As a report by the excellent campaign group ‘We are Spartacus’ (WaS) disclosed yesterday, the government is going to change the rules around “mobility component” assessments for disabled people when Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefit is changed to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
As its name suggests, the mobility component of DLA/PIP provides extra funds to disabled people with severe mobility impairment, to fund the additional costs involved for them to get around, for example the cost of assistance or a specially-modified car.
The mobility component of DLA is awarded at two levels. The lower level is currently £20.55 per week and the higher is £54.05. Under the current rules, the higher level is awarded to anyone who is unable to walk 50m (164ft) unaided, and qualifying for this higher rate also entitles disabled people to qualify to access a car under the ‘Motability’ scheme, which is paid for out of the additional allowance.
The government has announced that, under the new PIP scheme, the criteria for awarding the higher rate are going to change. Under PIP, nobody who can walk 20m unaided will qualify.
20m. That’s about 21 paces for a typical non-disabled person, or just a fraction shorter than the distance between the stumps on a cricket pitch (20.12m) – the distance a decent fast bowler can bowl a cricket ball in about 0.5 seconds.
Any disabled person who can walk that distance when tested – no matter how painfully, slowly or haltingly, and even if their condition is variable and they can’t manage 5m on a bad day – will no longer qualify, and will instantly lose not only £33.50 a week from their income but also their eligibility for Motability.
If you’re on a good wage, £33.50 a week might not seem peanuts, but you could live with the loss. But the maximum total DLA is currently £131.50 a week (assuming the maximum mobility component of £54.05 and the maximum care component of £77.45). The lowest amount of DLA a person currently qualifying for the higher mobility component receives is only £74.60 a week.
This means that the loss of £33.50 a week will represent between 25% and 45% of this crucial income – because they can hobble the length of a cricket pitch.
If you’re in a position to do so, get up now and walk 21 paces. See how far it gets you.
I just walked from my back door to my front door, and then 2 good paces out onto the garden path in front of my house. Then I stopped, because that was my 20m. Even being able to walk 50m wouldn’t allow you to go shopping without a vehicle, and a disabled person who can manage 20, even starting from just inside their front door, might not even be able to reach their car without help. Except they’re unlikely to have a car, as many will be unable to afford one without the higher mobility component and access to Motability.
The DWP says it spends around £12.6 billion a year on DLA. Its own stated reason for the change to PIP is to cut about 20% from this figure. So our government, which is supposed to protect us and especially the more vulnerable, has pre-decided that 20% of disabled people are no longer going to qualify for a crucial benefit, and has re-cast the rules and boundaries to achieve this end. It doesn’t matter whether they need it by any reasonable criteria – the rules are being changed to whatever is necessary to achieve the target.
The WaS report calculates that the changed mobility criteria will constitute around £980m, which is peanuts in the context of the overall budget (or compared to either the £7bn in tax that Vodafone was let off with, or the £3bn cost of reducing the top rate of tax for the very wealthy from 50% to 45%).
For an amount of money that could easily be recouped elsewhere, the government is prepared to take away vital income from over 400,000 disabled people, and to remove their access to a huge factor in their quality of life: their car.
This is a clear and classic example of the callousness of this Tory-led government – but it’s also a clear and classic example of its blinkered shortsightedness:
The direct saving for the Treasury of this change will be under £1bn. The estimated direct loss to the economy, just in terms of impact on the new and used car industry, will amount to around £540m, plus around £126 million in tax revenues. We’ve had good news for the economy – a very rare commodity – this week about an upturn in UK car sales. Removing £540m from motor industry sales is going to be highly damaging both to the industry and to the economy. The government continues true to form.
Lost jobs for non-disabled people
The Motability scheme supports around 21,000 jobs in related industries, according to the Oxford Economics 2010 report quoted by WaS. Even taking only the impact on the these industries into account, the changes will cost around 5,700 jobs. The people losing their jobs will no longer contribute to the economy; their tax contribution to the Treasury will be lost; and they will now be a cost to the Treasury in terms of unemployment benefits.
Lost jobs for disabled people
Between disabled people and their carers who are able to work because of access to Motability, the Oxford Economics 2010 report estimates that disabled people and their carers contribute around £1.2bn to the economy. The reduced eligibility will reduce this contribution by up to 42%, a loss to the economy of around £504 million.
The disabled people who will no longer qualify for Motability will still need transport to medical appointments etc. The additional cost of providing Dial-a-Ride and ambulance transport for them to get to these essential appointments is estimated at £8 million.
All these add up to a loss to GDP of well over a billion pounds, plus substantial tax revenues lost to the Treasury. Yet again, this government has demonstrated a shortsightedness that amounts to severe myopia – or more likely, a complete disregard for the health of the economy if it thinks it has an opportunity to slash the welfare state that we should be proud of.
This all looks bad enough, but the WaS report bases its figures on around 27% of disabled people losing their eligibility for the higher-rate mobility component and with that their access to Motability. The government’s stated aim in making the DLA to PIP change is to remove around 500,000 people out of the 3.2m who currently qualify from eligibility for any kind of disability benefit.
However, Conservative minister Esther McVey recently told the House of Commons that of the 560,000 people who will be assessed for the new benefit by 2015, 330,000 are expected to be excluded from it. That’s an exclusion rate of 59% and equates to about 1.9 million people excluded from disability benefit altogether if that rate is maintained throughout. So the real impact of the changes could be far worse than indicated above.
The foolishness and malevolence of this measure in terms of its wider economic impact is enough to have me grinding my teeth in frustration.
But even that pales into insignificance compared to the simple, nauseating fact that this government – this odious pack of grinning, jeering, rich and heartless buffoons – is prepared to ruin the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people to save ‘peanuts’ (even if they’re not eaten up by the impact of the changes anyway).
This change will effectively condemn hundreds of thousands to a life within 4 walls and to stress, misery and fear – and the overall, reckless, venal changes to eligibility will increase that number to almost 2 million.
I’m not prepared to have that done in my name no matter what it costs – and I hope you’re not either.
If you weren’t an opponent of this government before you started reading this post, you should be now. And if the bare facts of their actions aren’t enough to make them despicable, consider that, in order to get away with this and other cuts, they routinely demonise the disabled and other vulnerable people as scroungers and fraudsters.
Out with them!