The governmentís overhaul of the welfare system, including the reforms made to the disability benefit have been a success, the work and pensioners secretary has identified.
Iain Duncan Smith argued that the broad array of changes that were made last year to the welfare state would have saved UK taxpayers over £50 billion by the end of the governmentís current term next year, and praised the initiative for lowering state dependency and encouraging people to get into work.
However, the Disabilities Trust charity have hit out at the reforms, arguing that in particular, the housing benefit changes have been part of a ìtriple whammyî of measures that have negatively impacted the lives of disabled people across the country.
Mr Duncan Smith said: “I think the work programme is now for the first time ever working with people, who were once on sickness benefits and who are now not, going back to work.”
The coalitionís decision to reduce the level of welfare entitlements that a household can acquire last year has garnered widespread criticism for impacting the finances of some of the countryís poorest householdís during a post-recession era.
In particular, the changes made to the housing benefit system last year have been heavily scrutinised, and have compelled a number of critics of the policy to brand it a ëbedroom taxí.
Under the reform, any person who is currently being given social housing by the government and has one spare bedroom is entitled to 14% less from their housing benefit payments, whilst any household with two or more spare rooms are entitled to 25% less than the full payment.
And Labour and a number of charity groups have argued that the policy has failed to impact the group of welfare abusers that it was aimed at, instead inadvertently affecting disabled people who often require a spare room in their home to store vital equipment to do with their disability.
However, Mr Duncan Smith has issued his support for the reforms, highlighting that 50% of the estimated £50 billion worth of savings will be acquired in the upcoming 12 months, and arguing that the achievement should be commended for bringing down the huge public spending deficit which the coalition government inherited back in 2010.
He also defended the performance of the ëbedroom taxí, arguing that it is a ëbalanced and fairí policy that is beneficial to millions of taxpayers across the country.
However, Sarah Clifford, director of communications for the Disabilities Trust, argued that the ëbedroom taxí is one of a ìtriple whammyí of factors that have negatively affected the lives of disabled people in recent times.
She accused the government of underestimating the collective impact that the housing reforms, modifications to the disability benefit claim system and the reduction in local council support has had on the wellbeing and financial condition of disabled people across the UK.
Ms Clifford said: “We just hope Mr Duncan Smith can deliver on the promise that this will be a fair system and will not be unfair or unjust on people with disabilities.”
Last week, the Work and Pensions Committee concluded that the governmentís housing reforms have caused ëfinancial hardship and distressí to the disabled people in the country, and argued that it has had a more detrimental impact on vulnerable and innocent groups than the group of welfare abusers that it was intended to target.
Chairwoman, Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, said: “The government has reformed the housing cost support system with the aim of reducing benefit expenditure and incentivising people to enter work.
“But vulnerable groups who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are not able to respond by moving house or finding a job are suffering as a result.
“The government’s reforms are causing severe financial hardship and distress to vulnerable groups, including disabled people.”
She added: “Using housing stock more efficiently and reducing overcrowding are understandable goals.”
She also highlighted that between 60%-70% of homes that have been affected by the policy have had a disabled person in residence, and that these people have struggled to leave their property and find somewhere else to live due to the inhibiting nature of their ailments.
She said: “So, they have to remain in their homes with no option but to have their housing benefit reduced.”
Labour also criticised the policy, arguing that it has severely damaged the lives of people who utilise spare rooms in their householdís for vital storage purposes.
Rachel Reeves, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: ‘It’s completely unfair that so many are charged for the space they use to store essential medical equipment such as dialysis machines.”
However, the government backed their policy, arguing that money saved from the housing benefit reform would be reallocated to councils in order to help the vulnerable, such as pensioners and disabled people.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said last week: “Our reforms are necessary to restore fairness to the system and make a better use of social housing. Unreformed, the housing benefit bill would have grown to £26bn in 2013-14.
“We have given councils £345m since reforms came in last year to support vulnerable groups, especially disabled people.
A recent BBC study revealed that 6% of people have moved following the policies implementation, whilst 60%-70% of those who have been affected are disabled. This supports both Labour and the Committeeís suggestions that the policy has erroneously hit the wrong group of people, rather than the welfare abusers that they were initially aimed at.
Disability claim system reform
Last year, the government also revealed that they would be changing the system in which disabled benefit claimants were evaluated, announcing that they would be phasing out the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replacing it with the new Personal Independence Payment (pip)
Under the old scheme, disability benefit claimants had to display that they could not walk longer than 50m without some form of support in order to acquire the upper limit of the welfare allowance.
Now, they will be required to display that they are unable to walk further than 20m without support in order to acquire the highest allowance payment, with Duncan Smith arguing that it will help the government give greater levels of support to those who need it, and end the culture of welfare dependency in the country that has seen many abusers of the system be awarded ëfor lifeí when they have managed to make a successful claim.
He also identified that the new system will require all allowance recipients to meet up with government officials face-face on a consistent basis so that they can regularly adjust the level of welfare entitlements available to the user based on the state of their ailment at the time of the meeting.
ìWe haven’t introduced this to hurt or to harm disabled people. The purpose is to try to support disabled peopleî, Mr Duncan Smith said.
“There were over a million people not looked at for over 10 years,”.
“These regular reviews, I think, will help them and benefit them. We haven’t introduced this to hurt or to harm disabled people. The purpose is to try to support disabled people.”
He added: “The idea is to get people assessed so that we can find out those whose conditions have improved can then seek work, and many are going back to work now, and those who need full support get that full support.”
Mr Duncan Smith pointed out that the government hadnít reformed the system in as simplistic terms as has been portrayed, and highlighted that claimants would be assessed on a dual basis- firstly on how hard it was for them to reach 20m, and then 50m.
“What we’re trying to do with these reforms is to get them to be fair so that the people who need them get better payments, and those who don’t need the higher levels don’t take the higher levels,” Mr Duncan Smith said.
Under the DLA system, he said, 70% of people who made a claim got awards “for life”.
He also revealed that the government has ended their arrangement with firm Atos, who were previously in charge of ascertaining whether a benefit claimant was fit to enter into employment.
He also rejected claims that Atos had terminated their contract with the government, and identified that taxpayers would not have to subsidise the costs of the early termination in the arrangement through their own pockets.