What is the history of disability benefit changes in the UK (2010-2019) and do the DLA/PIP changes make disabled people poorer?
I am writing this on the last day (1st October 2019) I receive Disability Living Allowance as a brief history of welfare reform in the UK as well as myself as an example to show how and where it got to this point. I have been receiving it for at least 16 years (it’s hard to remember back much further than that).
In 2010 there was a general election and no political party won a majority of MPs. However at the time I was a member of a political party (the Liberal Democrats) that came third. At the time I was elected as a Federal Conference representative for Birkenhead Liberal Democrats. So I was invited (along with other federal conference representatives including Leonora) at short notice to a special conference in Birmingham to decide (as a rather simplistic summary) whether the Liberal Democrats entered a coalition, with which other political party and under what terms.
There was a vote held at the end of that conference by show of hands on the various options – the option the majority went for was a coalition with the Conservative Party.
The reasons for this were partly because the Conservative Party (with 306 MPs) plus the Lib Dems (with 57 MPs) was the only combination of two parties to have a majority (a majority is 326 and 306 + 57 = 363).
As neither political party could then implement their manifestos, the Coalition Agreement set out what would happen over the next five years in lieu of a manifesto (2010-2015). There were certain matters on which agreement couldn’t be reached – and the agreement stated that Lib Dem MPs were allowed to abstain.
There were sections of the Coalition Agreement that many in the Lib Dems didn’t agree with (but many party members took the pragmatic view that it meant some Lib Dem policies would happen). Some in the party believed that any Coalition should have been instead with the Labour Party and not the Conservative Party.
However once the Coalition started, the Lib Dems in the 593 constituencies that had no Lib Dem MP had zero to little say over what the 57 Lib Dem MPs in other areas did.
I later felt the Liberal Democrats as a political party were doing things I couldn’t support in various policy areas and resigned my membership (as did Leonora) in early 2012. I also around this time sued the Liberal Democrat Party and Birkenhead Liberal Democrats and won over a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.
There was a complete rewrite of welfare (or benefit) legislation and policy during the period of the Coalition Government. The primary legislation for doing this was called the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
I will just concentrate on one benefit reform here – that of Disability Living Allowance (which I’ve mentioned I was receiving at the start of this article).
In summary one of the aims of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 was to abolish Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and introduce a new benefit in its place called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) instead.
The problem is (both from a law), political and policy perspective a right pig’s ear was made of it.
The people who were already receiving Disability Living Allowance (even those on lifetime awards) weren’t automatically transferred over to Personal Independence Payment but instead secondary legislation was agreed for how to deal with these people (including myself).
The process by which this would happen was outlined in the Personal Independence Payment (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2013.
Those in receipt of DLA would be written to (called in the legislation) “invited”* to apply for Personal Independence Payment.
*certain people on DLA won’t be invited – but I was in the category of one of those that were.
It was explained that if the person invited didn’t claim PIP then their DLA payments would end (or in the jargon of the legislation be “suspended”).
So (with a lot of help from Leonora) as she filled out the 50-60 page application form an application was made.
Then I was sent an appointment for a face to face assessment. In this area the Department of Work and Pensions contract the assessment out to a private company who goes by the trading name of Independent Assessment Services (which is part of the French multinational called Atos). Atos are paid approximately £140 million a year to do this.
Five appointments later the assessment was done (in August 2019).
Then I got a letter (in August 2019) stating that the DWP had received the information from the private company.
Then on September 11th 2019 I received a letter stating what the DWP decision maker had decided on the PIP claim (decision date of 4th September 2019).
Due to some quirk of the regulations even after the PIP decision was made – the DLA continues to be paid even after the PIP was decided. In my case regulation 17(5)(b) means the DLA continued to be paid for “on the last day of the period of 28 days starting with the first pay day after the making of the assessment determination”.
Which means the last day I receive DLA is today (1st October 2019).
I’ve already posted (yesterday) a mandatory reconsideration request of the PIP determination (average length of time to wait for those currently is about 70 days).
So now I get no Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and no Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to replace it which is a drop of £81.90 a week in income.
The ending of the DLA is something I can’t request a review of or appeal to a tribunal about.
Leonora also was written to (in a badly worded letter) to state that as a result of this change she loses her underlying entitlement to Carer’s Allowance. She was being paid Carer’s Allowance of £0.00 a week.
But it doesn’t end there – as a result of the DLA termination I lose a disability element of my tax credits. The disabled worker element of tax credits is £3,165 a year (about £60.87 a week).
So as a result I am £60.87 + £81.90 (total £142.77 a week) worse off (from tomorrow) so some changes will have to be made.
Now you could say why don’t I go to my boss (myself as I’m self-employed) and ask for a pay rise of £142.77 a week?
The problem is though that for every pound extra I earn, the tax credits are reduced by 41 pence and also it would lead to having to pay extra class 4 national insurance, income tax etc.
If I earned more the extra taxes would go to implement the policies of a government that is doing this to other disabled people!
For those that have savings (that can only be used once) over the expected average 10 weeks (it could be more it could be less) for the mandatory reconsideration to be reconsidered the shortfall (taking myself as an average) would be £142.77 * 10 = £1,427.70.
If it goes after mandatory reconsideration to a First-tier Tribunal (Social Entitlement Chamber) (expected 13 months) that’s a shortfall of £8,066.51 (in addition to the shortfall during mandatory reconsideration).
The above amounts are not amounts the average disabled person can afford – the policy aim and the design of the system is clear – it is to save the DWP money (despite the extra knock on costs to it spent on assessments, letters, paperwork and tribunals).
The human result of the policy is to take away from disabled people the extra money they need as a result of the extra costs of having a disability.
I’ve spent some time reading many other peoples’ experience of the process – there is a lot of disquiet and confusion. People with serious health problems and who are entitled to PIP are being denied PIP and having the added stress and uncertainty of going through this process (I would guess some would just give up).
And if you think the DLA/PIP reforms are bad – the tax credits/Universal Credit reforms are even worse (but that is a story for another day).
I will finish with this point. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) conducted an inquiry into the impact of the UK Government’s policies on the rights of disabled people. The UK is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
There was a UN Inquiry into the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the UK and a report was published on 6th October 2016. The report concluded that the UK government had led to “grave and systematic” violations of the rights of disabled people (the UK government stated that it strongly disagreed with its findings).
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