Benefits lowered as PIPS Cut Back in Budget

Posted: 21st Mar 2016

By Rory McGimpsey

Wednesday saw the publication of George Osborne’s long awaited Budget. While the majority of content has been relatively well received, the main area of contention relates to potential cuts in disability benefits. Charity workers and politicians alike have expressed concern over proposed cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIPS). As many of you will recall, PIPS were introduced by the government as a replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as part of a general restructure of welfare provision. The PIP benefit is considered vital for millions of people living with disabilities, helping to support those who need assistance to get dressed and go to the bathroom, for example.

What are the changes, then? According to the Guardian, Osborne will cut an estimated £4.4bn from disability benefits over the course of this parliament. A further 80,000 claimants will see their PIP payments cut from an enhanced rate of £82 a week to a significantly reduced enhanced rate of £55 a week. The Mirror estimates that the cuts will see 290,000 disabled people lose £4,100 a year from their PIP entitlements.

Announcing the changes, chancellor George Osborne said: “We will continue to deliver sensible reforms to keep Britain living within its means. On welfare, last week…the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions set out changes that will ensure within the rising disability budget, support is better targeted at those who need it most.”

He makes a convincing case. So what’s the issue? Needless to say, further cuts in the welfare budget have not been universally welcomed. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was quoted in The Guardian as saying: “A third of the cutbacks (Osborne) has been raising money from will fall on people with disabilities by 2020-21.” Some charities and disability rights organisations have voiced concern over what they regard as excessive and unnecessary cuts. Many believe there’s a reason for alarm. The Guardian quotes Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive of Scope as warning: “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.”

It’s not just benefit cuts per se that are worrying disability campaigners. The reduction in PIP payments also has implications for pass-porting to other benefits such as Carer’s Allowance. PIPS are awarded to those in employment as well as those incapacitated by disability, so the effect of the proposed cuts is potentially vast. Without drifting into the perilous realm of political commentary-I’ll leave that to the experts-there is of course a context to all this. The Chancellor has used successive budgets to champion the vexed issue of welfare reform. The benefits of these reforms may be questionable, but what is undisputed is the controversy the policies have generated. It’s not long since Osborne’s famous U-turn in relation to tax credits, and Wednesday’s announcement in respect of disability benefits should perhaps be viewed in that light. The government is arguing that the changes to PIP awards is a necessary component in the wholesale restructuring of welfare provision in the UK. Critics, on the other, hand, view these savings as further erosion of the protections enshrined in the welfare state, and that the most vulnerable will suffer as a consequence. Time will tell how these proposals operate in practice. There may be further opportunity to lobby government to ameliorate the reforms, and minimise the impact on those struggling with disability. What seems certain is that people living with disabilities will have to adapt to yet more changes to the benefit system on which they rely.

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