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For Halton disabled people: more changes to benefits - less help to cope.

Halton Disability Forum - 25/8/11

Peter Bates went to the second, very lively, meeting of the new Halton Disability Forum, in Runcorn (arranged by the Halton Disability Partnership and funded through the Big Lottery).

Benefit changes and a lack of advice

After a buffet lunch the meeting began with a presentation (by David Gray of Halton BC’s Welfare Rights section) about just some of the many changes in benefits for disabled people that national policy changes are bringing over the next few years – there was not time to deal with all of these changes.

David pointed out that people receiving Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) are all likely to be reassessed in the next few years to see if they can receive the new equivalent benefits: the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). After that, it is the government’s intention that people receiving ESA or the PIP will be re-assessed regularly to see if there has been any change – few people will have a so-called “lifetime” award.

He noted that changes such as these reflect national policies and budget decisions, and sometimes (such as the Welfare Reform Bill which is set to become law in the autumn) much of the effect on individuals will only become apparemt from the detailed arrangements. These won’t be known until later

There is currently an informal consultation on part of this "small print" - consultation on the assessment criteria for PIP, the “scoring system” that DWP will be proposing to use to see who is entitled to get the benefit.

At the local level, Halton Dsability Forum members wanted to make sure that disabled people in Halton could get the right advice as they go into the assessment processes. This was important because ...

  • assessments that are already being made have a poor reputation for quality

  • suspicions that in the the assessment process the key priority was not fairmess, but reducing spending

  • many disabled people had not had to complete such assessment forms for many years.

Quality advice would enable fairer assessments and also appropriate appeals where people felt that wrong decisions reduced their payments.

But in Halton budget cuts had reduced both the Council's advice services and (by stopping grants to voluntary groups) were eliminating alternative sources of information. The Forum wanted a strong message passed to Halton Borough Council (through the Forum’s minutes) that such cuts in advice would not only be harmful to individual disabled people but would reduce income into the Borough when people’s benefit income was wrongly reduced.

Personalisation

Personalisation of social care was also discussed. As in some other Merseyside areas the impression in Halton was of a big gap: a gap between the vision of individual empowerment and choice that the idea of Personalisation incorporated, and what is happening in practice in individual decisions.

In particular Halton BC was perceived as wanting to restrict choice by keeping things “in-house” – reluctant to let voluntary groups run services, and, for example, decreeing that Direct Payments resources for exercise could only be used in Halton BC’s own leisure centres. (Personalisation will be the main theme of the next Forum meeting)

Rationing by persistence?

The meeting finished with a brief exchange of information on local situations, consultations and initiatives. Further issues around budget cuts and information were raised. For example, difficulties in making contact with the council for a particular service were like “rationing by persistence”– only the most dogged and confident disabled people succeeded in getting the changes that they needed.         

Welcome to the next Forum

Halton groups are invited to send a representative to the next meeting on October 6th. If you plan to attend it’s helpful if you let the HDP co-ordinator know in advance to make sure there is enough room – and enough food.

Contact:

David Atkinson (HDP Co-ordinator)

T: (01928) 582405

E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

W: www.haltondisability.org.uk