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Spartacus report reveals criticism of benefit reform

The UK Government has been accused of deliberately concealing the extent of opposition to reform of a key disability benefit.

The Responsible Reform report has been backed by major disability charities but was entirely researched, written and funded by disabled people, led by a prominent blogger.

Collaborating using websites such as Twitter and Facebook, the team analysed more than 500 responses to the consultation on the future of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) after requesting them under the Freedom of Information Act.

Recent criticisms of the Government's plans from Boris Johnston's office only emerged as a result of their efforts. London's Conservative Mayor said he did not support major elements of the reform programme and added that penalties aimed at clamping down on disability benefit fraud were excessive given that levels of fraud were acknowledged to be low.

The full findings, published yesterday, have been dubbed the Spartacus report. They reveal aspects of DLA reform were strongly criticised in consultation responses from disabled people's organisations, charities and individuals.

Notably 98% of respondents objected to the qualifying period for benefits being raised from three months to six months, 99% of respondents objected to Disability Living Allowance no longer being used as a qualification for other benefits and 92% opposed removing the lowest rate of support for disabled people.

Researchers say the Government has consistently used inaccurate figures to exaggerate a rise in the number of people claiming DLA. The report details what researchers describe as "overwhelming opposition" to replacing DLA with a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The Government plans to cut spending on DLA/PIP by 20%.

Sue Marsh, who suffers from Crohn's disease, is the author of the blog Diary of A Benefit Scrounger, and helped co-ordinate the report. She said: "Poorly designed social security reforms have created a 'trust deficit"'among disabled people towards the Government.

"We believe reform must be measured, responsible and transparent, based on available evidence and designed with disabled people at the heart of decision-making. We urge members of the House of Lords to take note of this research and the strength of opposition. It is not too late for them to halt these reforms."

Disability campaigner Sir Bert Massie, CBE, former chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, said the Government had misled the public about responses to its plans: "This report shows that rather than being broadly welcomed by disabled people and disability organisations, the new proposals were subject to widespread criticism and alarm," he added.

The Disability Alliance said the Government's "mis-portrayal" of the DLA consultation responses had been truly shocking, while Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope said: "This report reveals the concerns disabled people have about the Government's reform of Disability Living Allowance. This benefit is a lifeline for millions. We urge the Government to act on these concerns."

A spokeswoman for the DWP said the Spartacus report was a selective analysis of consultation responses, which had looked at 500 responses out of more than 5500 submitted on the Government's proposals.

She added: "Disability Living Allowance is an outdated benefit with the majority of people getting it for life without checks to see if their condition has changed. This has led to hundreds of millions of pounds in overpayments.

"We have been working closely with disabled people and disability organisations on the introduction of Personal Independence Payment and have listened to their views."

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