Reforming Disability Living Allowance

The government is reforming Disability Living Allowance, replacing it with a Personal Independence Payment. It is probably fair to say that DLA has lost its focus. The component elements were initially intended to cover care needs and mobility needs. The benefit is increasingly used by people with mental illness. People over working age, who now account for third of the costs of the benefit.

The proposed reform, however, is based – like several other proposed reforms – in the belief that the appropriate approach is to improve assessment, to make the tests more sensitive to individual needs, and to make the system more responsive to changes in circumstances. This is the opposite of what the government ought to be doing. Personalised assessments are administratively complex, cumbersome, and often unfair. People find it difficult to descrIbe their circumstances, and impossible to place their needs in a scale relative to others. They do not understand why their condition is assessed as severe or less severe, and it is not reasonable to expect them to do so. Many conditions fluctuate; conditions like multiple sclerosis, or arthritis do not have a consistent effect on capacity over time and cannot sensibly be responded to as if they did. The direction of movement should be towards greater automaticity, not less. The benefits assessment should offer fixed awards for specific conditions for set periods.

See Cm 7984, Disability Living Allowance reform, London: The Stationery Office

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