This column appeared in the Friday 7th April 2023 edition of the South London Press.
On Wednesday 15th March, the Government announced their 2023 Spring Budget. Released alongside was the much-anticipated health and disability White Paper (the Government’s plans for supporting disabled people and people with long-term health conditions). However, the reforms proposed in the paper range from underwhelming to deeply concerning. The Government claim to have drafted this paper in consultation with disability activist organisations, yet they have again failed to listen to that community’s needs.
The most significant proposal in the paper is the scrapping of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which evaluates a person’s capability to work. The outcome of this assessment impacts the level of benefits they are entitled to and so is immensely important not just to disabled people and those with health conditions, but also to their families and dependents.
I welcome the Government’s plan to end this punitive measure. The WCA is a blight on the lives of many disabled people and has frequently been found to be inaccurate and unnecessarily distressing. Disability activists have been calling for years for the WCA to be replaced by a more effective and fairer system. However, while the Government have confirmed they will be discarding the WCA, their plan for its replacement is of deep concern to me.
Ministers have decided to replace the WCA with one single health and disability assessment – the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment. There are many issues with this, chief among them being the fact that there could be 630,000 people left £350 worse off every month by this change because they do not currently claim PIP but do receive WCA-related benefits. Whether they will be informed of these changes to their benefits is still unclear.
The PIP assessment is used to determine whether someone needs extra help with living costs because of their disability and is fundamentally concerned with assistance in daily living and mobility. While the Government have proposed they would modify PIP, the details of these modifications have not been elaborated on. Disabled people are being left in the dark on matters that are central to their future wellbeing.
The shift to relying solely on the PIP assessment poses other problems as well. Considering the importance of these assessments to disabled people’s livelihoods, is it wise to reduce the number of assessments to a single test, placing undue pressure on one assessment? PIP itself already needs considerable reform – the DWP loses or concedes 4 in 5 appeals made against its decisions.
Disabled people need comprehensive action now; many cannot wait for the Government’s problematic proposals. A future Labour government would work with disabled people to produce systems which do not punish a limited capability to work but provide real support for the 22% of the population who live with a disability. Labour is focused on creating real change for disabled people, not just providing empty words and reckless reforms.