Right of Reply: Lorna Reith

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The Independent Culture
The director of the Disability Alliance replies to yesterday's column by

David Aaronovitch

THE ARTICLE by Dave Aaronovitch ("Helping the disabled does not mean believing all they say") was a strange piece of work, betraying a lack of understanding both of the benefits system and of the considerable extra costs that come with disability.

Let's unpick a few of the myths. Myth one: the threshold for incapacity benefit has been lowered and unemployed people are getting disability benefits. In fact, the introduction of incapacity benefit in 1995, replacing invalidity benefit, was accompanied by a much stricter eligibility test and a lower level of benefit. Government figures show that the number of claimants has fallen each year since 1995.

If the Government believes that there are still people on benefit who are not really sick or disabled, then the way to tackle that is to look again at the eligibility test. It is not acceptable to deny benefit to thousands because some may be wrongly getting it.

Myth two: the Government's proposals to means-test incapacity benefit for people with occupational and private pensions will affect only the well-off.

In fact, it proposes to start reducing benefit when a disabled person's annual income reaches pounds 6,071, removing benefit entirely when annual income reaches pounds 9,542. Hardly the well-off.

Myth three: money saved is being targeted on the severely disabled. In fact, severe disablement allowance is being abolished for new claimants. A majority of the 16,000 losers per year will be severely disabled women.

Far from demanding that "half the entire budget" is spent on disabled people the disability lobby is trying to prevent a further pounds 750m cuts to disability benefits, on top of cuts from 1995 - now amounting to pounds 1.3bn a year.