18 August 2009

Here at Benefits and Work we’ve been discussing how politicians may respond to letters from their constituents about the green paper proposals to cut disability benefits.

One of the most likely responses is that they are contacting a minister for clarification. 

To some extent this is inevitable as the wording of the green paper is – as one leading charity has described it - ‘extremely vague’ and your MP will need to try to find out what it’s actually supposed to mean.

However, contacting a minister does allow your MP to sidestep the issue by then simply forwarding whatever letter they receive from say the secretary of state for work and pensions and not expressing a personal view.  So if you write to an MP it’s worth ensuring you ask them whether they would vote to support handing either AA or DLA over to local authorities.  If you don’t get a straight answer, that may well be a ‘Yes, but I’m not going to admit it to you.’

In relation to DLA the most likely response from ministers is that ‘There are no current plans to abolish DLA’ or words to that effect.  This is a classic ‘Yes, Minister’ response that generally means the opposite of what it seems to say. ‘No current plans’, may just mean that they intend to do it, but they haven’t been foolish enough to draw up detailed plans at this early stage. And bear in mind, documents being used in ‘the formulation or development of government policy’ are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. So we have no right to know what proposals they may be considering at this very minute.

What we want to hear from a minister in relation to DLA is ‘We are not going to abolish DLA at any time’. 

Even then, it would still be far from certain.  We remember the politicians assurances at the first welfare reform green paper stage that current incapacity claimants would not be affected by ESA.  We also remember the later assurances that no-one would be worse off on ESA than they would have been on IB.  Both proved to be entirely untrue. 

Watch out too for terms like ‘unfounded rumours’, ‘speculation’ and ‘scaremongering’ which often mean saying something that’s true but which politicians have been careful to ensure cannot yet be proved.

In the end, it will be up to individuals to decide whether and when they are reassured that their DLA is not going to be raided.  But a straight answer from a minister would be the least that we can reasonably expect.

And, of course, no matter what assurances are given regarding DLA, it’s clear that AA is very firmly in the government’s sights.  Many people believe that if AA falls, DLA will fall soon after.

As we were completing this article we received a copy of a letter from the office of Yvette Cooper, the secretary of state for work and pensions.  It says that the minister is on holiday at the moment, but that:

‘There are no existing proposals to transfer funding from Disability Living Allowance to local authority control.  However, the current funding arrangements for care and support services, conceived and operated for the 20th century, appear unlikely to meet 21st Century aspirations for the quality of life of older people or meet the future challenge of demographic change’

Are you reassured?

Many thanks to the DLA Help group for the letter, which can be read here:



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