The government produced its Welfare Reform Bill on 17th February, containing provisions for Universal Credit, the extension of sanctions against unemployed people, and the abolition of Council Tax Benefit and Disability Living Allowance. It is now clear that Universal Credit will be a portmanteau benefit rather than a true simplification, with distinct rules for Jobseekeer’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit.
Most of this had been signalled, in advance, though for the second time the Secretary of State has jumped the gun on a consultation. Universal Credit was announced in November before the consultation on the proposals had closed; the abolition of Disability Living Allowance was announced with two days left of the consultation period.
The government’s disregard for the process of consultation means that it has been making avoidable mistakes. In the case of Universal Credit, it has left several loopholes and ambiguities unclosed: it is still not clear what will happen to childcare costs or how council tax rebates will be taken into account. In the case of the replacement of Disability Living Allowance by Personal Independence Payments, the position is vaguer still. The government was particularly concerned about the increase in claims for DLA. Most of that increase reflected its growing use by people with psychiatric problems, but the proposals for replacing the care component with an allowance for daily living fail to consider the issue of psychiatric problems at all. The consultation returns would have warned the government of what it still needed to tackle. The rush to judgment is foolish, and the reform looks ill-considered.