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Letter appeals to Miller over bill’s ‘anti-disabled people’ measures

Disabled activists, academics and politicians have appealed to a government minister to abandon measures in the welfare reform bill that are “anti-disabled people”.

The open letter to Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, was signed by MPs, MSPs, members of the Welsh assembly, peers, and more than 50 academics.

Leading disabled figures to sign the letter included Professors Peter Beresford and Colin Barnes, actor Mat Fraser, film-maker Liz Crow, campaigner Anne Novis, and the activists behind the Where’s the Benefit? blog. 

The letter was put together by the campaigning disabled people’s blog The Broken of Britain and was published in The Guardian the day before the bill’s second reading in the Commons.

The letter says the bill would “punish disabled people, and especially those with fluctuating and hidden conditions”, and pointed to the planned one-year time limit on people who claim the “contributory” form of employment and support allowance.

It also criticises the cuts and reforms to disability living allowance (DLA), and calls for the DLA reforms and “other ‘anti-disability’ provisions that will place extra pressure on social care and social services” to be removed from the bill.

The letter’s publication came as Kaliya Franklin, co-founder of The Broken of Britain, released an artistic photograph of herself lying naked on a wintry beach in front of her wheelchair, as part of the group’s Left Out In The Cold awareness-raising campaign.

She said: “I was absolutely frozen when I took my clothes off for the photo shoot, but it was nothing like as cold as I and other disabled people will be if the government removes our essential benefits.”

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said it was “committed to supporting disabled people” and enabling those who can work to do so “by providing the specialist help they need to move into sustainable employment”.

He said the DLA reforms would “ensure it works in the way it should and that disabled people who really need it can rely on the £12bn we spend on it for years to come”.

Meanwhile, the Commons public accounts committee has told the DWP to do more to cut the cost of errors in the benefits system.

The committee said staff and customer mistakes led to £2.2 billion in benefits being overpaid and £1.3 billion being underpaid to claimants in 2009-10.

Margaret Hodge MP, the committee’s chair, said the DWP was focusing on its own losses due to error and fraud rather than “underpayments to poor people who depend on the benefits to which they’re entitled”.