At its simplest, the reform of the disability living allowance is a good idea. Since the benefit was introduced in 1992, the cost has quadrupled; the number of claimants has shot up by 30 per cent in the past nine years alone; and the cost to the taxpayer, at the current rate, will soon top £13bn every year.
The Government's plans to cut the bill by 20 per cent are, therefore, eminently reasonable – providing that no one with a genuine disability suffers as a result.
In theory, at least, that should be possible. Until now, most claims for the allowance have been "self-assessed", requiring no medical checks. And about 70 per cent of claimants were awarded the payments for life. With advances in prosthetics, for example, it is entirely possible that someone who lost a limb might now be mobile enough to be able to work. The proposal that all 3.1 million claimants for the new personal independence payment should be examined by a doctor over the next three years is, accordingly, a sensible one.
All well and good. But the concerns being advanced by charities must be acknowledged. Blind people, in particular, are in danger of losing out. Because the reformed benefit works on a points system that focuses on whether claimants can walk, rather than whether they can see, there is a danger that the wide range of additional problems – and costs – incurred by the blind and partially sighted are being disregarded.
Such concerns only emphasise the degree to which disability benefits must be reformed, but with due care that new tests and rules are sensitive and appropriate. Outstanding issues as to how far the they are applied evenly across the country are also yet to be resolved.
If ministers' predictions are correct, anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people who are currently in receipt of disability benefits are set to lose them under the new system. For all the undeniable advantages to the over-stretched public purse, that will only be acceptable if individual injustices are avoided. With so much at stake, the concerns of disability campaigners cannot justifiably be ignored.
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