The Government based the justification for its latest disability benefit cuts on untested “anecdotal” evidence – according to the very report cited by George Osborne to justify them.
Cuts to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) confirmed by the Chancellor yesterday will raise £4.4 billion by 2020, by stripping people who use specially adapted appliances of payments.
Mr Osborne said this morning the policy had been recommended by an “independent report” – which a Government spokesperson later confirmed was the Gray Review, published at the end of 2014.
The actual text of the Gray Review however says its findings on adapted appliances are completely untested – and are in fact based on anecdotes repeated by the DWP’s own staff.
“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 brief half-page section of the report used to justify the policy says.
“Due to limitations in available published data, the Review has not been able to test this. “
Despite having no formal data to base its assessment on, the review recommended that the DWP should “review how aids and appliances are taken into account in PIP assessments against original policy intent, and make any necessary adjustments to guidance and training”.
Minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson also said earlier this month that the Gray Review showed “the assessment criteria for aids and appliances are not working as planned” when he announced the cuts.
Mr Osborne and the Department for Work and Pensions have described the review as being “independent” of the Department for Work and Pensions. It was carried out by civil servant Paul Gray, who chairs the statutory and independently-appointed Social Security Advisory Committee.
Mr Gray used to partly run the DWP, when he served as its second permanent secretary. He also served as Margaret Thatcher’s private secretary for economic affairs.
The senior civil servant, who has served under both Labour and Conservative governments, stepped down as permanent secretary of HMRC in 2007 following that department’s loss of personal data for 25 million people.
The revelation about the lack of evidence in support of the PIP cuts comes the same month as one of the country’s foremost disability experts said she was left speechless by how poor ministers’ arguments for cutting another disability benefit was.
Baroness Campbell, a former Commissioner for Disability Rights and a crossbench peer, said she was lost for words when she heard Conservative justifications for cutting Employment Support Allowance.
That cut, which took £30-a-week from disabled people in the so-called “work related activity group”, comes in addition to the latest cuts to PIP.
The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has also been accused by doctors and academics of playing fast-and-loose with academic evidence to justify a new contract for junior doctors.
Mr Osborne said in his Budget speech on Wednesday that the new PIP cuts would make sure support was targeted at people who need it most.
“On welfare, last week the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions set out changes that will ensure that within the rising disability budget, support is better targeted at those who need it most,” he said.
“Let me confirm that this means the disability budget will still rise by more than £1 billion, and we’ll be spending more in real terms supporting disabled people than at any point under the last government.”
Labour has however accused the Conservatives of using the money raised from the PIP cuts to fund tax cuts for the richest – which cost roughly the same amount.
“Yesterday we made the point that austerity is not an economic necessity – it’s a political choice and yesterday the Chancellor made his political choices,” the shadow chancellor John McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“He cut capital gains tax to the richest five per cent of our country and he cut the disability benefits to some of the most vulnerable.
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
“We would reverse them, it’s unacceptable that people with disabilities have to pay for the tax cuts for the rich.”
Charities have also criticised the cuts. A coalition of 25 disability charities wrote to the Government last week to warn that the cuts would have a “severe impact” on people’s security and make it harder for them to find work.
“This decision could have a devastating impact on the lives of people with MS. In the worst cases, they could lose up to £150 a week,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society.
“PIP is an essential benefit which goes towards the extra cost of being disabled. The new plans will fail some of the most vulnerable people in society and we have serious concerns about the future health and welfare of those affected.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “The changes to PIP are based on robust information. Following Paul Gray’s initial review, health professionals reviewed 400 cases and found that in 96% of them people using aids or appliances were likely to have low to nil on-going extra daily living costs. We consulted widely to ensure we get this right so that the support is targeted at those who need it most.”