Initially, we were shocked at the cursory nature and limited scope of the response. On reflection, we are disappointed and angry.
The first sentence of the petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of welfare reforms as they affect sick and disabled people. To paraphrase, the government has responded that they did not, indeed could not, do a CIA because the changes involved were too numerous and too complex.
We believe this constitutes a reckless disregard for the safety, health, and human rights of sick and disabled people. The DWP is saying that it embarked upon a programme of changes, which it acknowledges are the biggest changes to welfare in sixty years, without knowing what the effect would be on the most vulnerable people in society. It did not know what the impact would be, but went ahead regardless.
For a government department the size of the DWP to say that a CIA would have been too difficult is, frankly, risible. It has also been proved to be incorrect by the cross-party think tank Demos, which has carried out its own CIA.
Demos has concluded that 3.7million sick and disabled people will be negatively affected by welfare reform, with a total loss of income up to 2018 of £28.3billion.
As Demos is comparatively a small organisation with limited resources, the fact that it was able to do this CIA makes the DWP’s failure to do so remarkable, to say the least. It would appear that in reality there was no motivation within the DWP to do a CIA, and we have to ask why.
Was it because the results would completely contradict the government’s frequent assurances that disabled people would always be looked after? Did the government know that the idea of the UK’s disabled community being made dramatically poorer would have been politically unacceptable, and therefore it attempted to prevent this fact from becoming known?
The issue of a Cumulative Impact Assessment was addressed in the first sentence of the e-petition, but it is the only aspect of the petition that the government has responded to. There is no response to the request for an immediate halt to the Work Capability Assessment, as demanded by the British Medical Association in 2012 because it was harming patients.
The petition also calls for an end to ‘forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits’ and various other measures, all of which are ignored in the government response.
In conclusion, the response makes clear the government’s total and reckless lack of regard for the health, safety, wellbeing, and human rights of sick and disabled people in the UK. Consequently the Human Rights of sick and disabled people in the UK will be on the agenda for discussion at the Annual General Meeting of Amnesty International on 13/14 April 2013. For more information and to sign the
WOW Petition please go to wowpetition.com
[Shorter version available on Liberal Conspiracy]
Further Response to DWP Response in Detail
The government is ploughing ahead with the most ambitious reforms to the welfare system since it was introduced sixty years ago, without making any attempt to understand how sick and disabled individuals, carers and households will be affected. The reforms and cuts have been rushed through Parliament regardless of the negative consequences to the people they target.
The WOW Petition calls for a “cumulative impact assessment”. In simple terms, we want the government to understand how lots of cuts will change the life of each disabled person. The government has a duty to assess the impact of new policies on the people affected by them, but it only produces assessments based on changes to isolated benefits affecting groups, and not how changes to many benefits affect individuals. We know that these policy specific assessments are inadequate and misleading, because they do not show that the same people are losing out time and again.
The government responded to our demand for an impact assessment of its welfare reforms by suggesting that it was too difficult for them to do, and that other organisations had not produced this report. However, a recent Demos study supported by the charity Scope managed to do just that. What they discovered, was that 3.7 million disabled people are going to be hit by a reduction in income. By 2017 when the next set of reforms is expected to be announced, this group will lose £28 billion in benefits. The Chancellor also announced another round of spending cuts during the Budget, which are scheduled to happen in June 2013. That’s a whopping amount to be wiped from the welfare budget, especially when these are cuts to vital benefits that support disabled people’s basic needs. They are used to provide food, clothing, shelter, heating, transport, care services, independence and inclusion within their communities. When all of these benefit cuts are considered together, it is apparent that they are not spread out equally.
“At the ‘lucky’ end of the scale, 88,000 people currently claiming contributory ESA (WRAG) will see a double whammy of having their benefit capped by 1% through the Benefit Uprating Bill, and time limited to 12 months. At the other end of the scale – a group we might call ‘the hardest hit of the hardest hit’ – at least 1000 disabled people (up to 5000) will experience 6 separate cuts to their benefits income before the next election. By the time the next round of cuts are due, they will be £23,300 worse off per person – this represents the loss of all benefits recognising their disability (ESA and DLA), and a substantial reduction in housing benefit.
In between these two poles lies the 120,000 who will experience some form of triple cut, and 99,000 who will have a quadruple cut. At best, these represent a loss of £6309 per person by 2017. But for those unfortunate enough to lose their Disability Living Allowance early on, and who also claim contributory ESA (WRAG), the combined impact of these and the CPI (consumer price index) and 1% uprating cap will be a £23,461 loss by 2017.
For anyone, these are substantial sums of money. But for disabled people struggling with spiralling costs of living, such financial losses are life-changing.”
Five leading charities including Scope, produced a report “The Other Care Crisis” which identified a £1.2 billion funding gap in social care support for disabled people under the age of 65. The shocking conclusion was that 40% of disabled people receiving social care support are not having their basic needs met including eating, washing, dressing or getting out of the house.
Other organisations have also produced revealing reports. The Centre for Welfare Reform on behalf of the Campaign for a Fair Society, used the government’s own figures to analyse how cuts in public expenditure disproportionately target disabled people. Their assessment also looked at the cuts to local authority budgets, a great proportion which, is spent delivering social care to adults and children.
“The government seems to have made no effort to understand the cumulative impact of its cuts on minority groups, especially those with the greatest needs. It has rejected calls for a ‘Cumulative Impact Assessment’ of the cuts despite the obvious fact that those with the most severe disabilities now face the combined impact of:
- Social care cuts
- Benefit Cuts
- Housing Cuts
- Regressive Tax Increases
...it is clear that by 2015, in England alone, local government and housing will be cut by £16.2 billion. This is a cut in real terms of 41.9%. Social care for children and adults makes up 60% of all spending over which local authorities have any control. Data collected over the past two years indicates that social
care has already been cut by nearly £4 billion, and will be cut by £8 billion by 2015, a cut of about 33%. Benefits for disabled people and the poorest will also have been cut by £18 billion, a cut of about 20%.
When we look at the combined impact of all the cuts we find:
People in poverty (21% of the population) bear 39% of all cuts.
Disabled people (8% of the population) bear 29% of all cuts.
People with the most severe disabilities (2% of the whole population) bear 15% of all cuts.”
Sick and disabled people are right to be frustrated and angered by the government's refusal to listen to their concerns. The situation for many disabled people is now dire. If the government have any interest in creating a semblance of fairness in their policies they must acknowledge that the same disabled people are being targeted many times over. If the government does not share our worries, we can only conclude that it does not care about the effect of its policies on this vulnerable group of people.
We ask, why does the government not want to know the cumulative impact of its welfare reforms on sick and disabled people? This group includes people with life limiting disabilities and chronic illness who are not in a position to "make work pay" to improve their situation. They are managing ill health and disability, and already struggling to do so in circumstances of poverty and hardship. These cuts will push the poorest people towards reliance on charity and into destitution. Could it be that the government is not protecting "the frail, the vulnerable, the poorest in our society", and is failing catastrophically in its duty of care? The assessment may be complex, but perhaps it hasn’t been undertaken because it is too controversial and politically damaging. Iain Duncan Smith had said that “genuinely” disabled people have “nothing to fear” over the reforms to the welfare system, but we are far from reassured. By redefining disability, they have simply moved the goalposts. Would an assessment the many benefit cuts affecting disabled people reveal a truth that they don’t want you to know? The journalist Polly Toynbee perhaps pointed to the reason why no cumulative impact assessment has so far been undertaken. “The government relies on destitution staying silent and unseen.”
We call on the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of all the cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people, their families and carers. Please add your signature to the WOW Petition http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154