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Difficult, hazardous and right: the Government's push to reform disability benefits

By Paul Goodman
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My popularity with Guardian readers soars to new heights this morning as I make the case for the Government's proposed replacement of the disability living allowance (DLA).  The Lords thumped Ministers in a triple defeat last week over other parts of the welfare reform bill proposals.  It will debate the disability living allowance plan tomorrow.

I am not smacking my lips over the plan, and Conservative MPs won't be doing so either.  Any benefit based on conditionality brings with it changing circumstances, borderline judgements, financial loss - and furious constituents.  People who live with kidney failure or schizophrenia or heart disease vote for all parties and none.

Through constituency surgeries will flow a steady stream of exasperated, angry and sometimes desparate people.  Some won't have a good case, but others are bound to.  Ministers can't even present their case as a noble attempt to help get and keep disabled people in work, since DLA is paid to help cover care and mobility costs, regardless of whether the recipient works.

However, as I write:

"Ducking decisions simply because constituents won't like them is scarcely a noble motive...There is a real problem, and that is error. More than 70% of the current DLA caseload has an indefinite award. There is no effective means of ensuring these payments remain correct. Ministers claim there are hundreds of millions of pounds of overpayments."

DLA is based largely on form filling. No conditional benefit can escape this. But there is sense in altering a paper-based system to include more face to face interviews and regular reviews. Even were there no deficit to reduce, ministers would be required to provide value for money, focus payments on those most in need, and reduce mistakes in the system."

Baroness Meacher, who played a significant part in the government's defeats last week, said in its their wake that "we broadly support cuts in welfare".  As I write, Parliamentarians from all parties cannot responsibly utter such statements in principle while opposing structural reform in practice.  As voting looms, the Government is pushing its case this morning in the Mail and the Sun.

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