Dear Ms. Miller,
RE: Live Q&A on DLA Reform
Thank you for participating in the highly informative Live Q&A session on the Money Guardian site yesterday afternoon (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/blog/2011/feb/04/disability-allowance-questions-minister-maria-miller).
Writing on behalf of disability rights campaigners The Broken of Britain, I can confirm that your participation in this event demonstrated the lengths to which Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions will go to avoid the unambiguous answering of searching questions.
309 comments were made on the thread, with around 250 being questions directed at you, and 140 of these having been posted 5up to 5 days in advance of the chat. You answered 6 questions, leaving 11 comments in total on the thread (http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/user-comments/MariaMillerMP). In a few evidence you cited evidence that you did not reference. Other answers were made to questions that had not been asked but appeared to fit in with your own agenda. In-between comments number 7 and 8 there was a massive 16 minute gap in which you appeared to be trying to avoid answering the understandable barrage of questions.
Your first substantial comment was a brief one-sentence ‘review’ of the history of DLA. Nobody had asked for this, and it seemed to be a stock answer. You ended your comment by noting the amount spent on aid and adaptations, and saying: “All of this needs to be better taken into account in the way this important disability benefit works. The new Personal Independence Payment gives us the opportunity to bring DLA into the 21st century.” You did not attempt to give justification as to why and in what way aids and adaptations need to be taken into account, nor dud you explain what it means to bring DLA into the 21st century.
The second substantial comment you made regarded pensioners and DLA reform. Many questions were placed regarding whether pensioners would be reassessed as part of the new PIP. You answered that: “at the moment the changes we are looking at apply to people of working age (16-64) so pensioners aren't affected - the reforms won't affect Attendance Allowance.” This is a complete failure to answer the questions, which did not touch upon Attendance Allowance as it was already well-known that this benefit was not included in the proposed reforms. As you know, people of working age claiming DLA can continue to claim DLA after the age of 65. Your answer does not clarify matters for these individuals.
The third answer was to one of my own question. You said: “pick directly up on your post requesting more evidence for the need to reform. The Government's research on DLA is generally commissioned from external academic and independent researchers and this is what was used as evidence in the consultation.” You failed to direct me to any of this evidence, and did not refer me to any of DWP’s research reports or working papers. Rather than producing the evidence, you said that: “The assessment process is unwieldy, requiring self assessment - with 50% of people receiving DLA never being required to submit any independent evidence of their need. Significant numbers of people have had no contact with the Department since their awards were made almost 20 years ago and we have no way of knowing if their need of support has increased or not. All of this points to a benefit that is in need of updating to make it more transparent, consistent and fair.” No DWP research report or working paper published supports any of these claims. If evidence exist, I challenge you to publish it.
Your fourth substantial comment was on the Mobility Component of DLA in residential care. The answer you gave did not satisfy any of the questions on this topic, seeming to be a word-for-word copy of every statement made on the issue thus far. Rather than dealing with the effect of this reform on the individual, you simply resorted to empty rhetoric.
The fifth substantial comment was on the assessment of variable and fluctuating conditions. Your answer was devoid of substance, failing to answer any questions on this topic.
Your final contribution was this answer: “You and others are concerned about disabled people being portrayed as dishonest and even fraudulent. I share your concern. Cases of fraud bring the benefit system into disrepute and this is bad for everyone. People with legitimate claims need a benefit system that has robust assessment - treating people fairly and putting integrity back into the support that's available.” This is a clear distortion of the original question to serve your case for reform when DLA fraud is estimated at just 0.5% by the DWP.
I hope that you will request an opportunity to return to the Money Guardian in order to answer each question personally and fully. Please also answer all the questions and arguments I have made in our plentiful correspondence thus far.
Rhydian Fôn James
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