SEN Stories in the news this past week

Recap of SNJ posts and other news about SEN this week:

Disability groups call for pause for thought in welfare reform

The NAS has today thrown its weight behind a call for the government to reconsider its plans for welfare reform relating to the Disability Living Allowance. The level of fraud for this allowance is very low and thr form that has to be filled in just to apply for it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

This is what the NAS had to say on their website:

We are calling on the Government to pause the Welfare Reform bill and carefully consider its reform of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The Welfare Reform Bill which will implement these proposed reforms is now in the final stages of its Parliamentary passage but the details of how the reform would affect disabled people have not been fully investigated.

Last week a Responsible Reform report (known as the Spartacus report) revealed strong opposition from disabled people, charities and other interested groups to the Coalition Government’s proposed changes to DLA. The report showed worrying evidence that the Government’s decision to reduce projected DLA expenditure by 20% may have been based on incomplete or misleading data about the reasons for growth in DLA.  It has also been revealed today that the proposed changes will lead to 500,000 disabled people no longer being eligible for this benefit.

Independent surveys carried out by some of the signatories to this letter have shown that cuts to DLA will force more disabled people into poverty, which is likely to increase the burden on the NHS and social care system in the long run. Such a potentially risky change in policy should not be taken forward without a robust and accurate evidence base and the support of disabled people and the experts in this field.

Last year the Government took the bold decision to pause and reflect on its reorganisation of the NHS after similar levels of concern and anxiety from medical groups and patients. Today Papworth Trust, Action on Hearing Loss, Brandon Trust, Campaign for a Fair Society, Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales, Ekklesia, Leonard Cheshire Disability, MS Society, The National Autistic Society, Rethink Mental Illness, RNIB, Sense, Three Cs, United Response and the Westminster Society are asking the Government to show similar foresight and pause the Welfare Reform Bill to investigate the strong concerns raised above. We ask Peers to support amendments to pause the legislation that will affect so many people’s lives.

Source: National Autistic Society

Surely the government cannot ignore such a wealth of disability expertise all telling them that this most vulnerable group of people will be thrown into poverty (not that they’re living the high life now) if their reforms go through unamended. Can they?

Report finds government misled MPs and peers of disability benefit reform

A NEW REPORT entitled Responsible Reform, published today by disabled people (9 January 2012), finds that government misled MPs and peers over the hostility to disability benefit reform.

It finds that Parliament has been given only a partial view of the overwhelming opposition to the Coalition’s planned reforms of a key disability benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

It also finds that this opposition was previously not released to public scrutiny by the Government.

The report is based on the responses to the government’s own consultation on its planned DLA reforms, which were only made public once disabled people requested them under the Freedom of Information Act.
Findings include:

* 98 per cent of respondents objected to the qualifying period for benefits being raised from three months to six months
* 99 per cent of respondents objected to Disability Living Allowance no longer being used as a qualification for other benefits
* 92 per cent opposed removing the lowest rate of support for disabled people

In all three cases, as well as many others, London’s Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson also objected to the proposed changes. He said in his response to the official consultation:

“The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the three-month qualifying period as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period. People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life.”

“We would recommend that the passporting system remains the same as under DLA, as it has worked well when signposting people to additional benefits to which they may be entitled.”

“The Mayor does not support this change, as those on the lower rate care component may have additional costs as a result of their impairment but may lose their access to this benefit as part of the proposed removal under the reforms.”

The new report, Responsible Reform, suggests that the government’s DLA consultation breached the government’s own code of practice and was “highly misleading”.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: “The ‘Responsible Reform’ report is essential reading for everyone with an interest in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) reform including the Government and Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee. It is a vital contribution to the debate on reform and a huge achievement for the volunteers who have produced it.

“As well as forensically deconstructing many of the arguments offered by the Government for their proposed reform, the report shows that much of the rise in claimants over recent years has been down to better access to the benefit for people with mental health problems, whose needs are often fluctuating and invisible.

Among the report’s conclusions are that:

* Only seven per cent of organisations that took part in the consultation were fully in support of plans to replace DLA with PIP
* There was overwhelming opposition in the consultation responses to nearly all of the government’s proposals for DLA reform
* The government has consistently used inaccurate figures to exaggerate the rise in DLA claimants
* The report shows that nearly all of the recent increase in working-age claimants of DLA has been associated with mental health conditions and learning difficulties. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of working-age DLA claimants – excluding those with mental health conditions and learning difficulties remained remarkably stable
* 98 per cent of those who responded opposed plans to change the qualifying period for PIP from three months (as it is with DLA) to six months
* 90 per cent opposed plans for a new assessment, which disabled people fear will be far too similar to the much-criticised work capability assessment used to test eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA)
* Respondents to the consultation repeatedly warned that the government’s plans could breach the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Use the links below to read the full press release and to access the report and the blog of Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, one of the report’s authors.

Source: Ekklesia | Full report for download | Blog from one of the report’s authors