Disability news

Government taken to court over disability benefit reforms

Rishi Sunak

The Department for Work and Pensions [DWP] is being taken to court after the government announced changes to the disability benefits system earlier this week.

From next year the work capability assessment [WCA] will introduce a new scoring system making it more difficult to make a successful claim.

The announcement was criticised by leading charities and campaigners who believe thousands of disabled people will financially suffer once the new system is put into place.

Activist Ellen Clifford has been granted permission by the High Court to bring a judicial review of the public consultation, supported by organisations including Disability Rights UK, Z2K and the Black Triangle campaign.

“The government urgently needs to listen to Deaf and Disabled people before imposing reforms that would change the lives of so many people for the worse,” Clifford told The Big Issue.

“This disingenuous and unlawful consultation seems to have been a smokescreen for the government to save money by cutting benefits. It completely skated over the fact that a lot of people will lose £390 a month – that will be devastating for people who already struggle to cover their basic needs.” 

According to the DWP their new system will support disabled people finding work, but Clifford’s lawyers argue the move is to slash benefits cuts and the government’s consultation fails to address the impact it will have on vulnerable individuals.

The WCA scores points based on a person’s disability and how it affects day-to-day life, taking into their consideration physical functions such as social engagement, mental functions and learning tasks.

Those who score the highest points can claim limited capability for work related activity [LCWRA] and can claim universal credit disability payments and have no work-related conditions.

People who score below the highest points, but still qualify for support, are classed in the limited capability for work [LCW] group, they have to prepare to return to the workplace but do not have to actively look for employment.

Anyone who scores low points are not entitled to any disability benefits under universal credit and are expected to find work.

Under the new benefits system people with limited mobility will no longer be able to qualify themselves for the LCWRA group, those who have difficulty to travel from home to a specified place will score lower in the LCW group and individuals suffering with their mental health would only be accepted in the LCWRA group in exceptional cases.

Campaigners estimate disabled people could lose up to £390 a month under the reformed benefits with some losing all their benefits if they do not comply with the new conditions.

According to figures released by the Office for Budget Responsibility [OBR] around 230,000 people with a physical disability preventing them from working could miss out on the extra health element of universal credit by 2029.

An additional 141,000 people suffering from a mental health condition could be impacted by 2029.

Clifford said:  “Deaf and Disabled voices should be heard. Instead, our income is being cut and we are told the change is about ‘realising our potential.

“As we’ve been granted permission to take the DWP to court, we hope that the secretary of state abandons any plans to implement the work capability assessment reforms until this legal challenge has concluded and Deaf and Disabled people have been given a proper opportunity to provide their views on the proposals. Deaf and Disabled peoples’ organisations and campaign groups are completely opposed to these proposed changes.” 

The judicial review is being challenged because:

  • the consultation period was too short
  • the consultation did not properly explain the reforms – for example, it did not make clear that some people could lose up to £390 a month
  • the proposals are not rationally connected to the government’s stated objective of helping more disabled people into work, with very few of those affected forecast to get jobs
  • people could not respond properly to the consultation as information about the impact of the proposals was not provided 

Aoife O’Reilly, a lawyer with Clifford’s representatives Public Law Project, said: “The consultation about changes to the work capability assessment was too rushed for many Deaf and Disabled people to respond to properly and didn’t clearly inform them about the impact that reforms would have. 

“They also should have been told that the proposal was meant to reduce spending on disability benefits, if that was the real rationale. It was incumbent on DWP to provide those it was consulting with information it had about the potential impact of proposals – that was missing from the consultation documents.” 

[ A DWP spokesperson told the Big Issue: “It would not be appropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.” ]

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