This article titled “Disability benefit cut: Tory backbenchers call for rethink” was written by Rowena Mason, Karen McVeigh, Anushka Asthana and Nicholas Watt, for The Guardian on Wednesday 16th March 2016 20.41 UTC
George Osborne will cut £4.4bn from benefits for disabled people over the course of the parliament, sparking alarm and a possible rebellion among Conservative backbenchers.
In a move condemned by charities, the budget on Wednesday revealed that George Osborne’s biggest single revenue-raising measure over the next five years would be cutting personal independence payments (PIP) for people who need aids to help them dress and use the toilet.
Disability rights groups said the changes would be a devastating blow to disabled people who rely on the benefit to help them live on their own, while Labour branded the changes “morally reprehensible”.
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said that about a “third of the cutbacks [Osborne] has been raising money from will fall on people with disabilities” by 2020-21.
After the cuts were trailed on Friday, a Labour analysis found it would deny 200,000 claimants access to the benefit worth almost £3,000 a year, with a further 400,000 seeing their entitlements reduced.
The scale of the changes affecting some of the most vulnerable people in society has already caused deep concern among some Conservative MPs, including some of those who forced the chancellor to reverse his planned cuts to tax credits.
One Tory MP said there was huge unease among his colleagues in the parliamentary party and a group of backbenchers was planning to put their concerns to the chancellor, calling for the PIP cuts to be softened during the consultation process.
There was particular disquiet that the cuts were being made in order to keep within the chancellor’s overarching welfare cap that he is already due to breach because of the cancelled tax credit cuts.
In a further sign of Tory disquiet, one thinktank on the liberal side of the Conservative party called on Osborne to rethink the changes.
“The cuts to the disability benefit, the personal independence payment, are a mistake,” said David Kirkby, a senior research fellow at Bright Blue.
“PIP covers the extra costs of disability and is received by those in work as well as those out of work. It is unclear what justifies these changes – worth over £1.2bn – and similarly unclear how they square with pre-election promises to protect the disabled from welfare cuts.”
It also emerged on Wednesday that the Conservative Disability Group posted a message saying its website was “temporarily closed owing to Disability Cuts and the resignation because of these of Webmaster Graeme Ellis”.
Ellis said he was a lifelong Conservative supporter until Wednesday afternoon but the PIP cuts were the last straw. He said his message to Conservative MPs thinking about rebelling was: “Please do it, show that you care and you will end up saving lives.”
He told the Guardian: “I will never vote Conservative again and I’ve never voted for anyone else but today it has destroyed my faith in the party … My work is about advice and guidance on benefits and some of the phone calls I’ve had from some of my clients this afternoon after the budget have made me want to cry.
“It’s not been explained properly and vulnerable people are all thinking they are going to be affected immediately. I’ve had one person said he’s going to kill himself. My job is becoming more and more difficult because it’s soul destroying and not because of the clients. The proposed cuts in PIP and drop in taxation for those that are fortunate enough to be better off are just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I’ve been receiving lots of phone calls and texts [from the Conservative group] saying I should put the website back up but I don’t have a legal obligation to do that because it’s hosted by my own package. At this moment in time, I’m not putting the web page back or taking off what I put.”
An insider from the Department for Work and Pensions said there was awareness that the changes would cause angst among Tories as well as opposition MPs and campaigners.
But the source said the department was given a range of options through which to roll back the cost of disability benefits, with other possibilities offering an even worse situation for disabled people.
The economist Jonathan Portes, who used to work at the DWP, accused ministers of making “a mess of disability benefits”.
He argued that the shift from disability living allowance to personal independence payment was done to reduce costs, but the savings had not been realised.
“They didn’t listen to economists, bureaucrats or doctors, nor did they listen to disabled people,” he said, calling on ministers to stop cutting the current system and instead have a proper review.
Research by the charity Scope shows that disabled people face an average of £550 extra costs a month, compared with the able-bodied.
Mark Atkinson, chief executive of Scope, said disabled people, who were already struggling to pay bills, were very worried. The charity had received many anxious calls to its helpline as a result of the announced cuts. He urged the chancellor to think again.
He said: “Today the chancellor confirmed benefit changes that will make many disabled people’s lives harder. Half of disabled people say that they have struggled to pay the bills because of the extra costs of disability that they face.”
Phil Reynolds, policy and campaigns adviser at Parkinson’s UK, described the cuts to PIP as “devastating” and said they would have a profound effect on the lives of people with the disease.
He said the disability benefit system was no longer fit for purpose: “Thousands of people with Parkinson’s, who rely on aids and appliances for basic tasks like using the toilet or dressing themselves, will now find PIP even tougher to claim. Instead of being able to receive the support they so desperately need, they’re being penalised and shut out at every turn.”
Charities highlighted successive welfare changes that have hit disabled people, such as cuts to social care and the recently passed cuts to employment support allowance, which will reduce benefits by £30 a week for those in the work-related group.
Cuts to local business rates, also announced on Wednesday, would lead to further uncertainty for those relying on social care, they said.
The DWP said the changes were about ensuring PIP supported people with extra costs associated with their disability.
Separately, it emerged that the Office for Budget Responsibility had been critical of the DWP over universal credit – its flagship change to the welfare system that rolls six benefits into one. The independent watchdog’s report cited “significant concern with our UC marginal costs forecast”.
In a sign of trouble ahead for the programme, which has already seen delays and rising costs, the OBR said: “In particular, the model on which it is produced has not been able to keep pace with recent policy changes and has become even less transparent than was previously the case due to the increasing use of off-model adjustments.”
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