At 3:10pm today the House of Lords will debate and vote on passing the Welfare Reform bill through its Second Reading. I will be one of thousands watching the horror unfold in slow-motion on the BBC Parliament channel. I do not expect the public school-boy behaviour that occurred when the bill was going through the Commons, but the bill's supporters will be no less vacant in their arguments. Yesterday though there was time after one debate for a question to be asked specifically about how Personal Independence Payment will affect Autistics. It happens 24 minutes in and Lord Freud had this to say:
Freud is asked specifically what impact the DLA reforms and introduction of the Personal Independence Payment will have on Autistics. Freud's answer is that he doesn't know. This is a completely inadequate and shocking response. Why?
Because Freud would know the answer if he and his fellow ministers OBEYED THE LAW.
Since the passing of the Equality bill, ministers have been obliged to carry out impact assessments on any legislation they wish to pass; how will legislation affect women, ethnic or religious groups, sexual orientations or disabilities disproportionately. Multiple impact assessment forms were filled in for the different policies within the Welfare Reform bill, including for the replacement of Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment. That particular form and the way it is filled in is almost beyond parody; it consists almost entirely of the Coalition's sound-byte selling points for the idea: robotic, irrelevant and lazy. If you filled in a DLA claim form the way they filled in the DLA impact assessment form, you would never in a million years be considered for DLA even if you could blame the way you fill in the form on a disability.
That particular form is one of the key pieces of evidence cited in the letter of claim sent to the DWP by Disability Alliance and the law firm Unity Law criticising the government for failing to meet their legal obligation to properly assess the impact it will have on disabled people. This is the start of a legal action which if it didn't have any merit, Lord Freud would have been able to confidently give an indication of how the DLA changes would affect Autistics. He doesn't know because the government has avoided their legal obligations and not done the impact assessment required.