I’ve written more than once about the government’s multifaceted attack on disabled people, from demonisation in soundbites and via its media allies (even via the Paralympics) to the assault on crucial benefits.
One of the most malign and damaging measures is the switch from DLA (disability living allowance), which is given to disabled people to help offset the additional costs a disabled person faces just to get through life on anything like the same basis as a non-disabled person, to a new payment called PIP (personal independence payment), which will take place from April 2013.
Every single DLA claimant will have to reapply for PIP and pass a much harsher series of tests if they are to qualify. It is expected that around 500,000 people will lose DLA worth up to £120 a week, leading to them being unable to afford modified vehicles and other essentials.
Based on just a hunch, I made a Freedom of Information Act to the DWP asking what their budget had been for assessing the impact of this massive change on the wellbeing of disabled people – and how much of their budget was actually spent. Surely, nobody would even think of implementing something so enormous and potentially dangerous without conducting a detailed analysis of the consequences?
The response is due, under the legal deadline of the FOI Act, in the next day or so. My hunch was that I would find out that the DWP had spent only a small portion of its budget for a social impact assessment of its planned changes. The response I received today stunned me. It’s reproduced below:
“Thank you for your Freedom of Information request received on 10 September 2012. You asked for:-
Under the Freedom of Information Act I wish to know how much was budgeted, and how much
actually spent, for the following:
1) impact assessment of the changes you are making from DLA to PIP
Unfortunately, I am unable to proceed with your request without clarification of the information you wish to receive. To help me do so, I would like to know whether you are asking for the budget amount set aside to deliver the Personal Independence Payment Programme and current spend or do you specifically want to know what was budgeted for when conducting an Equality Impact Assessment and what has been spent?
Please note that if I do not receive appropriate clarification of your information requirements within three months from the date of this letter, then I will consider your request closed.“
Depending how familiar you are with the jargon, let me clarify for you:
The DWP asked me whether I meant I wanted information on the ‘equality impact assessment‘, or on the budget for ‘delivering‘ the whole PIP programme – and then threatens to consider the request closed if I don’t clarify promptly.
Here’s how the DWP website describes Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs):
“An equality impact assessment involves assessing the likely or actual effects of policies or services on people in respect of disability, gender and racial equality. It helps us to make sure the needs of people are taken into account when we develop and implement a new policy or service or when we make a change to a current policy or service.“
It’s about equality of impact of legislation. In other words, it makes sure that a policy doesn’t affect disabled people to whom it applies (or women, or ethnic minorities) more than non-disabled people it applies to (or men, or non-ethnic minority people).
Since DLA and PIP are not paid to non-disabled people, an EIA is meaningless in that regard. Since the change will apply to men and women, and to people of all ethnicities, equally, the EIA only needs to assess that no subset of disabled people is more affected than others. It need not consider at all what the total impact on disabled people in general will be – only whether it affects them all equally.
The implications of this are huge. If the DWP needs to ask me to choose between two alternative interpretations of my request, and neither alternative includes the assessment I asked for, it means this:
The DWP implemented a root and branch change to DLA – a change that will remove crucial support from hundreds of thousands of disabled people – without bothering to invest in or even budget for an assessment of what the consequences for those disabled people will be.
I’ve written back to the DWP advising that I consider my initial request – which was titled ‘Budgets/spending for social impact assessment’ – to be perfectly clear, but clarifying anyway:
I note your request for clarification as follows:
“Unfortunately, I am unable to proceed with your request without clarification of the information you wish to receive. To help me do so, I would like to know whether you are asking for the budget amount set aside to deliver the Personal Independence Payment Programme and current spend or do you specifically want to
know what was budgeted for when conducting an Equality Impact Assessment and what has been spent?”
My original request read:
“Under the Freedom of Information Act I wish to know how much was budgeted, and how much actually spent, for the following:
1) impact assessment of the changes you are making from DLA to PIP.”
I believe I was sufficiently specific about the information I wished to receive, and did not at any point mention budgets for ‘delivery’ of the PIP programme.
I wish to receive information not merely about the ‘equality impact assessment’, but about assessment of the general consequences of the change to PIP on the lives and welfare of people hitherto claiming DLA. I hope and assume that such an assessment was carried out before deciding on such a fundamental and far-reaching change – but if not, then that fact in itself will form part of the information required.
Please note that, as I believe my request was perfectly clear in the first place, I expect to receive the information within the 20-working-day limit from my request on 7 September, which is certainly imminent.
But whatever the response I get, the mere fact of the question they posed is enough to show that this government has treated the lives of the UK’s disabled people in the most reckless and cavalier fashion imaginable.
No surprise, but plenty of shock and dismay nonetheless.
We have to defeat them, no matter what it takes.