The entire system of disability benefits and other support should be swept away and replaced with a single funding stream and assessment process, according to a new discussion paper published by a disabled consultant and activist.
Simon Stevens said that witnessing the “emotional distress” caused to disabled people by the government’s “fitness for work” system, cuts to social services and the closure of the Independent Living Fund had made him “passionate to design a better system”.
He also believes that the needs of older people “dominate the agenda, pushing working aged adults aside”.
The paper focuses on England but could – he says – be easily adapted for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
He says in the paper: “The desire is to move away from a welfare system that is passive, requiring little action from disabled and older people, to one that is proactive to ensuring and maintaining their inclusion as fully contributing citizens.”
Assessments would be carried out by local organisations – many of which would be user-led – which would be independent of local authorities, but there would be national standards.
Stevens argues in the paper that disability support such as the new personal independence payment (PIP), disability living allowance (DLA), social services funding, the Independent
Living Fund, Access to Work, Disabled Students’ Allowance, and the disability-related element of employment and support allowance, should all be scrapped.
He wants to see them replaced by a single, integrated system that would assess people’s needs and allocate assistance and support.
Rather than focusing on a person’s condition or impairment, as many assessments still do, his system would focus on desired outcomes, such as enabling volunteering, paid work, or a university degree.
The paper says: “The primary criteria to consider in relation to outcomes should be to fulfil an appropriate, reasonable and meaningful contribution to their community and society in any way they can.”
But he adds: “Individuals should fully understand that by claiming their rights to assistance and support they have responsibilities to fulfil any expectations [that] are made upon them.
“The framework should not appear hostile, unhelpful or ‘mean’ but rather fair, honest and open, acknowledging the opportunities available as well as the realities of any resource-limited funding process.”
His new system would help disabled people who need support and assistance in education, employment, housing, transport, with personal assistance, and in accessing community activities, and would be available to anyone, including those in hospital for long periods, and disabled prisoners.
But it would also bring many more disabled people within the responsibility of social workers, including many of those disabled people who currently claim PIP and DLA but not social services funding.
Stevens told Disability News Service: “I believe by better supporting issues like mental health, drug abuse and alcohol dependency for example in a social work – not DWP – setting will stop people being parked on DLA and failed by the system.”
The policy would be overseen by a new Office for Assistance and Support, part of the Department of Health (DH), with management and regulation of the assessment and allocation system by a new DH agency, Support England.
Because the new system would merge a number of organisations and structures into one, costs should be lower, allowing the opportunity to plough savings back into providing support and assistance.
But Stevens also says that the system should be accompanied by “major investment” in accessible infrastructure such as public transport and dropped kerbs, which should reduce demand for support.
He said reaction to his paper within the disability movement had so far been positive, and he was now hoping to persuade the Labour party to flesh out his plans with costings and incorporate them into a white paper.
He added: “The evidence is pointing to the fact the whole disability funding system is in crisis and this is the opportunity to get it right.”