2016 is likely to be the year when large numbers of disabled people are moved off Disability Living Allowance and on to Personal Independence Payments. But, says Ian Macrae, hidden cuts are being made to serve a darker agenda.
Former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey is serially misquoted as having said that his party would “Tax the rich until the pips squeak”. What he actually promised was that their taxation policy towards the rich would cause “howls of anguish”. And it was property developers in a different speech whose pips would be made to squeak.
Mr Healey was never the most radical of socialists, particularly during his occupancy of Number 11 Downing Street. But he and the governments in which he served did make gestures towards redistribution of wealth by using high rate taxation to, among other things, provide a social security system which was at least reliable and which, though it was never going to leave anyone in the lap of luxury, did at least provide the less well off with a secure basic income. Such redistributive moves, if not themselves the result of true radicalism, did have their roots and origins in a socialist ideology.
By contrast, Mr Healey’s most recent successor in the top job at the treasury, George Osborne, was seen on beginning what he referred to as “his Reform” of the social security system as being not so much guided, but largely motivated by a very different ideology, that of “work or want” which looked very like a throwback to Conservative governments of the 1930s and which in turn had its beginnings in the Poor Laws of Victorian times.
But now it seems that Messrs Osborne and Cameron have left even that ideology behind, misguided though it may have been and morally questionable as it was even back in the 30s.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the migration of people from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) is being cynically used as a means of reducing the benefit bill.
The basic trick is actually very simple. If someone is currently on a high level rate of one or more component of DLA, the migration process is used to put them on a lower rate of the same or similar components of PIP. Job done.
But it’s the way in which this is achieved which is the devilishly cunning part of the operation.
In DLA assessments questions were designed to establish whether there was a need for support in a particular area and the extent of that need. It must be said that this in itself did not always work in favour or to the benefit of the claimant.
But with PIP assessments, much more emphasis is placed on what a person can achieve and how they achieve it. So, for instance, I might say that I can cook a meal for myself and my family: already that’s one point against me. But whereas previously I would have stated a need for certain pieces of adaptive kitchen equipment and that might have given grounds for an award of support from DLA, now, simply saying that I use adaptive kitchen equipment to assist me is likely to illustrate that the need, such as it is, is being met thereby lessening my need for PIP support or cancelling it altogether.
This combination of duplicity and bare-faced cynicism would surely be enough to render this tactic as highly questionable. But what we also have to keep in mind is George Osborne’s political and personal motivation. Everything he does from here to the point at which David Cameron delivers on his promise to step down is clearly going to be calculated to maximise the chances of Osborne taking over as leader, perhaps even prime minister.
It was bad enough that the financial and general well-being of disabled people was being sacrificed to an outmoded ideology. It is surely worse that such a sacrifice is now made to serve the Chancellor’s personal and political ambition.