29 September 2009

In what may represent a dramatic victory for campaigners, Care Services Minister Phil Hope yesterday told a reporter at the Labour Party conference that DLA is not under threat by the care green paper. 

If accurate, the comments represent a dramatic shift by the Department of Health. Just weeks earlier the same minister refused to say that DLA was safe. His latest claim also directly contradicts a letter the minister wrote earlier this month in which he informed MEP Liz Lynne that no final decision had been made about which disability benefits might be affected.  It also entirely contradicts a statement made earlier this month by the DWP press office that no decision would be made about the future of DLA until after the green paper consultation had ended.

According to the Disability Now website, Phil Hope made the comments to their reporter at a reception at the Labour Party conference yesterday.

When asked if he would abolish DLA after the election Phil hope replied:

“No. All the models that we have done have not included DLA. But if people were to make a case to integrate DLA into a comprehensive system, then I'm very happy to hear that case and have those arguments.

"DLA is not under threat and people can be very happy".

The statement represents an extraordinary change of position by the minister.  Just a few weeks ago, when Phil Hope gave an interview to the same website (Hope springs eternal on care green paper) it was reported that:

“He refuses to rule out the possibility of Disability Living Allowance being subsumed into the overall care budget as some people fear it might be saying only that proposals have so far been modelled on doing this with attendance allowance.”

In addition, Benefits and Work has received a copy of a letter sent by Phil Hope to Liz Lynne MEP on 16 September which appears to directly contradict his latest statement. 

The letter is in response to a constituent’s concerns that the care green paper proposes to “take away certain benefits (the care component of DLA and AA plus others) from claimants and give the money to a new organisation, The National Care Service”. 

In his two page response, at no point does Phil Hope say that DLA is not under threat.  Instead he states that:

“. . .  this is a consultation exercise and no final decisions have been made about which disability benefits might be involved, or how they would be affected.”

Phil Hope’s latest remarks contradict not only this letter, but also a statement made by the DWP press office earlier this month, (see: Scrapping DLA is an option confirms DWP).  It also flies in the face of CPAG’s admission that senior sources at the DWP had withdrawn their assurance that DLA was not under threat, (see, CPAG admits DLA is not safe).  Nor does it sit easily with the failure only a few days ago by the Big Care debate website to give a clear reassurance that DLA was not under threat, (see: DLA threat website tries to stem hostile responses).

It would appear then that the Department of Health may have decided as recently as this last weekend to abandon any hopes it had of announcing the end of DLA as part of the forthcoming white paper. The green paper’s deliberately imprecise references to ‘disability benefits’ always allowed the government the option of denying they had DLA in their sights if the howls of protest grew too loud. 

Over the last two months angry protestors have placed enormous pressure on disability groups to fight the green paper proposals, completely overrun the Big Care debate with thousands of negative responses and caused protest motions to be put before the Scottish and Welsh assemblies.  The petition against the plans on the No 10 website took off on Friday after we sent out a call to campaigners to sign it, growing from 3,700 signatures to almost 10,000 in just four days.

It appears the growing protest may have been enough to make the government abandon – for the present – their attack on DLA.

However, we can’t help but be concerned by the minister’s ‘get-out’ clause that ‘if people were to make a case to integrate DLA into a comprehensive system, then I'm very happy to hear that case and have those arguments.’  So perhaps what the minister is really saying is that DLA is not under threat . . . for now.

And if ‘people can be very happy’ that DLA is not under threat, then what emotion should people who claim AA be experiencing?  The minister had no words of comfort whatsoever for them.

The Benefits and Work’s campaign has always been about both DLA and AA.  We believe that the minister’s off-the-cuff remarks at the Labour party conference suggest it is now less likely that DLA will feature in the forthcoming white paper. But we remain quite certain that if AA is abolished DLA will not be far behind. 

We would urge readers to keep on campaigning.

You can read the full Disability Now article here.


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