Able magazine spoke with the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller MP, the day after the launch on the Coalition Government’s Consultation on the future of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA). As various disability organisations continue to give their initial responses, we would be interested in finding out what you think of the proposals and how they might affect your everyday lives.
WHY DOES THE COALITION GOVERNMENT WANT TO REFORM THE DISABILITY LIVING ALLOWANCE (DLA)?
We are completely committed to having a benefits system that will support disabled people, and the role of cash benefits is really important within that. Disability Living Allowance has a key role in delivering for disabled people.
Our concern is that DLA uses an assessment system which is very subjective; there is a real need to look at the complexities within the system which are making it difficult for those who are trying to understand whether they’ll be eligible for it – and indeed understand how they fill out the form and apply for it.
All of this, along with the fact that there’s not really a very good system of reassessment within the present process, means that we have a benefit which is not as specific as it needs to be at a time when we have more people applying and we have considerable pressure to make sure that every pound that we have available is being effectively used to support people who have the most needs.
HOW DOES THE DLA FIT IN THE COALITION GOVERNMENT’S WIDER AGENDA REGARDING BENEFITS REFORM?
What we’re trying to do with the consultation is to set out what we believe is an important reform of DLA into a new benefit which recognises the importance of making available cash benefits to help overcome the additional costs which disabled people have, and helping them to live more independently.
We’ve seen an increase in the number of people both claiming DLA – an increase of 30% in the last decade – and the case work in trying to define what is a very subjective assessment process. Neither of these is good news for disabled people who need to know what they can expect in terms of support – and have it.
THE CONSULTATION DOCUMENT SEEMS FAIRLY SET IN STONE: TO WHAT DEGREE WILL THOSE TAKING PART BE ABLE TO CHANGE ANYTHING?
We’ve got really clear objectives for our reform – we want to simplify the system, we want an assessment that is not subjective but objective, and we want a benefit that doesn’t act as a barrier to work, which is what happens at the moment.
In terms of the detail of how that assessment will work, that is still to be finalised; we have not completed that work, it’s continuing throughout this consultation period so that we are able to listen to incorporate thoughts that are put forward, which are offered to us by disabled people themselves or the organisations which represent them.
I’ve taken the very firm decision to involve people early in the process before the new assessment has been finalised, before we’ve agreed any of the detail – what’s set out in paper are the broad objectives and the broad way that we see reform going.
THERE’S ALREADY BEEN SOME HOSTILITY TO THE PROPOSALS, WITH PEOPLE SAYING IT’S CHIEFLY ABOUT SAVING MONEY. HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT?
Well I had a meeting with a large number of disability organisations yesterday (Tuesday 7 December) and what I heard from many of them was the clear understanding that this benefit was in need of reform, and a clear understanding and agreement with the principles that we set out, which are: to make sure that we continue to use the social rather than the medical model; that it’s based on people’s needs rather than their condition; and that we continue to have a non-means tested benefit that is not related to participation in the work place. I heard very loud and strong support of that.
Clearly what organisations want to know more about is exactly the detail of how the (new) assessment will affect individuals. Our response to that is that we need to get feedback on this consultation, on people’s feelings about the way that we’re evolving this benefit.
Yes, we are looking at saving 20% of the Disability Living Allowance expenditure in line with the Chancellor’s commitment in the Emergency Budget. because we are in a financial crisis in this country and that affects everybody and every aspect of the work the Government does.
The assessment process that is used is clearly in need of a significant overhaul and we have the opportunity of making sure that there is more cash in the system for people.
SO YOU ARE KEEN FOR OUR READERS TO GET INVOLVED IN THE CONSULTATION?
Absolutely; we’ve been very fortunate to have excellent support and help from a group of disabled people’s organisations, as well as healthcare professionals, in pulling together the outline of the way we’re moving the assessment forward. But the people who know how this benefit works close up, day in day out, are those who apply for it and receive it. I know from talking to those who administer the benefit, and people who are in receipt of it, that there are many things that people feel could be improved upon.
This is an opportunity to do it. It’s a very deliberate opportunity to relaunch a benefit which is misunderstood. Many people who receive the benefit feel that it’s a barrier keeping them out of the workplace – 80% of people receiving DLA don’t work. There’s confusion about who’s eligible; there’s complexity in the system – all of these things people can talk to us about, and look through our consultation to see whether they feel that we are addressing all of these issues. If they feel that there’s anything we’re not addressing, then I urge them to give us the benefit of their experience on that.
IS THE NAME-CHANGE MORE THAN JUST A REBRANDING EXERCISE?
Moving to something which is a Personal Independence Payment, I think, is the biggest indicator of the way we want thinking to evolve in this area. This isn’t about giving people an allowance and focusing on their disability; this is focusing on what we want for disabled people, which is personal independence and this is a payment which goes with that.
HOW TO RESPOND TO THE CONSULTATION
Consultation Document can be downloaded in a variety of formats from: www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2010/dla-reform.shtml
Closing date: 14 February 2011
Responses can be sent by post or email:
DLA Reform Team,
1st Floor, Caxton House,