I have just spent the morning at the Work and Pensions Committee where evidence was being taken from top academics, the CABs and Demos think-tank about the proposed new DLA benefit called the Personal Independence Payment. The Committee has always taken an interest in disability benefits and is keen that disabled people should have the support they need to lead independent lives.
The Government says the current DLA is over complex, caseload is increasing faster than planned, no checks are made to ensure awards are right and the award can be a barrier to work. We have been testing these ideas with the experts. I can understand the concern of CABs that life should not be made worse for those with significant disability. I suppose an issue is where the threshold for benefit should lie. The last Conservative Government introduced the lowest rate of care component in 1992 to help a larger group of disabled people than before. At the time this was designed to help an extra 140,000 people. In fact, 890,000 now receive this. It does therefore seem sensible to check out how well targeted it is.
Another point made this morning was that in 2005, a National Benefit Review showed that £630 million (11.2%) was being overpaid mainly because of changes to the person’s condition which had not been reported. This is not a criticism of the individuals concerned, because it is difficult to assess your own condition over a period. But it certainly seems wise to have some checks from time to time to make sure the benefit is still needed. This will also help some claimants whose condition has deteriorated. It was estimated in 2005 that a significant number were not receiving all the money to which they were entitled. This looks like being a useful Committee Inquiry.