The government faces a legal challenge from charities over its plans to cut benefits for disabled people by more than £2bn.
The Disability Alliance has warned the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that it will take legal action to obtain a judicial review of ministers’ plans to replace the Disability Living Allowance.
The alliance, a coalition of 270 disability charities, said ministers had not properly assessed the negative impact of the benefit cuts, adding that the reforms did not comply with the Equality Act.
It has issued a “letter of claim” to the DWP calling on it to demonstrate that it has fulfilled its legal obligations to properly analyse the impact of welfare reforms on disabled people. If the department does not comply, the letter also warns that ministers face legal action.
Neil Coyle, Disability Alliance director of policy, said the government may be in breach of both domestic and European legislation, including its responsibilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“We are giving formal notice that unless the concerns that disabled people have legitimately raised are addressed in the context of the welfare reform bill, there is a strong legal case,” Coyle told the BBC.
“Our legal advice… is that the government may be in breach of both domestic and European legislation if it fails to consider the impact on disabled people of the plans to cut £2.17bn from DLA expenditure.”
The alliance contends that the government’s welfare reform bill will disproportionately disadvantage disabled people and their families.
Among its main concerns are proposals to abolish the care component of DLA at the lowest rate of just under £20 a week, which is received by 652,000 people, and to end mobility support for disabled care home residents, without clarifying how the impact of this loss in support would be mitigated for the 78,000 disabled people affected or their families.
Coyle said disability charities were threatening to take legal action because the government had ignored the concerns they raised in the formal consultation on the welfare reform bill, which ended in February.
Coyle said more than half of the disabled people who use the DLA to help them to work say they would have to give up their job if the benefit was cut.
“For many disabled people, it helps to pay for an adapted vehicle, so if you can’t afford to run a vehicle, and that’s what you’re using DLA for, there’s a strong chance you won’t be able to continue in work,” he said.
“One in seven disabled people have been telling us that without DLA they won’t be able to manage their health condition or impairment, and they’re more likely to have hospitalised periods, which cost far more to the taxpayer than paying, for example, £19.55 a week, which is the bit of the DLA expenditure the government is targeting for ending.”
The DWP said: “We are following the usual processes and are working with disability organisations on DLA reforms, including with the design of the assessment.
“It is premature to talk about a judicial review as the regulations do not go through until 2012.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010