As there seems to be widespread confusion about yesterday's budget changes to disability benefits it is worth restating certain facts before giving further opinion.
The Chancellor, George Osbourne is proposing changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA). He intends to introduce a medical for all claimants, including existing claimants from 2013. Osbourne has predicted this change to DLA will save the government £1.4 billion by 2015. The agenda is clear; to save money.
DLA is a NON means tested benefit and this will not be affected by the proposed changes. DLA is a basic recognition that to be disabled means to bear extra, unavoidable costs. DLA is in two parts, a care component and a mobility component. DLA is not an out of work benefit, had they wanted to the Cameron's would have been entitled to claim DLA for their profoundly disabled son Ivan. Many of those in receipt of DLA work in either full or part time roles, which they would not be able to do so without the extra financial support DLA provides. The costs of disability don't go away because someone is able to enter the workplace, if anything the costs associated with disability often rise when someone is working as they have less time and energy to deal with daily living tasks than they did when they were not working. For an explanation of why we have DLA and why it would be an expensive mistake to alter entitlement, see this blog.
The Department of Work and Pensions own statistics* cite the overall fraud rate for Disability Living Allowance as being less than 0.5%, compared to the 0.8% of offical error the DWP themselves admit to making. So, according to the official figures, less than 0.5% of those claiming DLA are considered to be fraudulent. Compare that to the much higher rates of fraudulent claims in Income Support of 2.9%, Incapacity Benefit at 1%, or Jobseekers Allowance at 2.8%**. The only benefit which has an overall fraud rate of 0% is the state retirement pension.
George Osbourne proposes to save £1.4billion within the next 5 years by introducing medicals for a benefit with the lowest fraud rate of any. It's difficult to see where those savings can be made other than by making the already rigorous criteria for claiming DLA even more onerous, particularly as the previous government estimated that an additional 1.7 million people would require care and support by 2026. Even using that as a very rough estimate it seems fair to suggest that some 400, 000+ people will require the kind of support provided by DLA over the next 5 years, making it even more difficult to see where that £1.4 billion could be saved.
There is a great deal of understandable public anger about workshy people claiming multiple sickness benefits to avoid work and live a supposedly cushy life of tax payer funded ease. Against this background many have welcomed reforms to DLA, assuming that it will do a great deal to address such problems. It cannot be stated often enough that reforming DLA to include medicals will do NOTHING to alter this problem as DLA is a non means tested benefit claimed by disabled people to help with the additional costs of disability. If anything, making it more difficult to claim DLA will force some disabled people out of the workplace and onto out of work benefits such as Income Support or Employment and Support Allowance (the benefit which is replacing Incapacity Benefit)
*Table 2.1, page 8 of the report.
**Please note, figures quoted are for fraud alone, not fraud & error which is a considerably higher percentage as it includes genuine mistakes made by claimants and mistakes made by the DWP themselves.