A rapidly escalating civil war within the Conservative Party has dominated the news as the ongoing row over cuts to disability benefits threatened to plunge the Government into crisis.
Here's what you need to know about the benefit cut - which the Government has signalled a U-turn on - and how it sparked the bitter conflict at the top of the ruling party.
What is PIP?
PIP – or the Personal Independence Payment – is one of two of the Government’s main disability benefits.
It was introduced in 2013 by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government to replace the older Disability Living Allowance and is meant to help with the extra costs of being disabled.
Unlike Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the other main sickness benefit, PIP is not means tested and is instead paid out based on the severity of a claimants disability or long-term illness.
What did the Government want to cut?
PIP works by awarding “points” to claimants based on how their disability affects their life. The more points a person gets under the claim, the higher their payment is to help cover the costs of their disability.
The Government planned to halve the number of points a person gets in the assessment for having to use specially adapted aids and appliances. This would effectively reduce the payments for certain people who no longer crossed the threshold.
The Budget said the cut would save £4.4 billion by 2020. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says this cut would have seen 370,000 disabled people lose an average of £3,500 a year.
Why did the Government want to make this cut?
The Government asked a former senior DWP official to conduct an investigation into whether PIP appliance payments were working properly.
He said they were not, citing untested anecdotal evidence from the DWP’s own assessment staff. The assessors had apparently believed more people were coming forward with appliances than they had previously expected to.
“Anecdotally, the Review heard from some case managers who felt they saw a higher than expected number of assessment reports where aids and appliances were used in justifications,” the relevant part of the report says.
“Due to limitations in available published data, the Review has not been able to test this.”
The DWP says it subsequently looked at 400 cases and found that appliances led to “low to nil on-going extra daily living costs” and decided to cut.
It consulted on the change, and disability charities said it would be a very bad idea and lead many people with disabilities struggling to live independent lives.
These decisions were all made against the backdrop of the Government having pledged in its manifesto to cut the social security budget by £20 billion in order to reach its self-imposed target.
The suspicion that the Government just wanted to cut money will remain – especially after Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation.
Why have they U-turned?
On Friday night Iain Duncan Smith, who as Work and Pensions Secretary was in charge of the reforms, resigned.
Mr Duncan Smith claimed he was not in favour of the cuts to begin with and had been forced into them to meet the Government’s welfare spending cap – another self imposed target.
His quitting followed a number of backbench Tory MPs voicing opposition to the cuts and Labour saying they would call a vote on them – that the Government might have expected to lose.
On Thursday evening the Government had signaled a possible U-turn when Education Secretary Nicky Morgan went on the BBC’s Question Time programme and said the cuts were just a “suggestion” and that they were still being consulted on.
The next morning sources close to Mr Duncan Smith angrily told the BBC that a U-turn was not what the DWP or Downing Street had been discussing.
That Friday evening Mr Duncan Smith quit – and on Sunday he went on the Andrew Marr Show and tore into the Government for balancing the books on the back of the disabled.
Tory ministers and MPs took sides on social media and posted criticism of each other.
What’s clear is that it took significant pressure from inside the Tory party to force a U-turn – disability charities had been warning about the changes for months but their cried had apparently fallen on deaf ears.
The Government may be giving the impression that the U-turn was to quell the looming Tory civil war – and not actually because they had been convinced the cuts were a bad idea.
What will be cut instead?
The Government hasn’t said what it will cut instead, if anything. In reality the Government doesn’t have to cut anything, because its spending targets are self-imposed and probably excessive.
But the Chancellor George Osborne has invested a lot of political capital in meeting his self-imposed deficit targets and is already struggling to hit them.
Michael Howard, former Tory leader, warned this morning that the Government had a manifesto commitment to slash welfare by £20 billion – hinting that the cuts would likely come out of other areas of social security.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed cancelling the Government’s cuts to corporation tax and capital gains tax, which actually cost roughly the same amount of money by giving it to richer people instead of cutting it from the disabled.
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