5th July 2010

The coalition government has revealed plans to slash the number of people receiving disability living allowance by 20%.  A new - harder to pass - points based system for deciding who gets DLA is to be introduced in 2013. All existing DLA claimants of working age to will be required to undergo a medical using the new system between 2013 and 2016.

The bombshell news was dropped in the coalition’s emergency budget which contained the announcement that:

 “The Government will reform the (sic) Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to ensure support is targeted on those with the highest medical need. The Government will introduce the use of objective medical assessments for all DLA claimants from 2013-14 to ensure payments are only made for as long as a claimant needs them.”

That the reform is intended to reduce the number of people successfully claiming DLA is beyond doubt.  The treasury expects the ‘reform of the gateway’ to DLA to save 360 million in the 2013-14 tax year, with this figure leaping to over a billion pounds in 2014-15.  The figure for the third year is not given, but is likely to be over £1.3 billion.

But how exactly are these savings going to be achieved?  It is in the treasury’s Budget Costings document that more detailed information emerges.

What the treasury document says
In a section headed ‘Reforming disability living allowance’, the treasury document explains that:

“This measure will introduce an objective medical assessment and revised eligibility criteria for both new and existing working-age claims for Disability Living Allowance, to be rolled out from 2013/14. The assessment will follow a similar process to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) used for claims to Employment and Support Allowance, with a points based system to assess  eligibility to the different rates of the benefit.”

“Drawing on the evidence of the impact of the WCA, the central assumption for this policy is that it will result in a 20 per cent reduction in caseload and expenditure once fully rolled out. It is assumed that existing claimants would be reassessed over three years, with 25 per cent of the caseload reassessed in the first year, 75 per cent by the end of the second year and 100 per cent by the end of the third year.”

What we know for sure

So, what we know for sure that the coalition intends to do is:

  • Change the criteria for getting awarded DLA for working age claimants.
  • Introduce a points based system for deciding who gets an award of DLA and at what rate or rates.
  • Have a medical assessment to help decide what points should be awarded.  
  • Base the assessment process on the already notorious work capability assessment used to decide employment and support allowance claims.
  • Use the new assessment process on all new working age DLA claims from sometime in 2013.
  • Use the new process to assess all existing working age claimants between 2013 and 2016.
  • Aim to reduce the number of people getting an award of DLA by 20%.

What we strongly suspect
We strongly suspect that the government will intensify its propaganda campaign against benefits claimants in order to reduce any possible public concern about taking benefits away from disabled people.  The decision to aim these changes only at working age people may be based partly on the fear that taking benefits from disabled children and pensioners would play badly in the press.

We’re also fairly sure that disability charities will be ‘consulted’ about the proposed changes by being invited to join some form of working group.  Many charities will agree to take part in this consultation.  Their views will be completely ignored by the DWP who will, however, then respond to any criticisms by saying that the new system was created in close consultation with the voluntary sector.  This has happened countless times before.

There are likely to be small pilots of any new criteria and points-based system so that the DWP can try to get an idea of what proportion of existing claims will be stopped.  Following the pilots the points scheme will be adjusted to try to ensure that at least 20% of existing claimants lose their award.  This is what happened with the WCA, although the outcome has been much more successful – from the DWP’s point of view – than expected, with the refusal rate for ESA being higher than anticipated.

It is likely that most new DLA medicals will take place in a medical examination centre rather than a claimant’s home, because universal home visits would be massively more expensive.

The strain on the appeals system already created by ESA may well become intolerable following the introduction of the new DLA points system, leading to proposals to replace it with something quicker, cheaper and - from a claimant's point of view - less fair. 

In the next parliament, if re-elected, the tories or the coalition may move to abolish DLA for working age people altogether. Instead, DLA, ESA and JSA  will all be rolled together into a single working age benefit with additional premiums being awarded to people who are sick or disabled, using a points system to assess eligibility for the premiums.

Is there anything you can do?
The new system is not set to be introduced until 2013. which means there is undoubtedly time to act.  We will be providing more concrete suggestions to challenge this attack on disabled claimants when we’ve had time to consider the options, but below are a few suggestions to be getting on with.

Contact disability charities and ask them what they are doing about these proposals with the aim of  getting a voluntary campaigning consortium set up.
Start trying to persuade charities to boycott any consultation on the plans, so long as the aim is to cut the number of existing DLA claims.

Contact your MP and protest about these moves, even at this early stage it’s worth doing.

Challenge the stream of disablist propaganda that is likely to be produced by the DWP and fed to the tabloid press – over the coming weeks we’ll be looking at whether the disability discrimination act can be used in this regard.

You can download the treasury costings document from this link.


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