THE welfare reforms being spearheaded by Tory minister Iain Duncan Smith are causing “devastating harm” to the most vulnerable in society, campaigners have warned.
And further cuts being planned to disability benefits will push many more people “closer to the edge”, according to leading charities.
Dr Simon Duffy, director of think-tank The Centre for Welfare Reform, said disabled people had been a “prime target” for cuts by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
He told the Sunday Herald: “There is a cynical disregard for the rights of disabled people and their families.
“It is a group that is easy to cut, and it is easy to disguise the cuts behind bureaucratic so-called reforms.
“I think Iain Duncan Smith dreams of being a great reformer – what he will find himself to have done, and what history will have judged him to have done, is cause devastating harm to the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
Duncan Smith has insisted the aim of the shake-up of the welfare system is to “restore people’s lives” and tackle the “something for nothing” benefit culture inherited from Labour.
In October he told the Tory conference that many of the long-term sick and those with disabilities wanted to return to employment.
He said: “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”
But Duffy said figures showed around £17 billion of benefits go unclaimed every year, either because people do not know they are entitled to it or because they were “too shamed by the system” to claim what they are due. In contrast, he said, benefit fraud accounts for around £1billion every year.
He said changes to benefits – for example, having Personal Independence Payment (PIP) replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – would reduce levels of eligibility for many people.
“PIP is markedly less generous than DLA and is meant to cut out entitlement for hundreds of thousands of people will lose their entitlement to DLA as the benefit is transformed into PIP,” he said.
“When you get your PIP it may be less generous than DLA or in a small number of cases it may be more generous.
“That allows the government to claim that it is so-called targeting (of benefits), but the overall objective is to cut the level of spending.”
Charities have also raised concerns about plans to cut £30 a week from some claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a type of disability benefit.
The proposal was announced by chancellor George Osborne in the July budget as a way of providing an incentive for claimants to return to work.
But Phil Reynolds, Parkinson’s UK Policy and Campaigns Advisor and co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said: “Our research reveals seven in ten people said cuts to ESA would cause their health to suffer, with almost half saying it would mean they would probably return to work later.
“Cutting disability benefits will push people who are struggling to make ends meet even closer to the edge, and will cause enormous suffering and anxiety.