The Guardian has reported that Iain Duncan Smith is considering merging personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA) into a single benefit or, alternatively, merging the two tests.
In an interview on 2 October, IDS told the Guardian:
“It is early days in the reform process, but Duncan Smith says that he has already started to ease the system through the “fit for work” programme, which makes an assessment of the needs of a claimant who falls ill, rather than “parking them on statutory sick pay”. He is also looking at the idea of merging ESA (paid to those out of work) with disability living allowance (DLA – paid to fund the costs of disabled people who are both in work and out of work) under universal credit. Alternatively, he might just merge the two tests for the benefits.
“Duncan Smith has a more favourable view of the DLA test. “My sense was if you just looked at disability living allowance, that doesn’t reach the same absolute. The test is not about ‘can you work or can’t you work’, it is looking at your condition.”
Many claimants may find it worrying that IDS has apparently not spotted that DLA has been replaced by PIP for working age claimants.
That aside, it is clear that the tests for PIP and ESA, both of which rely on a points system and an army of hastily trained ‘health professionals’ to administer them, could conceivably be merged into a single assessment.
The attraction for the DWP in terms of reduced costs would be considerable.
The downside from their point of view, however, would be that an application for ESA would be likely to end up being an application for PIP as well, meaning a potential increased take-up of that benefit.