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Reforming the welfare system
Wednesday 18 August 2010
The coalition government's benefit reforms could have a lasting impact for people with a learning disability
This July the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, unveiled his welfare reform command paper ‘21st Century Welfare'. The paper sets out a basic framework for the coalition government's planned changes to the current benefits system.
The command paper explores several options, including the use of a single ‘universal credit'. Mr Duncan Smith says that the aim is to "begin real change to the benefits system by making it simpler and more efficient, with a view to fewer benefits, fewer layers of bureaucracy".
A final white paper on the benefits system isn't expected until the new year.
Jane Alltimes, Mencap's senior campaigns officer, welcomed the proposed simplification of the system: "The principle to have a simple, fairer system is one that we support," she said. "But it's not until we have the details that we'll be able to see how it will work and be able to respond."
Mencap and other disability charities have raised concerns that the government's aim to cut the benefits bill could leave disabled people without the finances they rely on to live an active and independent life.
June's emergency budget included plans to give a medical assessment to all new and existing claimants of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) at working age from 2013. DLA is paid to meet the additional costs associated with a person's disability.
Chancellor George Osborne said that the medical assessment will "ensure support is targeted to those with the highest medical need" and save the government £1.4 billion by 2015.
"Mencap is concerned that some people with a learning disability will not continue to receive DLA," said Esther Foreman, Mencap's campaigns and policy manager. "We want to ensure that any medical assessment does not unfairly squeeze people with a learning disability out."
Concerns have been heightened following wide criticism of the assessment test for another benefit, Employment and Support Allowance. High numbers of serious ill and disabled people across England and Wales have been found ‘fit for work' despite being without access to the appropriate work support.
The emergency budget also set plans to cut housing benefits by £1.8 billion a year by 2014/15. The plans include caps on Local Housing Allowance dependent on the number of bedrooms. From October 2011 Local Housing Allowance rates will drop to the 30th percentile of local rental prices (currently it is set at the median).
"We're seeing worrying cuts at all levels," says Jane Alltimes. "In addition to their benefits, cuts to local authority services mean that people are losing services as well as their finances."
Respond to the government's ‘21st Century Welfare' consultation
Take part in a Disability Benefits Consortium survey to share your experiences of the benefits system