David Cameron has admitted that a cancelled plan to cut disability benefits is one of the occasions where the Government does not “always get it right”.
Ministers U-turned on proposals to strip 370,000 disabled people of an average of £3,500 a year after the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
The former Cabinet minister accused the Government of trying to balance the books on the back of the most vulnerable in society.
A coalition of 25 disability charities, the Disability Benefits Consortium, had warned that the cuts would had a “severe impact” on disabled people.
The U-turn only came after a number of Tory backbenchers threatened to rebel, however.
A report used by the Government to justify the cuts was also based on anecdotal and untested evidence, according to its own text.
“When you are faced with having to take many difficult decisions – including many spending reductions as we were after becoming the Government in 2010 – you do not always get every decisions right,” Mr Cameron said at PMQs.
“I am the first to accept that, admit that – and on every occasion that happens we will learn the lessons.
“As we do so we will continue to increase spending on disability benefits which will be more than £46 billion a year by the end of this Parliament compared to £42 billion when I became the Prime Minister.”
The PM however said the Government would go ahead with all the welfare cuts planned in its manifesto – edging further away from an earlier statement that the Government had no plans to make further welfare cuts.
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
1/7 Closing Remploy factories
The Work and Pensions Secretary called time on Britain’s system of Remploy factories, which provided subsidised and sheltered employment to disabled people. People employed at the factories protested against their closure and said they provided gainful work. “Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?” Mr Duncan Smith said at the time, defending the decision. “I promise you this is better.” The Remploy organisation was privatised and sold to American workfare provider Maximus, with the majority of the organisation’s factories closed. The future of the remaining sites is unclear
2/7 Scrapping the Independent Living Fund
The £320m Independent Living Fund was established in 1988 to give financial support to people with disabilities. It was scrapped on July 1 2015, with 18,000 often severely disabled people losing out by an average of £300 a week. The money was generally used to help pay for carers so people could live in communities rather than institutions. Councils will get a boost in funding to compensate but it will not cover the whole cost of the fund. This new cash also doesn’t have to be spent on the disabled
3/7 Cut payments for the disabled Access To Work scheme
Iain Duncan Smith is bringing forward a policy that will reduce payments to some disabled people from a scheme designed to help them into work. The £108m scheme, which helps 35,540 people, will be capped on a per-used basis, potentially hitting those with the more serious disabilities who currently receive the most help. The single biggest users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and hearing. The cut will come in from October 2015. The charity Disability UK says the scheme actually makes the Government money because the people who gain access to work tend pay tax that more than covers its cost. The DWP does not describe the reduction as a “cut” and says it will be able to spread the money more thinly and cover more people
4/7 Cut Employment and Support Allowance
The latest Budget included a £30 a week cut in disability benefits for some new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Government says it is equalising the rate of disability benefits with Jobseekers Allowance because giving disabled people more help is a “perverse incentive”. The people affected by this cut are those assessed as having a limited capability for work but as being capable of some “work-related activity”. A group of prominent Catholics wrote to Mr Duncan Smith to say there was “no justification” for this cut. Mental health charity Mind, said the cut was “insulting and misguided”
5/7 Risk homelessness with a sharp increase disability benefit sanctions
Official figures in the first quarter of 2014 found a huge increase in sanctions against people reliant on ESA sickness benefit. The 15,955 sanctions were handed out in that period compared to 3,574 in the same period the year before, 2013 – a 4.5 times increase. The homelessness charity Crisis warned at the time that the sharp rise in temporary benefit cuts was “cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness”. “It is difficult to see how they are meant to help people prepare for work,” Matt Downie, director of policy at the charity added
6/7 Sending sick people to work because of broken fitness to work tests
In 2012 a government advisor appointed to review the Government’s Work Capability Assessment said the tests causing suffering by sending sick people back to work inappropriately. “There are certainly areas where it's still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement,” Professor Malcolm Harrington concluded. The tests are said to have improved since then, but as recently as this summer they are still coming in for criticism. In June the British Psychological Society said there was “now significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately”. It called for a full overhaul of the way the tests are carried out. The WCA appeals system has also been fraught with controversy with a very high rate of overturns and delays lasting months and blamed for hardship
7/7 The bedroom tax
The Government’s benefit cut for people who it says are “under-occupying” their homes disproportionately affects disabled people. Statistics released last year show that around two-thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty, widely known as the ‘bedroom tax’, are disabled. There have been a number of high profile cases of disabled people being moved out of specially adapted homes by the policy. In one case publicised by the Sunday People last week, a 48 year old man with cerebral palsy was forced to bathe in a paddling pool after the tax moved him out of his home with a walk-in shower. The Government says it has provided councils with a discretionary fund to help reduce the policy’s impact on disabled people, but cases continue to arise
He also rejected a call by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to reverse a £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance – another disability benefit.
Mr Corbyn highlighted figures showing there had been a 39 per cent increase in people who were homeless and disabled since Mr Cameron came to power in 2010.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell says the reversal of the cut, which was due to save the Treasury £4.4 billion by 2020, had left a hole in the Budget.
The Government has not indicated how it will make up the missing money but it has said it remains committed to making £12 billion of welfare cuts - meaning the overall welfare cuts load is unlikely to be reduced.