Leaders: Caring for those most in need is top priority

The Tory government is being pressured into a u-turn on disability benefit cuts. Picture: Contributed
The Tory government is being pressured into a u-turn on disability benefit cuts. Picture: Contributed
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THE latest plan to axe help for the disabled smacks of an ‘easy target’ and the Chancellor must think again before cutting vital payments

Unsuprisingly pressure is growing on George Osborne to perform a U-turn over his plans to cut £4 billion in disability benefits.

Under the Chancellor’s proposed squeeze on the personal independence payment (PIP), more than 600,000 people could have support for aids and appliances used for daily tasks either scaled back or removed. Government ministers have begun softening their language on the plans amid suggestions there could be a backbench revolt.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has written to Tory MPs to insist that consultations are continuing, while Cabinet colleague Nicky Morgan said the proposed cut was merely a “suggestion”.

But while the measures are not yet set in stone, it is clear they are going to badly limit many thousands of disabled people.

PIP is a benefit to help with some of the costs associated with long-term ill health or a disability. It was introduced in 2013 and replaces disability living allowance (DLA) which will be phased out by 2018.

Anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 living with a long-term disability or illness and difficulties with activities related to daily living or mobility can claim PIP, regardless of whether they are in or out or work.

PIP is usually paid once a month and is tax free. It is made up of two components – daily living and mobility – and whether an individual receives one or both of these depends on how their condition affects them, rather than the condition itself. Claimants can receive anywhere between £21.80 and £139.75 a week.

The squeeze on PIPs will see up to 640,000 people affected by tighter criteria, brought forward after a review by health professionals found people were being awarded points for aids and appliances already in homes or provided by the NHS and councils.

The Budget documents made clear that the proposals would save more than £4bn by 2020-21.

When the government’s response to the consultation was published last week, it said the Department for Work and Pensions had decided to implement the changes from January 1, 2017 for new claims and claimants who report a change of circumstances.

Ministers insist that overall spending on disability benefits is going up and the changes are needed to make sure the cash is better targeted to those in most need.

The Chancellor has said ministers will be talking to colleagues and disability charities to “make sure we get this absolutely right”.

Clearly, this is not something the Chancellor can afford to get wrong. However, by all accounts even modest changes in this area will impact on people who rely on help to get dressed and go to the toilet.

A society should judge itself by how it cares for its weakest members.

If we cannot help those disabled people who want to live independent lives, then we have failed.

The Chancellor should take heed of the opposition on this issue and think again.

Train operator is on the right track

On the face of it a reduction in a journey time by 22 minutes to four hours does not sound all that seismic. It is not really that much of a difference. But it is one we should all take note of.

A new fleet of trains has been unveiled by Virgin which will cut journey times on the East Coast Main Line by just such a time.

The trains, which will be launched in 2018, will enable passengers to travel between London and Edinburgh in four hours by accelerating from 0-125mph around a minute quicker than the current fleet.

The first of the new trains were unveiled by Sir Richard Branson at London King’s Cross yesterday and he should be congratulated for his investment. The 65 new trains will be built by Japanese firm Hitachi at its manufacturing plant in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

Now the passengers on the East Coast line between London and Edinburgh will all have shiny new state-of the art trains to get on, meaning tourists among them should have a more enjoyable travel experience and that should encourage more to get out of London to Edinburgh.

But there will be another benefit from the shiny new trains and the cut in the time they deliver. If you add in the time spent waiting at the airport and then the travel time from the airport to the city centre then the time difference between flying and taking the train will be edging ever closer. Now there are many factors in deciding whether it is air or rail, but as times get closer plane companies and train companies will be upping their games to attract passengers. The greater competition will be seen in frequencies, prices and quality of service, and that has to be good for the consumer.