A little-reported Green Paper over the summer said a ‘new single benefit’ could combine payments – with Tory welfare chief Therese Coffey saying ‘everything is on the table’
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The government is exploring the idea of a “new single benefit” for sick and disabled people.
Some 1.4million people claim both Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or its replacement Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – paid to help people with the costs of being disabled – and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or its replacement within Universal Credit (UC).
In a Green Paper published over the summer, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “In future, we could look to create a new single benefit.
“This could both provide support for disabled people and people with health conditions on low income and with extra costs.
“Alternatively, a new benefit could have different priorities or a different set of objectives to our current system.
“More focus could be put on supporting people with their extra costs, or on helping people to find and stay in work.”
This has raised some fears for claimants – as PIP and DLA are paid regardless of wealth, while ESA and UC depend partly on your income.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said this month she is “not aware” of any plans to cut PIP, but did not rule out merging the benefits together.
She told a Tory conference event “I don’t think we’re looking at” merging non-means-tested PIP with means-tested UC, and the reform would not be “just trying to force-fit different benefits together”.
However, she added: “Everything is on the table is I think the best way of saying it, because the Green Paper is quite broad and we want to get some focus on genuine innovative thinking.
“Are these benefits actually working, that’s the question I often ask my officials. Are they having the intended desire, and if not, what are we going to do about that?”
Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
Ms Coffey also suggested she was concerned by the number of people claiming PIP for mental health difficulties, saying she wanted to “target that even more so to people who really need that support”.
She added: “PIP has certainly grown in a way that was not anticipated when it was introduced.
“To give you an example, three out of four young people who claim PIP have their primary reason being mental ill health.
“That in itself is 189,000 young people who currently receive benefit focused on that. There may be other benefits they receive as well.
“So that’s one of the things where I’m very conscious one of things I’m trying to do as Secretary of State is very much the issues we face are downstream, and what are the things we need to do to get more upstream.”
At present, different assessments have to be held for PIP/DLA and ESA/UC – and the DWP reports people find it “difficult and confusing” to go through the same process repeatedly.
Some have told the DWP that having more than one face-to-face assessment is “extremely distressing.”
But others are worried that under a single benefit scheme, their finances would depend on the outcome of just one appointment, as also reported by BirminghamLive.
The DWP says keeping all these different existing benefits and having just one assessment wouldn’t work – but a brand new scheme would be a way to make the whole system simpler.
At present, those with health conditions or disabilities who aren’t working or are on a low wage can put in a claim for payments under Universal Credit. Many are still on ESA (Employment and Support Allowance), which UC is replacing.
Separately, they can also apply for PIP (Personal Independence Payment) to meet the extra costs of their condition, regardless of their income. It is worth a maximum of £152.15 a week. Some still get the older benefit Disability Living Allowance, which PIP is replacing.
The DWP Green Paper said: “People who are on PIP as well as claiming either ESA or UC with a health condition currently go through two separate application and assessment processes. This means that people sometimes feel the same information is requested twice. The different purposes of the separate benefits are also not always clear to people claiming them. Some people have told us that having to go through two separate processes can be confusing and difficult.
“People told us that there needs to be a simpler application and assessment process. Some people felt that having a single health and disability benefit would help achieve this. Other people were worried about all their financial support depending on the outcome of one assessment.
“introducing a single assessment into the current system would not be beneficial. The benefits have been designed separately and each assessment considers different criteria.”
It “added: If we were to introduce a new single benefit, depending on how this was designed and its objectives, it might be possible to use a single assessment. Alternatively, we might be able to simplify access to this new benefit in some other way.”
The report added: “We will consider the impact of any potential changes to the benefits system on the other benefits and support we provide for disabled people and people with health conditions. For example, changes to PIP, UC or ESA could affect benefits such as Carer’s Allowance and Attendance Allowance. We will look holistically at any changes we make, to avoid unintended consequences.
“We are committed to making any changes collaboratively, working with and listening to the people who receive and rely on our benefits.”
Universal Credit is also available to those without medical problems and, in those cases, people don’t need an appointment with a health professional.
But any income and savings are assessed every month before the DWP decides how much money will be paid into accounts.
Almost six million people claim UC, with numbers doubling during the pandemic.
Shaving off that boost – equivalent to around £20 a week – has sparked fears of financial struggles and poverty this winter.