Ed Miliband attacks 'nasty' George Osborne as DWP faces court challenge over benefit reforms

Disabled people say the government’s consultation over the new system was unlawful

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Indy Politics

The controversial reforms to disability benefits will be challenged in court by a group of disabled people who say that the government’s consultation over the new rules was unlawful. If successful, the campaign would deal a second major blow to Iain Duncan Smith’s wide-ranging reforms.

Three activists have asked for permission to bring a judicial review of the government’s consultation over the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment, which is replacing the Disability Living Allowance. They claim that ministers made the regulations more stringent after the consultation process was finished.

Their challenge was launched as Labour leader Ed Miliband attacked the government over its attempts to link the Philpott case and so-called "benefits culture" as “nasty, divisive” politics. Mr Miliband acknowledged Labour would need to tackle the issue but said the tragic deaths of six of Philpott’s children should not be exploited.

Mr Miliband said: “There are two different views you can take on this. Do you try and unite the country, and bring it together, or do you exploit tragedy, like the Philpott tragedy?

“The right place for Mr Philpott is behind bars, but do you exploit the deaths of six children to try and make a political point about the welfare system, and at the same time say to people that this is somehow a common truth about people on benefits?”

Rosa Curling, the lawyer representing two of the three disability activists applying to bring judicial review, said: “Removing this vital benefit to disabled people will have a devastating effect on many people’s lives and their ability to access and be part of our communities.”

Ms Curling of Leigh Day & Co., who is representing disabled Kim Storr and another person who wants to remain anonymous, added: “MPs need to listen to the public before they go ahead with decisions, the DWP is obviously holding consultation with the Treasury but the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions failed to get normal people’s views.”

She said that the activists were seeking permission to ask the courts to strike down the new regulations, which bar anyone who can walk more than 20 metres repeatedly from claiming the top rate of mobility benefit. Disability campaigners say that, during the consultation process, that figure was 50 metres. It is believed that it was retrospectively changed by ministers in order to add clarification.

If they are successful, they will force the government to go back to the drawing board. That would represent a second embarrassing defeat for Iain Duncan Smith at the hands of opponents in court after he was recently forced to rethink his workfare measures.

Mr Duncan Smith called the reforms, under which 400,000 fewer people will be eligible for the mobility payment they can use to adapt vehicles to their needs, “common sense”.

Disabled People Minister Esther McVey insisted that the move to PIP would see total government spending on disabled benefits remain at roughly the same level: around £13bn at the end of this Parliament.

The changes will see health checks brought in, in a bid to stop payments for life regardless of how claimants’ conditions progress. A DWP source said that the changes would see the proportion of people able to claim the higher rate rise.

Ms McVey said: “There are no targets... [the changes] were really to reflect today’s understanding of disability, to take into account cognitive, learning, sensory, fluctuating, conditions that had not really happened in 1992 (when the DLA was introduced) which was very much about physical conditions.”

“At the moment the vast majority of claimants get the benefit for life without any systematic reassessments and around 50 per cent of decisions are made on the basis of the claim form alone; without any additional corroborating medical evidence.

“The Personal Independence Payment will include a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews; something missing in the current system.”

But disability groups expressed concern that the reforms, which are being phased in - starting in Bootle, Liverpool – from today and extended in June, will have a “major impact” on disabled people’s quality of life.

Disability Rights UK chief executive Liz Sayce, said: “We are very concerned about the impact of PIP which could see thousands of disabled people become institutionalised in their own homes.

“For example, the Department for Work and Pensions expects that 428,000 disabled people who currently get the higher rate mobility component will lose it altogether or receive the lower amount. This means that many will lose their car under the Motability car scheme so they will no longer be able to get to work or get out and about.

“If the purpose of PIP is to contribute to the extra costs of disability so that disabled people can maintain their independence, we doubt whether this will be achieved.

“Under DLA, disabled people who are unable to cook a main meal for themselves and those disabled people who need continual support or supervision to ensure they are not in substantial danger will be made an award. This is not the case under PIP.”

A DWP spokesman said, in respect of the application to bring judicial review, that the Department would “follow the correct procedure and respond in due course”.

And the government came under more pressure as a ComRes poll, conducted for ITV News showed that the majority of people do not trust Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne to make the right decisions on welfare.

The survey showed that 45 per cent would not put their faith in the government on the issue, with deep division across the country. Around 41 per cent were found to support the changes, around a third to oppose them and around a quarter undecided.

A DWP spokesman said, in respect of the application to bring judicial review, that the Department would “follow the correct procedure and respond in due course”.