Minister defends benefit changes

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A MINISTER today defended proposed benefit changes which could hit thousands of disabled people across Wearside.

Maria Miller, Minister for Disabled People, has moved to reassure the public over the plans, which could affect many of the Sunderland’s estimated 12,000 claimants, and maintained the changes would ensure disabled people received the support they needed.

Concerns include the Government’s intention to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with the controversial Work Capability Assessments, which many believe will push more disabled people into poverty.

There are also worries over the limiting of the Contributory Employment and Support Allowance to those who have had to give up work due to ill health.

Ms Miller’s comments follow a public meeting in Sunderland, held to raise awareness of the plight of many disabled people, as well as a major cuts demonstration in Newcastle, which attracted thousands of supporters.

“The changes we are making aim to put integrity back into our benefit system and our whole approach is to support disabled people for what they can do and not write them off for what they can’t do,” said Ms Miller.

“This Government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and we continue to spend more than £40bn a year on disabled people and their services.

“This includes £12bn on DLA, which is more than the Department for Transport’s annual budget.

“In Sunderland alone, we supported disabled people with £28.5 million on DLA last year.

“However, the current benefit system is not always reaching those who need it most.

“We have identified millions of pounds in overpayments, because we do not routinely reassess whether an individual’s condition changes over time and payments continue to be made even though the claimant may no longer be eligible.

“This is why we are set to introduce the new Personal Independence Payment with a face-to-face assessment and regular reviews – something lacking in the current system – to make sure people are getting the right levels of support, including the 21,980 people claiming DLA in Sunderland.”

Ms Miller said: “As well as reforming DLA, the Government is also putting in place better support to help those moving into work.

“There have been concerns expressed about the Work Capability Assessment, which is designed to look at someone’s ability to work.

“It is clear that the WCA assessment we inherited from the previous Government didn’t work as it should and some disabled people have felt let down by that.”

Twitter: @sunderlandecho