Benefit changes not about saving money – minister

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Replacements for disability living allowance are not intended to save money but to ensure the pot is better spent, according to a government minister.

Disabled people minister Esther McVey said the government would be spending broadly the same amount on boosting the income of disabled people at the end of this parliament, about £13.8 billion. But the reforms would slow the expansion in the benefit to new claimants and make sure it goes to those who need it most, she claimed.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she 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 which was very much about physical conditions.

“It was about ensuring it did not continue at the growth it was going … it was about the fact that by 2018 we couldn’t have one in 17 people in the public on the benefit. It was about stopping this growth that had gone up.

“But it was about spending the £13bn every year on those people who need it most.”

Starting yesterday, disability living allowance (DLA) is being replaced with the personal independence payment (PIP), with the changes phased in over several years.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “We have serious concerns about the face-to-face assessments people with autism will have to undergo in order to claim PIP. The less visible difficulties of this complex disability can be hard to understand for assessors who are not specialists.

“Following the failings of the work capability assessment in recognising the needs of adults with autism, the government must ensure that all assessors are trained in autism, but we are not confident of this happening. The introduction of PIP should be a genuine strategy to improve the current system and not simply a money-saving exercise. We all want to see a system that works well and protects people with autism and other disabilities who genuinely need help.”

Legal action is being taken against the government on behalf of three disabled people. They currently receive DLA, including the higher rate of the mobility component, a non-means-tested cash benefit giving help towards the cost of adapting a vehicle. Lawyers say that under PIP, more than 400,000 fewer people will be eligible for the mobility payment.