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600,000 fewer people to receive benefits under DLA reforms rolled out today, but has the government got it right?

Jenny Gulliford

08 April 2013

Today (8 April 2013) sees the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment or PIP, another reform in a set of reforms that represents one of the biggest shake ups of the welfare system. PIP replaces the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and is designed to help people ‘with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability’. Like the DLA, eligibility for PIP is based on one’s level of disability, not employment status or means. The government intends for PIP to be more focused on those with the most severe level of need than the current DLA, with this need being regularly checked through an assessment process.

PIP is currently being rolled out for new claimants in some parts of the North, but will eventually be nationwide, with DLA claimants being reassessed from 2015 onwards.

A number of charities have commented on the DWP’s estimate that 600,000 fewer people will be claiming PIP by 2018 than would be claiming DLA, if the current system continued. Some of those who are re-assessed for the PIP may not be eligible for benefits, but the government needs to be certain this is the case. If a person is assessed as not being eligible for PIP when they do require support the cost to the government, and society, may be larger in the long run.

Without support in performing everyday activities such as travelling to work, it may become extremely difficult for these individuals to remain in the labour market. Unemployment can lead to an exacerbation of existing health problems, an increased likelihood of co-morbidity - and perhaps most worrying to the treasury - the uptake in out-of-work benefit and a loss of tax revenue. It is both financially and morally expensive for society.

In the short term, we must hope that the government and Atos (one of the main providers of the assessment) have learnt from the criticisms of the Work Capability Assessment, and in particular take into account the difficulty of assessing someone with a mental health condition or a fluctuating illness. It is however good to hear that an assessment of the PIP assessment service is planned for 2014. Although the Harrington Reviews of the Work Capability Assessment haven’t been able to resolve all the issues surrounding the WCA, it has nonetheless improved it.

It should of course be remembered that the 600,000 is an estimate - not a target - of the number of people who will not be able to claim PIP by 2018, but who may have been eligible for DLA. It is hoped that the government, and the organisations carrying out the assessment, see it this way as well, and give an honest and genuine assessment of the needs of an individual applying for PIP. With the number of people living with chronic conditions expected to rise significantly in the UK over the next 20 years it would be unwise not to, and could end up costing them and society much more in the long run.

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