A new inquiry into plans to reform disability living allowance (DLA) is set to increase pressure on the government to describe the true impact on disabled people of its controversial proposals.
The inquiry will be carried out by the Commons work and pensions committee, which is chaired by the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg.
It will investigate the implications of the government’s plans to replace DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP) – and to cut spending on working-age claimants by 20 per cent.
Dame Anne said: “There is a lot of fear among people that DLA will be taken away from them and there will not be anything in its place.”
The committee will also examine the impact of the government’s pledge to focus financial support on those with higher needs.
And it will probe how disabled PIP claimants will be assessed and which organisation is likely to carry out those assessments for the government.
The inquiry will also ask whether there are lessons to be learned from Professor Malcolm Harrington’s review of the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA), the new test for out-of-work disability benefits.
Campaigners have become increasingly frustrated by the government’s reluctance to release detailed information about the likely impact of its DLA reforms, even though PIP is due to be introduced in less than two years.
The plans are being introduced through the welfare reform bill, which has already been debated in the Commons and is due to finish its progress through the Lords this autumn.
But the detail of how the reforms will work in practice and how they will impact on disabled people will be contained in regulations, which the government has yet to publish, but which will need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
Dame Anne said it was “very difficult” for disabled people to know whether the reforms were “going to be a good thing or a bad thing” until the regulations were published and provided details of crucial elements of the reforms, such as the PIP eligibility criteria.
She said that launching the inquiry now, rather than earlier this year, would give the committee a better chance to investigate the regulations. She said the committee believed many of the regulations have not even been written yet.
She added: “Our concern is that the regulations will not be scrutinised by parliament because they have not come out before the bill.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, welcomed the new inquiry.
He said: “DA is very pleased that the work and pensions committee is investigating the government’s plans.
“We hope the reckless manner in which proposals have been developed is exposed and the risks to disabled people revealed.”
In April, the government published its response to a consultation on the DLA reforms, which had drawn more than 5,500 responses – many of them highly critical.
But the Department for Work and Pensions has been unable to name a single change it made to the reforms as a result of the consultation.
The work and pensions committee will accept written evidence for its inquiry until 2 September 2011.
Meanwhile, Professor Harrington has issued a call for evidence as part of his second independent review of the WCA.
He said he was particularly interested in evidence about how the recommendations of his first review were being implemented and what impact they were having; as well as what further work was needed in future reviews.
He is also keen to hear evidence about the face-to-face assessments carried out by Atos Healthcare on behalf of the government.
The deadline for submissions is 16 September.