Naked Politics Blogger
In a tough round of oral questions from MPs in the House of Commons yesterday, Iain Duncan Smith has faced a grilling over cuts to the Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) set to affect thousands of disabled claimants.
The cuts which are likely to come into place from January 2017 and were announced in the week leading up to the Chancellor George Osborne’s budget are expected to save £1bn as the government look for new ways to tighten the purse strings.
The disabilities minister, Justin Tomlinson said in a statement issued by the Department for Work and Pensions last week that “The introduction of personal independence payments to replace the outdated disability living allowance for working-age claimants has been a hugely positive reform”
He went on to claim: “The assessment criteria for aids and appliances are not working as planned. Many people are eligible for a weekly award despite having minimal, to no extra costs and judicial decisions have expanded the criteria for aids and appliances to include items we would expect people to have in their homes already”.
Answering an earlier question about support for domestic violence victims, Mr. Duncan Smith said that he had backed a 10-minute rule bill to “try to improve access to legal means to prosecute those who drive people to suicide,” but by eroding the ability of disabled claimants to remain independent, the government may well find themselves guilty of ‘driving people to suicide’. In an article discussing the right to die, Dr. D. Benetar suggested that a “loss of independence” might be a compelling to make people question “whether life is worth continuing”.
Addressing Mr. Tomlinson along with fellow MPs in the chamber, David Winnick, the Labour MP for Walsall North accused described the cuts as “an ongoing Tory war against the disabled” to an eruption of jeers from both sides of the house.
Justin Tomlinson responded by refusing to accept the assertion and by claiming that “By the end of this Parliament, we [the government] will be spending more money in this area that we are today”.
This answer is unlikely to satisfy the thousands of people facing this new spending cut, nor is it likely to silence the opposition, who continued to press the matter citing various examples of their own constituents who have already suffered losses to their independence, as a result of government spending cuts, and furthering Mr Winnick’s claim that the Tories were “at war” against the disabled.
In one case, raised by Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for Cambridge, a disabled constituent was told by Cambridgeshire County Council that he should not view significant cuts to his care package negatively, but as a way of “utilizing the strengths and resources that he may not realise he has within himself”.
Following these claims, Naked Politics submitted a freedom of information request to Cambridgeshire County Council to discover how many disabled residents had been affected by cuts to care packages and whether the council had offered any support for them to continue independent living, although we have not yet heard from the council.
Yesterday’s debate came amidst claims made by the Daily Telegraph that cuts to disability benefits are aimed at “accelerating progress” towards tax cuts for the middle class, with Osborne allegedly poised to announce the raising of the threshold at which people start paying 40% tax to £50,000 in his upcoming Budget tomorrow.