SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has said he is deeply concerned at the government’s Welfare Reform plans – not least the targeted cut of 20% to the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which will affect thousands of people in Derry who are currently in receipt of the benefit.
Mr Durkan, who contributed to a Westminster Hall debate on the Disability Living Allowance and voted against the Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill last week, said: “We know that the government are trying to seek a significant reduction in the number of people receiving the mobility component of DLA.
“However, we don’t know if within their target to achieve a 20% cut, Whitehall will be looking for a bigger reduction than that in Northern Ireland because of the higher proportion of recipients here.
“Recent figures show that there are more than 14,000 people in Derry receiving DLA, so (Work and Pensions Secretary) Iain Duncan Smith’s targets would see nearly 3,000 – or probably more – having the mobility component removed in the switch from DLA to the new “personal independence payment”.
“We know that one group who the coalition government are specifically targeting are those in residential care – although they have been forced to say that they need to think further about this particular issue because of the strength of argument in a previous Westminster Hall debate and from campaign groups.
“As grievous as that wrong would be, it is far from the only problem with the government plans for the change to personal independence payments. Nor are these confined to the future of the mobility component but also the ‘care component’ which in future would be called the “daily living component”.
Mr Durkan addressed MPs on the implications for cancer patients.
“We must question whether it is enough to tell people that if their illness is terminal, they will automatically qualify. Many cancer patients do not want to think of themselves or present themselves as terminal cases, and we might send out a dangerous message.
“If the government are determined to remove the mobility component as was and to introduce a six-month qualifying period for the personal independence payment, perhaps there should be a distinct allowance for those who have been diagnosed with cancer and have been referred for chemotherapy or radiotherapy”.
Mr Durkan said he used the Westminster Hall debate to highlight many of the serious questions concerning children, pensioners, those with variable conditions, those with rapid on-set conditions, cancer patients and the consequential impact on carers and their allowance.
“People will also be subject to medical tests and re-tests. This won’t just cause recipients and their carers anxiety – it will also create major pressures on advice services, including CAB, who will face a lot of extra work when their funding is being squeezed.
“It will also be costly to administer, especially with the government saying that no one’s condition will give them automatic entitlement without a medical assessment or interview – not even a double amputee.
“Along with other MPs and campaign groups I am challenging the government on why they would subject people with permanent disabilities or life-time diagnoses of chronic and deteriorating conditions to constant reassessment”.