The current Work and Pensions Secretary – Mr Iain Duncan Smith, may have his work cut out for him as he attempts to bring about changes to disability benefits that will see more than two million claimants reassessed in the next four years, with a possible loss of 500,000 claimants. His radical reforms which will feature a new ‘more focused’ allowance and see that only those who are actually medically assessed to be in geniune need of support continue to qualify, has brought about a storm of protests online and via social media networks.
IDS says that the number of claimants has risen by 30 percent in recent years which is “rising well ahead of any other gauge you might make about illness, sickness, disability”. He goes on to suggest that ‘losing a limb should not automatically entitle people to a pay-out’. Instead, the focus should be more on how an amputee can cope with prosthetic limbs; a statement that has angered former soldiers who have lost limbs during the course of their service for this country. It could mean that these former soldiers may have their benefits reduced or even stopped if their mobility can be shown not to be inhibited by artificial limbs.
IDS is looking to reduce the cost of disability allowance, which now the most expensive benefit costing the government £13 billion annually and far outweighing the cost of unemployment allowance. He is hoping that these new reforms will shave off around £2.24 billion and cut around 500,000 people from claiming. In an attempt to rationalise the move, IDS said, “It’s not like incapacity benefit, it’s not a statement of sickness. It is a gauge of your capability. In other words, do you need care, do you need support to get around.
Those are the two things that are measured. Not, you have lost a limb…” And as the old Invalidity Benefit was changed to become Incapacity Benefit which is now called Employment Support Allowance, all made to make us think differently about the benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) has been renamed Personal Independence Payment or PIP. This apparently is a new benefit that will have tighter controls and a much simpler approval system, of which we do not know yet, but one thing is for certain and that is that claimants will be seen and have a health check by a professional.
IDS says there are three problems with the old system; one is that the structure of the benefit is loosely defined, two is that people were not seen and third is that people were given a lifetime award. It is probably the following statement of his that has caused the greatest outrage, “Third problem was lifetime awards. Something like 70 per cent had lifetime awards, (which) meant that once they got it you never looked at them again. They were just allowed to fester.”
I have looked at the comments on the Telegraph after this interview with IDS was published and there are several from parents of severely disabled children who, quite rightly, have taken affront at the wording in IDS’s statement to the press. Not only do many people have to look after a disabled child/spouse/parent/partner, but they do so with very little money or help or respite from the government.
I mean, let’s face it, DLA is not a lottery win by any means. The care component is made up of three rates = lowest rate – £20.55, medium rate – £51.85 and highest rate – £77.45 and the mobility component is made up of two rates = lowest rate – £20.55 and highest rate – £54.05. These figures are correct as from 23/05/12. It is typical that you will be awarded the lowest rates in both instances and that is if you get both the mobility and care components. So we are talking about forty quid a week.
What most people are angry about is the fact that yet again, the weak and the sick are being made to pay for the mistakes and/or the bonuses of the bankers, and the question of why the highest paying earners who avoid paying taxes and hide their earnings in off shore accounts are not being held accountable.
With the economy as it is, and ordinary people trying to make a decent living and having to cut back on the essentials, seeing the system that they have been paying into for decades, such as the benefit system, being cut and stripped down to pay for wealthy businessmen is causing great unrest amongst the main population. It would therefore be a huge mistake for IDS to wrongly think that he can get away with reforming DLA, as the government are doing with Incapacity Benefit and win the next general election.
When times are hard, people rely on certain things, and one of them is a government that stands for the sick, the elderly, the men and women that fought for this country and for the right to have the benefit that you paid into since you have been working. Take that away and you relinquish the luxury of a given vote.