Timed to coincide with the return of the Welfare Reform Bill to the House of Lords, today sees the formal launch of the report 'Responsible Reform'. Written, researched, funded and produced by sick and disabled people, our friends and family, Responsible Reform is a detailed investigation into the government's consultation on DLA reform which ended in February 2011.
The population affected by and contributing to the consultation were always suspicious that the government were not playing by the rules. Once a consultation has been started, regardless of whether there is a duty to consult, there are clear legal duties; particularly that there must be sufficient time allocated to complete that consulation. Examples from case law show that when disabled people are involved in any consultation, reasonable adjustments apply, ie a longer time for the consultation may be needed or access to accessible format information, something which many disabled people's organisations reported as being impossible to obtain in time for the consultation, despite repeated requests. Despite an established legal guidance on consultations, the consultation into DLA was two weeks shorter than it should have been, and ran across the christmas and new year period, which would typically merit an extension to the time, even if it were not aimed at a population usually given additional time to complete tasks due to the nature of their health conditions. Eventually the consultation into DLA was closed two days after the Welfare Reform Bill returned to the Commons, meaning that there was no way the results of the consultation could be properly considered as part of the bill.
Despite this and another potential legal challenges to the WRB highlighted in Responsible Reform, the DWP will tell people that they 'are listening to and working with disabled people' because their most recent impact assessment into the proposed replacement of Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, published in October 2011 is 'significantly different' from the consultation. Although there are some very minor changes, in essence the latest impact assessment is identical to the original consultation report, with cherry picked, misrepresented responses. Whilst it is shameful that the DWP have misled the public and potentially parliament with their original consultation response, refusing to publish the full responses meaning that the report authors had to use Freedom of Information requests to obtain them, it is unconscionable to continue with this attempt to misrepresent the views of sick and disabled people and the charities which work on our behalf after the evidence proving this deception has been revealed.
Back in September 2010 The Financial Times ran an article describing cuts to disability benefits as "the easiest bit of welfare reform to sell". The arrogant assumptions behind that statement are that sick and disabled people are a minority group without any powerful support, something which in their desperation to accuse sick and disabled people of being scroungers, politicians of all parties have failed to think through. A faulty and deceptive consultation combined with overwhelming opposition to the new Personal Independence Payment, make it obvious that neither the DWP or government have changed their assumption that sick and disabled people are fraudulent scroungers to be sacrificied upon an altar of 'austerity cuts'. Far from saving money, it is clear throughout Responsible Reform that sick and disabled people are deeply concerned that introducing PIP will not save, but rather cost vast sums of money, when any practical savings which could be made to the DLA budget could be done without requiring a new, unwanted benefit.
Much of the WRB is predicated on the assumption that sick and disabled people are workshy scroungers who need to be forced into the workplace. There are no workable proposals to alter working practices to fit with the demands of sickness and disability, no incentives for employers to make it more affordable and attractive to employ sick or disabled people, just ever increasing conditionality and sanctions to cure us of the scrounging nature we so clearly inherit with our medical conditions. Although Responsible Reform exposes the deceptive and dishonest nature of the government and DWP's actions, it also shows something of equal significance. The author's of the report variously have severe illnesses or disabilities; Crohns, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Friedrick's Ataxia, Lupus, kidney dialysis, ME, autism, and mental health issues which have removed us from, or prevented access to the traditional workplace. Sick and disabled people are a vast, untapped resource of talent, skills, experience and desire to contribute to society. Working together, using technology and working practices to fit with the reality of our day to day lives, sick and disabled people have proved our potential for employment, if only there was a potentail for that employment to work in a way our bodies and minds allow us to do.