Will changes mean the disabled are hardest hit?

THERE has been a lot of concern that from April existing Incapacity Benefits are being replaced by Employment Support Allowance which will reduce the number of people eligible for help.

However what is also very worrying for the millions of disabled people in this country is that the Government is planning to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with a new benefit called the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from 2013/14.

Although the Bill has recently been published by the Government, there are many voices including disability groups calling for a reversal of this policy and a proper understanding of DLA.

There are estimated to be some 11 million people in this country who are disabled. Only 3.16 million people actually receive DLA.

This covers people whose disability arises from either a physical or mental condition.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about DLA is that it is often regarded as an unemployment benefit whereas in actual fact it is a benefit paid to disabled people either in or out of work and is a non means tested cash benefit to help any disabled person with additional costs of living which arise from their disability whether in terms of care needs or mobility needs.

It can actually therefore help people in many cases to stay in work even though they are disabled.

It makes me angry therefore when I read comments that the reform of DLA is about reducing dependency.

On the contrary in many cases DLA is about helping people to remain independent and to stay in work. Already the procedure for obtaining DLA is difficult and involves a 59-page application book.

The proposal to introduce PIP will, according to estimates, mean that the number of people receiving the present benefit will be reduced by about 20% and therefore anything up to 600,000 disabled people could lose benefit.

This will be vital for aids, equipment and transport. My fear is that many people will suffer if these reforms are allowed to go through.

Some will have to stop work if they lose access to the benefits. I cannot see that the reform will make any sense given that the costs of supporting disabled people who will lose this benefit are likely to be simply shifted onto the NHS and social services which means that overall savings are unlikely to be made from making these cuts.