Westminster shamed into U-turn over “callous” cut to mobility benefit

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by a Newsnet reporter

The Westminster government has been forced into a U-turn on one of its most controversial cuts.  The Conservative – Lib Dem coalition sparked widespread anger and outrage when it announced last year that it intended to remove the mobility payments received as part of disability living allowance (DLA) for some 80,000 disabled people resident in care homes.  

The cut had been due to be implemented next year.  The government had claimed it would save £160m by removing the £51 a week benefit which it said was an “overlapping” benefit.  The government argued that the transport costs of disabled people resident in care homes were covered in the costs of residential care, paid for by the local authority.

The decision to cut the benefit was received with shock and disbelief amongst amongst disability groups and campaigners.  Many openly questioned whether government ministers fully understood the effect that the cut would have on the quality of life of thousands of severely disabled people.  

Disabled people rely upon the benefit to enable them to attend hospital and other appointments, visit family, and to have an independent life as possible.  Without the extra income from the benefit, they would have no means of funding the extra transport costs brought about by their disability and become housebound.

Following the widespread outrage the initial announcement provoked, the government decided to review the decision.  An independent review was also undertaken, carried out by Lord Low of Dalston, Chairman of the Royal National Institute of the Blind, on behalf of two charities, Mencap and Leonard Cheshire Disability.

The Low Review reported its findings earlier this month.  The report said that removing mobility payments from people in care homes would “deny people control over their own lives” and discovered “no evidence of overlap” between the support provided by the government, and that provided by local authorities.

In the face of this opposition, the Conservative Lib Dem government has now back-tracked.  Ministers have confirmed that the mobility component of DLA will be retained after the benefit is replaced by the new personal independence payment (PIP) due to be introduced in 2013.

However groups representing people with disabilities remain deeply concerned about the changes the government is still planning.  The UK government has stated its intent to cut the budget for DLA/PIP by one-fifth.  Many disabled people face losing the benefit entirely.

In a written statement to the House of Commons, Minister for disabled people Maria Miller MP said: “The reasoning behind the original decision was to ensure there were no overlaps in funding leading to double payments.

“However, I have always been clear that I would not make any change that would stop disabled people from getting out and about. Which is why after listening to the strong concerns of disabled people and their organisations, I have taken action and decided not to remove the payment.”

Ms Miller now accepts that the local authority provision of transport services for disabled people in care homes is “patchy at best”.

The government will now move an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill to implement the change.

The Turning Point health and social care provider welcomed the change of heart.  Director of learning disability services Adam Penwarden said: “We are reassured by the fact the Government has listened to those who need support the most and has decided not to remove the mobility component of the disability living allowance.

“This benefit is integral to the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, allowing them to access and be part of their local community.  The removal of this vital resource would have rendered many of them housebound, robbing them of the chance they would otherwise have to lead fulfilled and independent lives.”

SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP has also welcomed the news.  Parliamentary questions by Dr Whiteford – who secured cross-party support for a motion calling for the government to reverse the cut – revealed that the cut would have removed a vital benefit from approximately 80,000 people living in residential care, including an estimated 8,000 users of the Motability Car Scheme.

Dr Whiteford said:

“Threatening to remove the mobility component for people in residential care was one of the most callous cuts the Tories proposed, and this u-turn is a great victory for campaigners and common sense.

“We are talking about a lifeline payment which gives people, including children at residential special schools, some independence.

“Removing this allowance would effectively have meant that some people could no longer get out and about and would have been confined to their residential care home.

“The fact remains that the Tories have targeted the most vulnerable in society with their cuts, and I hope we will be able to force further u-turns by UK Ministers – for example, on the planned cuts to the availability of crisis loans.”