Dodds demands government “comes clean” over £70m disability “stealth cut”

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Anneliese Dodds has called on the government to “come clean” over manifesto pledge-breaking plans to reform disability benefits after Labour identified Budget proposals to cut £70m of planned spending over the next three years.

Commenting International Day for Disabled People, today, the Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary described confirmation that the government will adopt two proposals on its health and disability green paper as a “stealth cut”.

The government will expand the special rules for terminal illness and replace the 18-month minimum award period for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) with “more targeted efforts… to reduce the frequency of assessments”.

The proposed change breaks a Conservative 2019 manifesto pledge, which told voters that a Tory government would double the minimum PIP award period, before claimants are reassessed for benefits, to 18 months.

In a letter to to Chloe Smith, minister for disabled people, Dodds highlighted that the consultation on the green paper closed just a fortnight before these proposals appeared as fully-costed plans in the Budget and that the paper included commitments to “explore”, “test” and “consult” on new plans.

“With a vital consultation on these matters having closed just weeks before the Chancellor delivered his Budget, the government seems to going behind the backs of disabled people and pushing on with its own preferred plans regardless,” Dodds said today.

“We need much more detail about these plans. On International Day for Disabled People, the government should be acting in their best interests – not trying to sneak yet another cut past them.”

Dodds, in her letter, called on the government to publish further details on how it arrived at the figures set out in the Budget and to guarantee that the objective is to “improve outcomes for disabled people rather than short-term cost-saving”.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto said an 18-month minimum PIP award period would “empower and support disabled people”, saying that people “should not have to provide repeated proof of your disability in order to receive support”.

But the green paper published this year said that “better triaging and testing” would be “more effective”. The change is expected to save the government millions of pounds as regular assessments on average reduce people’s benefits.

Budget documents, released by the government without announcement in October, confirmed that the government is: “No longer going ahead with the proposed 18-month minimum PIP award period decreases PIP expenditure. This is because some individuals affected will have their award review sooner and the average change at award reviews is a reduction in the award amount.”

Below is the full text of the letter sent by Dodds today.

Dear Chloe Smith,

I am writing concerning the government’s decision, somewhat buried in the fine print of October’s Budget, to go ahead with two proposals included in the Health and Disability Green Paper regarding disability benefits reform and the government’s costing of these. The two changes are namely, to expand the Special Rules for Terminal Illness and to remove the proposed 18-month minimum award period for people receiving Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This latter, the Budget explains, will be replaced with “better triaging of cases and testing a new Severe Disability Group”.

The Labour Party wants to see the benefits system working as effectively as possible for disabled people, but the nature and costing of these decisions raise two major concerns.

First, the Budget scorecard shows the implementation of these proposals resulting in a cut to disability spending of £70m over a three year period (2022-23 to 2024-25). Without any additional detail, it is impossible to know how these savings are calculated and whether they arise because the Department is assuming that some people who currently receive benefits will cease to do so in future. It is also not clear whether short-term cost-saving is the overarching objective driving the proposed reforms – as we know has so often been the case under Conservative governments of the last 11 years, with catastrophic consequences and often the production of additional costs down the line.

Secondly, the consultation on the Green Paper only closed on 11 October, just over two weeks before the Budget was delivered. The Green Paper was explicit that the government intended to “explore” and “test” the new triaging system; and that it will “consult with charities and disabled people’s organisations” and “test the approach” for developing the new Severe Disability Group. These words ring hollow if the government has already made up its mind about – and fully costed – the policies it intends to bring about as a result of the Green Paper. It looks instead as if the government is going behind the backs of disabled people and pushing on with its own preferred plans regardless.

Can I therefore ask you:

  • What consultation, exploration or testing of these proposed policies did the government undertake between the Green Paper consultation closing on 11 October and the Budget on 27 October?
  • Will you publish the detail showing the basis of the government’s assumptions that these proposals will save £70m over the first three years of their implementation?
  • Can you guarantee that the overriding objective of the policies proposed is to improve outcomes for disabled people, rather than short-term cost-saving?
  • When will your Department publish further information about these proposals and how they will work in practice, and what plans do you have to involve disabled people themselves?
  • Why was this proposal – which clearly has an impact on a group of people with protected characteristics – not mentioned in the ‘Impacts on Equalities’ section of the Budget, on page 161?

Without answers to those questions, it is hard to conclude anything other than that this was a £70m stealth cut to disabled people that the government was hoping would not be noticed.

I look forward to your response, and will be publishing this letter in the public interest.

Yours sincerely,

Anneliese Dodds
Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

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