26 Oct 2013

Controversial disability welfare reform delayed indefinitely

The government has delayed its new disability benefit. Civil servants working on the project previously criticised for weak management said “it took longer expected”.

The Department for Work and Pensions is to push back the dates for transferring claimants from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The change to the new benefit is an important part of the government’s shift to universal credit.

Originally all 3.3m disability living allowance claimants were due to be on the new system at the beginning of October before being moved to the end of the month, there is now no set rollout date on the reform going through.

Civil servants said it was “taking longer than expected” to make the change because of delays in assessing people’s eligibility for the benefit. And that “an unexpected issue” in early October had derailed the timeline.

The changes were revealed in a Written Ministerial Statement by Work and Pensions Minister Mike Penning today.

Previously weak management has been blamed for problems with the programme.

In September, the National Audit Office found flaws in the handling of the department’s £2.4 billion flagship welfare programme, Universal Credit. The watchdog concluded that the department had not been realistic enough when setting out its timetable for roll-out of the scheme, and said it had also been hampered by weak management.

Labour Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves described it as “the latest example of chaos in the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Read more: FactCheck: is universal credit becoming another government IT disaster?

The change to disability benefits has been controversial, even before the operations ran into trouble.

Mr Penning defended the new system again today: “DLA is an outdated benefit introduced over twenty years ago, whereas the new benefit is designed to better reflect today’s understanding of disability, particularly with regards to mental health and fluctuating conditions.

“Under the Personal Independence Payment claimants will have a face-to-face assessment and systematic reviews – something missing in the current system – to ensure the billions we spend give more targeted support to those who need it most.”

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, laid out the case against the reforms: “DLA is a life-line. It helps people meet the extra costs of living with a disability. With spiralling living costs it’s never been more crucial.

“DLA needs reforming. But the Government’s assessment for the new Personal Independence Payment is deeply flawed. This means the support won’t be targeted to those that really need it.

“At the same time the fact that the Government is predicting how many disabled people will lose support before they have tested everyone raises the question of whether the Government is working to set targets.

“Disabled people believe this reform is just an excuse to save money. Under current plans 600,000 disabled people will lose the financial life-line designed to help them meet the extra costs they face.”