Disability groups angry over government reforms

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MORE THAN 80 per cent of disability groups are highly critical of the way the Government is carrying out reforms of the benefit system, according to a survey released today.

The Royal Association of Disability and Rehabilitation polled more than 100 disability organisations on the Government's performance so far on policies for disabled people such as civil rights, housing, education, benefits, health and community care.

The survey, "The Disability Audit", uncovered major criticism of the Government's actions over disability benefits, particularly their implementation of the Benefits Integrity Project (BIP) - which is examining 250,000 disabled people on the higher rates of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to see if they are entitled to the benefit.

Nearly half of those questioned call BIP the worst disability policy in Labour's first 18 months in power.

Earlier this year the all-party Commons Social Security Committee said the project, set up to crack down on fraud, had been unacceptably launched, muddled in its planning, and appalling in its delivery.

Respondents to the survey described the BIP as causing "untold misery, worry and stress", and a "waste of resources". One respondent said "Three areas where the Government has got it wrong? BIP, BIP, BIP".

The Government has attempted to modify the policy by excluding over-65s, more training for adjudicators and ruling that people cannot lose benefit on their own evidence alone. However, more than 40 per cent of the disability groups said the changes were poor.

But the survey found that the groups thought Labour had taken action to help more disabled people back to work.

Nearly 60 per cent thought the change to allow disabled people back on to incapacity benefit within one year if work failed was excellent and two- thirds thought removing the 16-hour limit on voluntary work was excellent. While 48 per cent thought the New Deal was acceptable, 46 per cent were evenly decided on whether the policy was excellent or poor.

Ensuring comprehensive civil rights should be the focus of the Government's policies, with more than 45 per cent wanting the Government to prioritise this area. The majority approved of the setting up of the Disability Rights Task force and the Disability Rights Commission.

The charity will discuss the findings with the Minister for Disabled People, Margaret Hodge, at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference tonight.