12 August 2009

Scissor cutting AA and DLA labelsIf sick and disabled claimants lose their DLA care component and AA, the naïve and complacent attitude of some major disability charities will be partly to blame.  Many, it seems, have learnt nothing from their disastrous failure to protest effectively against recent welfare reforms, such as the introduction of ESA.

Benefits and Work has received copies of dozens of replies from disability charities in response to campaigners emails about the threat to disability benefits.  Some charities appear to be taking the threat to DLA seriously and we hope to publish positive responses on the site over the coming weeks.  Others do not take the same view.

Here, for example, is part of the response one member received from RNID:

“I can confirm that RNID will be opposing any plans to change the structure of disability benefits such as Attendance Allowance in our forthcoming response to the recently published Green Paper on social care. I can also confirm that there are no plans whatsoever to change Disability Living Allowance, and any suggestions to this end are misleading.  You can read the document for yourself here:”

A link is then given to the green paper itself.  To base an absolute, unqualified assurance that the government has ‘no plans whatsoever to change disability living allowance’ solely on the utterly imprecise and ambiguous language of the green paper is astonishing.  If such suggestions are ‘misleading’ then presumably RNID believes that charities including RNIB, Downs Syndrome Association, Action for Blind People, Rethink and National Autistic Society, who have all indicated that the green paper proposals could potentially affect DLA, are also misleading their members.

Meanwhile, the MS Society has responded to a campaigner’s query by explaining that the whole matter is merely sensationalist attention grabbing:

"The MS Society’s information team passed to me your enquiry. I’d like to clarify that, contrary to the sensationalist headlines put our by other organisations – including private companies looking to make money from their advice services – there are currently no clear plans to remove DLA. Last week’s Guardian reported a discussion with the Health Minister when assurances were given that DLA would remain intact


Extraordinarily, what the MS Society entirely ignores is that the meeting they refer to took place under the Chatham House Rule.  This rule allows participants to report what was said but never to disclose who said it.  According to Chatham House, the benefit of the rule is that:

“It allows people to speak as individuals, and to express views that may not be those of their organizations, and therefore it encourages free discussion. People usually feel more relaxed if they don't have to worry about their reputation or the implications if they are publicly quoted.”

So, the assurance the MS Society relies on is one that can never be attributed to the health minister and which may not reflect the views of the government. It seems unlikely that someone whose own basic standard of living was under threat would be reassured by such an assurance.

Benefits and Work has never claimed that there are ‘clear plans to remove DLA’.  To suggest we have is entirely misleading. What we have said is that the ambiguous wording of the green paper leaves the door open for such plans. 

And just for the record, Benefits and Work don’t make money from advice services – that’s what solicitors do - we make money by charging an annual subscription fee for access to information in a members only area of our website.  The MS society, on the other hand . . . makes money by charging an annual subscription fee for access to information in a members only area of their website.

The MS Society go on to say that:

"The green paper is extremely vague in its wording. It’s slightly clearer that the Government are looking to abolish AA. But together with recent press reports, it is in my view irresponsible to infer from currently available information that DLA is to be abolished. Putting this out has potentially unnecessarily worried a lot of people. And in any case, this is merely a Green Paper (options for reform) and it’s extremely unlikely any firm proposals in the form of White Paper will appear before the next general election. After then we’ll very likely be working with a new government."

It’s hard to understand why anyone wouldn’t be deeply suspicious and concerned when a green paper signed by six secretaries of state is ‘extremely vague in its wording’ about one of its key proposals.

And Employment and Support Allowance was ‘merely a green paper’ once upon a time. At  Benefits and Work, as soon as that green paper was published, we wrote article after article urging organisations such as Citizens Advice, Disability Alliance and disability organisations generally to lead opposition against the proposed new  benefit and, in particular, the harsh new work capability assessment.

They ignored us.  Disability Alliance even complained that we were being unfair to them. 

Instead, disability charities, including RNID and Citizens Advice, sat on the consultative committees that helped create the new work capability assessment which is now responsible for so many sick and disabled people failing to qualify for ESA and being forced onto JSA instead.

On 16 October 2006 we warned readers of the huge cut in the points available under the new physical health test for ESA and urged the voluntary sector to speak out, explaining that:

“ . . . whilst the presence of the usual private sector suspects on the working groups drawing up the new test will have come as no surprise, many will be shocked at the role being played by Citizens Advice, CPAG and Disability Alliance. The fact that the DWP has been able to proudly list them as members of the Overarching Consultative Group involved in creating the revised PCA [now called the WCA] is bad enough. But if they do not now speak out loudly against such savage points reductions, then the chance of preventing them passing into law is zero.

So far, their silence speaks volumes.”

On 23 October 2006, we warned about the ‘harsh, complex and unfair’ criteria contained in the LCWRA test for getting into the ESA support group.  We went on to say that:

“You might expect then that the LCWRA test would be the cause of enormous controversy. In reality, as yet it has not even been reported on by the agencies most likely to be able to influence MPs.

But, given that Citizens Advice have applied to be subcontractors under this iniquitous new system and CPAG, Citizens Advice and Disability Alliance all sit on the Committee which helped draw up the new PCA, on which this test is based, perhaps the resounding silence is not so remarkable.”

Yet, on the 5th August of this year, Citizens Advice and a range of disability charities were prepared to be quoted on Radio Four’s You and Yours programme voicing their concerns about how many people were failing the ‘crude and inflexible’ new work capability assessment, the inaccuracy of the assessments and the effects on the most vulnerable claimants of wrong assessment.  Even the BMA expressed reservations.

Much too little, much, much too late.

It’s vital that these latest proposed attacks on the living standards of sick and disabled people are opposed now, at the green paper stage, rather than on Radio Four once new laws are in force and claimants are actually suffering.

So, here at Benefits and Work, we’ll go on urging people to push the major disability and advice sector charities into fulfilling their charitable aims and objectives by fighting to protect the livelihoods of the people they were established to serve.


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