By Claire West
The test to assess people for the new Personal Independence Payment will not accurately measure the cost of living with a disability shows a new report from the think tank Demos, funded by the disability charity Scope. The report warns that the costly reassessment will waste government money and fail to provide disabled people with vital support.
The assessment will move people from Disability Living Allowance to the PIP and is set to result in a 20 per cent cut in claimants, moving 360,000 disabled people off state support.
DLA, and its successor, PIP, are the only benefits specifically designed to contribute towards the extra costs of living with a disability. However, the report, Counting the Cost, highlights serious flaws in the proposed eligibility test for PIP, which could compound disability poverty.
This new assessment will test the functional impact of a person’s disability. Yet, the report finds that the cost of living with a disability could not be accurately measured in this way. Rather, disability-costs are driven by a range of factors, including employment status, housing and transport. This means many disabled people with less complex needs but very high disability-costs will be left without vital support.
The study found disabled people who claim Job Seekers Allowance had higher disability costs, despite being medically ‘fit to work’ — groups like this are likely to lose out under the new PIP regime.
Because current poverty measures fail to account for the extra costs of living with a disability, twice as many disabled people live below the poverty line than official figures. The extra costs of living with a disability mean that 4.7 million disabled people — 47 per cent — currently live in poverty as opposed to the 2.3 million disabled people — 23 per cent — that the Government currently estimates. But the report suggests that disability poverty — driven by housing, transport and unemployment related costs — can be reduced through strategic decisions being taken as part of existing capital investment and regeneration strategies.
Claudia Wood, head of the Public Services and Welfare Programme said:
“Many disabled people need to spend more than non-disabled people to have the same standard of living. This can include anything from increased electricity bills from running medical equipment and doing laundry more often, to increased transport costs and specialist clothing, to having to buy more expensive readymade food which is easier to cook.
“Our findings show disability costs can’t be properly measured by looking at a single factor. Before these reforms are introduced, the Government must consider the impact of numerous other factors which aren’t directly linked to condition or impairment, but still make disabled people’s lives much more expensive.
“The Government must bear in mind that disability poverty is a dual phenomenon — driven by lower incomes and higher costs. Increasing disabled people’s incomes through greater employment will be a challenge in the current economic climate and will do nothing to improve the situation of those unable to work. The Government could reduce disability poverty more effectively by reducing disability costs rather than focusing exclusively on increasing income. Many disability costs are driven by environmental factors that the Government can change with the right intervention.”
The report calls for a multi-dimensional assessment of the costs associated with disability to ensure that disabled people’s needs are met and government money is not wasted. It recommends strategic decision-making over existing investment in housing, transport and employment to make long-term savings and urges greater competition in the market for specialist equipment, food, clothing and non-prescription medicine.
Home adaptations and equipment are significant areas of spending. Building new homes to Lifetime Home Standards, ensuring social housing organisations keep registers of adapted accommodation and encouraging home ownership are effective ways of reducing disability costs in these areas.
Disabled people relying on public transport have significantly higher costs than those with cars, not only due to public transport spending but also to additional spending on private transport when public transport is not suitable or accessible. To cut these costs, capital investment in stations and rolling stock must take account of the needs of disabled users and the mobility scheme — to give disabled people access to a car when they need it — must be widened.
Improving employment rates among disabled people would reduce the significant costs of being disabled and unemployed, which are borne by state benefits. A more personalised and targeted welfare to work scheme would help disabled people move into work and stay there.
Product and service markets
Specialist equipment, clothing, food, non-prescription medicine and medical products that are not available on the NHS should be open to greater competition to ensure disability products are affordable. Applying the Equalities Act 2010 to manufactured goods would see a fairer market for disabled people.
Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of Scope said:
“It is a stark fact that it costs disabled people dramatically more to live their everyday lives than everyone else. Disability Living Allowance is a lifeline for the disabled people we talk to, even though it currently fails to prevent many of them from being pushed into poverty because of the additional expense they incur in our society.
“We therefore recognise that reform is necessary, however the government proposals fail to take into account the full scale of the costs disabled people face. The new Personal Independence Payment will be geared around an assessment which focuses on an individual's medical condition, not the nature of their needs and their true cost of living.
“In addition, unless the government also takes the opportunity to address some of the barriers disabled people routinely face in society, they will be unable to reduce the overall discrepancy of significantly inflated living costs for disabled people and their families and will not be able to reduce the overall demand for an allowance like DLA or PIP in the longer term. “