1 in 10 In NI Affected By DLA Reforms

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“I have spoken on several occasions with Westminster’s welfare reform Minister, Lord Freud and I have made clear my concerns. [caption id="attachment_15746" align="alignleft" width="267" caption="DSD Minister Alex Attwood has called for last minute responses to the DLA consultation."][/caption] “This consultation provides an important opportunity for everyone in Northern Ireland to contribute to the debate on the Westminster Government’s proposals to reform Disability Living Allowance and I would urge those with an interest in these proposals to have their views heard now.” A copy of the consultation document is available at http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/consultations.htm. The consultation period closes on 14th February 2011 and responses can be made in writing or e-mail. Siobhán Harding, Information and Policy Officer with Northern Ireland Association of Citizen Advice Bureaux, said, “The proposals by the Department of Works and Pensions on DLA reform include: *  Renaming the benefit, it will remain non-means-tested and will not be incorporated into Universal Credit *  A new medical assessment which will be introduced for all DLA claimants *  A simplified system with a reduction in the number of rates being available *  Extending the qualifying criteria so that the new benefit will only be payable to those with a long-term health condition which is expected to last at least 12 months rather than the current 6 months *  All those awarded the new benefit will be periodically reviewed. “These changes are likely to have a significant impact in Northern Ireland given that DLA is paid to over 180,000 claimants. Currently, 1 in 10 of the population of Northern Ireland is now in receipt of DLA which is the highest number of claimants per head of the population in the UK. The next highest region is Wales where the figures stand at 1 in 12 people. “Citizens Advice has a number of real concerns about the proposed changes, including the new medical assessment to be introduced for the benefit. We are concerned that these medical assessments may not be adequately resourced to cope with the demands placed upon them once the changes are introduced. “We have seen the impact that delays can have, particularly on vulnerable people, and would be keen to ensure that people do not suffer from undue delay in getting their benefits paid. “We are also concerned about the treatment of those with mental health problems in the new medical assessment. Given that the most frequently occurring disabling condition in Northern Ireland is mental health illness, with almost 42,000 people currently receiving DLA on account of mental ill health, we are concerned that the new medical assessment needs to properly take account of hidden and complex conditions such as these. “In Citizens Advice we see the difficulties people with mental health conditions have in describing how their illness affects them. It is vital that those carrying out these assessments will be appropriately trained so that they can adequately assess the care and mobility needs that arise from a person’s mental health and their ability to identify these. “The Government estimates that the proposed changes will result in a 20% reduction in working-age claimants.  This equates to a substantial number of people in Northern Ireland. We have concerns that this may become an exercise in cutting the numbers in receipt of the benefit without due regard to the impact on the individuals concerned. “Citizens Advice believes that it is crucial to ensure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged are protected in any reform of the benefits system and that this is vital in making real progress towards reducing poverty. “Over the last year Citizens Advice in Northern Ireland has helped people with over 179,000 benefit and tax credits issues with queries about disability benefits, including DLA, accounting for a substantial workload in CAB offices across Northern Ireland. “In 2009/10 the organisation dealt with in excess of 50,000 queries in relation to disability benefits and there is a need to recognise that some people will always require support through the benefits system.  It is vital that the needs of these vulnerable people are protected to ensure that they do not live in poverty, that individual needs are recognised and that people who need financial support through the benefits system are treated with respect and are appropriately supported. “Citizens Advice also echoes Minister Attwood’s comments that the ‘Coalition Government has to acknowledge the different circumstances in Northern Ireland.’ The increased numbers of claimants in Northern Ireland could be the result of a variety of factors including higher levels of deprivation, higher levels of ill health and the legacy of the Troubles. “The Social Security Agency is also working with Citizens Advice on a Benefit Uptake Project which last year helped vulnerable people identify and claim £6.1 million in social security benefits which will eventually amount to £38.8 million over the average length of resulting claims.  The impact of this money on the local economy in a recession cannot be understated”, she explained RESPOND NOW TO THE DLA CONSULTATION – MAKE YOUR VOICE COUNT. Click on the Link: http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/consultations.htm]]>

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