Crabb set to unveil new plans for disability benefits

stephen crabb hocWork and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb addresses the House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron is watching on.

Stephen Crabb, who was appointed as the UK’s new Work and Pensions Secretary after the resignation of Ian Duncan Smith, is to make a House of Commons speech next Tuesday, April 12. He is expected to set out his (and the government’s) vision for the future. And what he has to say will probably have a significant impact on all disabled people with Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, EDS and a host of other conditions both visible and invisible.

Rumours from the Department for Work and Pensions, as reported by leftist Vox Political, suggest that he is likely to announce renewed plans to change the descriptors to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for aids and adaptations in August or September. That, of course, won’t mean that the government is backtracking on its statement of having no plans to make the changes dropped only two weeks ago – no, these will be ‘new’ changes.

The Sunday Times newspaper has already revealed that Crabb is expected to say that he is unhappy with the work of companies tasked with the role of assessing claimants for both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and PIP. It said he was looking to end the contracts with those companies – we will see.

Another possible development may be to follow the cut of £30 being made to new ESA claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group by making a similar cut to the Support Group’s payments – perhaps even, eventually, abolishing ESA altogether and instead including its payments within Universal Benefit.

Many of these welfare reform proposals appear to have originated in the right-wing Reform think-tank that published its recommendations in February. One of those was the cut in ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group.

In a nutshell, Reform’s plan includes:

  • Setting a single rate for out-of-work benefit. The savings from this rate reduction should be reinvested into Personal Independence Payment – which contributes to the additional costs incurred by someone with a long-term condition – and into support services;
  • Ending the Work Capability Assessment in its current form;
  • Abolishing Employment and Support Allowance altogether and rolling sickness benefits into Universal Credit with “a single online application for the benefit, including a ‘Proximity to the Labour Market Diagnostic’ to determine a claimant’s distance from work and a health questionnaire”;
  • To have all sickness benefit reduced to the same level as Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Yes, really! If Vox Political is correct, cutting ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group was only part of it. If the plan to roll sickness benefits into Universal Credit is implemented, then people in the Support Group – those with serious conditions that are not expected to improve within the foreseeable future – stand to lose a huge amount of their weekly income.

All this from the Conservative government that, Stephen Crabb said on March 21, has no plans to make further welfare cuts during this parliament. Of course, we must balance that with the word from the Treasury that same day; that what Crabb said didn’t at all mean no more cuts in this parliament, just none planned.

Next week, we may discover what plans there are now.