A ROW has blown up over a UK Government minister’s attempts to justify benefit cuts for the disabled.

Angry campaigners also hit back at Justin Tomlinson’s claim that the Access to Work scheme had been improved while the personal independence programme (PIP) had been “transformed” after a “terrible start”.

The minister for disabled people admitted that PIP had resulted in a “terrible claimant journey” but said the reassessment of people on long term disability allowance – which is believed to have led to some suicides – had seen a “dramatic turnaround”.

However, campaigners for disabled people slammed his attempts to justify government plans to cut £29 a week from the benefits of new claimants of support and employment allowance (ESA) who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from April 2017.

This will result in a £640 million a year cut from disabled people’s benefits but Tomlinson said it was justified because only one per cent of those included in WRAG find sustainable work each month.

He told the all-party parliamentary disability group that the WRAG top-up was supposed to help people find work and “was not meant to be an income boost”.

He said £100m a year of the WRAG savings would instead be used for employment support for disabled people. However, campaigners accused the government of putting up more barriers for disabled people who were trying to find work rather than making it easier for them.

“I hear a lot about the government wanting more people to be in work, but as a person with learning difficulties myself, my experience is actually that there are more and more barriers to employment for disabled people,” said Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns at People First Self-Advocacy.

“The way the changes to Access to Work are hitting people with learning difficulties is one thing I know. We do not get any support with things like form-filling, so we are running around everywhere trying to find someone to help us fill in our benefits assessment forms.”

Victoria Holloway, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said there was “no evidence whatsoever” that the cuts would be an incentive for disabled people to find work.

Instead, she said, it could mean people were unable to meet their essential living costs and could even put at risk their recovery from ill-health.

The quality of PIP assessments was questioned by Gordon McFadden, chair of United Amputees who said he knew of two people, both of whom had had both their legs amputated, who were refused the enhanced mobility rate of PIP and told they would lose their Motability vehicles. The decisions were overturned only after he intervened.

Tomlinson also refused a plea to reverse a decision to cut the qualifying distance for the enhanced rate of PIP mobility support from 50 metres to just 20 metres.

He said: “We feel, based on the advice we have been given, it is the right thing to do.”

The SNP’s disability spokesperson Natalie McGarry said the government had learned nothing from its failure to look at potential problems before introducing the bedroom tax.

She said: “You are making their lives significantly more difficult but you are not changing their conditions, the barriers to work, or the work for people to get into.”

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams said the impact of the reforms and cuts would be “very severe”.

“As much as the minister provided a relatively rosy picture, I do not quite see things as he did,” she said.