The Committee for Social Development is scrutinising the Welfare Reform Bill as part of the Bill's legislative progress through the Northern Ireland Assembly.
On 31 October, Mencap and Disability Action gave evidence to the Committee and urged Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to take account of the disproportionate impact the Welfare Reform Bill will have on disabled people, including people with a learning disability.
Mencap wants to ensure that the effects of the proposed changes on people with a learning disability, their family or carers, are minimised.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that people in Northern Ireland will lose more income than any other UK region outside of London when the changes to the welfare system come in to effect next year.
Jenny Ruddy (pictured above), Mencap Northern Ireland's campaign officer
What will the changes mean?
Many people with a learning disability rely heavily on their current benefits because of the extra costs associated with their disability and on others to assist them with everyday tasks.
For many, this is where their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – which is being replaced with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – is so important.
The changes will mean that everyone of working age (16-65) will be re-assessed and that current ‘life-time' or ‘indefinite’ awards under DLA will no longer be available under PIP. Even for those with a life long disability.
Mencap believes that the reforms must take into account the distinct impact of an individual’s learning disability, and the difficulties that some people with a learning disability experience with understanding complex information and communication.
The changes proposed to the assessment process will require a greater understanding of learning disability by decision makers and assessors. Greater access to independent advice, as part of the new process, will also be needed.
Jenny Ruddy, Mencap Northern Ireland's campaign officer
Mencap is also concerned that young people with a severe learning disability, who are currently entitled to the youth condition of the Employment Support Allowance - if they remain in education - will no longer be able to claim this benefit, should the proposals go ahead. This could affect approximately 3,000 young people.