill will link Local Housing Allowance rates to CPI index, which excludes housing costs. Already with the changes to LHA made it is becoming increasingly difficult for disabled people who have additional housing needs eg. to use a wheelchair, or have non-resident carers to find accommodation they can afford in the private rented sector.
Limiting of Employment and Support payments to either 12 months or 2 years for those in the Work Related Activity Group seem particularly illogical as disabled people’s impairments are not likely to go away and may in fact deteriorate. It ignores the effects of chronic, fluctuating conditions such as MS, ME, inflammatory bowel diseases etc. and even the impact of cancer on people’s lives.
The Welfare Reform Bill has at its heart the key assumption that many disabled people don’t want to work because of ready access to high levels of benefits. But the truth is that the real barrier to employment isn’t unwillingness to work. The real barriers include attitudes, discrimination, the built environment and getting the right support pre and in-work. At a time when sweetheart deals, bailouts and tax breaks reveal figures usually reserved for telephone numbers, 40% of families with 1 disabled child live in abject poverty. This figure rises to 50% where there are 2 disabled children.
Disabled young people who have never worked, due to illness or disability should continue to receive contributory ESA usually paid to those who have been paying National Insurance.
In addition, the universal credit and welfare reform will bring in ‘a commitment’ for those who fail to ‘apply themselves’ to proper work seeking activities to tougher sanctions. Once again this will not address the complexity of employment related barriers that disabled people face, even if they really are ‘fit for work’. Cuts to Access to Work funding will put in place additional barriers to disabled people in trying to secure employment.
Many families with disabled children will face a cut to the financial support they receive. The new system will result in these children losing up to £1400 per year The Government estimates that 100,000 disabled children would lose out under this change.
The proposed abolition of the Independent Living Fund coupled with the reduction of local authority funding will result in massive numbers of disabled people losing their right to live independently in total contradiction to the UNCRPD which was ratified by the UK government. This fund should not be scrapped without an adequate and ring-fenced alternative being put in place. In other countries where similar moves have been made the costs to the state increased as large numbers of disabled people ended up being admitted to hospital for lengthy periods of time. This proposal in particular will be disastrous for disabled people’s rights.
The reforms suggest that all claims should be processed via the internet which is not accessible for many disabled people. What alternatives are being proposed for those who do not have or cannot access this method of claiming?
We hope that you will ensure these issues are fully addressed before you vote on this bill; the future of disabled people now lies in your hands.