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Government’s benefits advisers deliver second attack on reforms

The government’s own benefits advice body has delivered stinging criticism of its major reforms to disability living allowance (DLA).

The social security advisory committee (SSAC) said the reforms appeared to be driven by the coalition’s wish to cut the number of working-age disabled people claiming DLA by 20 per cent.

In its response to the government’s public consultation on the reforms – which closed on 18 February – the committee called for clarification on whether the aim was to cut the number of claimants, reduce the length of time people receive DLA, ensure accurate targeting of support, or “achieve something else”.

The SSAC also said that the government’s much-criticised plans to remove the mobility component of DLA from most disabled people in residential care should not go ahead because they would contradict the supposed aim to support disabled people to lead “independent and active lives”.

It is the second time in a fortnight that the SSAC has criticised key parts of the government’s disability benefits reform agenda. Two weeks ago, it delivered a scathing assessment of the controversial and unpopular work capability assessment (WCA).

The SSAC said it was “concerned” that the DLA reforms were being introduced while the WCA – which tests eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit – was “still bedding in”.

The committee said there was a “need to learn lessons from the ESA experience” when planning the introduction of the Person Independence Payment (PIP), the replacement for DLA.

And it raised concerns about plans to extend the qualifying period for PIP to six months from the current three months for DLA.

The committee welcomed the government’s commitment to enabling disabled people to secure more choice and control, and its aim to simplify the DLA system and make it less subjective.  

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it would publish its response to the consultation this spring, while the consultation responses would also be considered as the government’s welfare reform bill moves through Parliament.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We need to reform DLA to ensure that the £12 billion we spend on it makes the most difference and that people can rely on it for years to come.  

“We are working with disabled people and disability groups on the reforms and will respond to the public consultation shortly.”