Government Plans to Slash Support for Disabled People

Today the Mirror newspaper has published my comment piece on the Government’s latest plans to slash support for disabled people. The consultation on aids and appliances for the Personal Independence Payment closes on 29th January – if you will be affected, do respond. The article is copied below:-

Just before Christmas, the Government announced a consultation on the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) process, in particular on aids and appliances in the context of the PIP daily living component.

Aids and appliances help people live independently. For example a wheelchair is an aid for someone with mobility issues and a modified walk-in shower is an appliance to help someone with mobility issues.

This is only two years after the introduction of PIP to replace Disability Living Allowance, so has the Government suddenly found out that it doesn’t work? Do the 105 claimant cases that the Government’s consultation is based on really reflect the 611,121 current PIP claimants? Apparently so.

Many disabled people are rightly concerned about the implications this will have on their eligibility for PIP, the other social security support that comes with this, such as carer’s allowance, and what this could mean to their being able to live with any degree of independence. The Disability Benefits Consortium, a coalition of disability charities, has said that all five of the options the Government is proposing ‘would restrict access to PIP’ for those people who qualify on the basis of ‘aids and adaptations’ thresholds.

The Government has got anxious that as a result of a review of just 105 claimants who went through the PIP assessment and were all awarded the daily living component because they would ‘benefit from aids and appliances’, there will be more people qualifying for PIP than they had originally estimated.

The disability charities are doing the number-crunching looking at how many disabled people will be affected, but their initial estimates are a real concern: 2,200 people with multiple sclerosis, and 35% of all current claimants, across all conditions and disabilities.

Unfortunately, many disabled people are not aware of this PIP consultation, which closes on 29th January and the Government has refused to extend, even though it took place over the Christmas period. Shana Pezaro who has multiple sclerosis and was in Parliament to lobby MPs about the Welfare Reform and Work Bill (another piece of legislation attacking disabled people) said that on her way down to Parlaiment, she met a woman on the train, also in a wheel chair, who knew nothing about the PIP consultation. Shana said the woman looked devastated and commented she didn’t know how much longer she could keep fighting for the little support she gets to help her with her disability.

The Extra Cost Commission which last year investigated the additional costs faced by disabled people as a result of their disability, estimated that on average this amounted to £550 a month. As a result disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. In 2014 there were 300,000 more disabled people living in poverty, a 2% increase on the previous year.

The potential restrictions in PIP eligibility is the latest of a long string of cuts to disabled people by this Government and the previous Coalition. The Welfare Reform and Work Bill, currently in the Lords, is particularly punitive. For example, in 2017 the Government intends to cut Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) support to disabled people found NOT fit for work, but who are assessed as being able to work in the future, from £102.15 to £73.10 a week. This group of disabled people, also known as the ESA Work Related Activity Group, includes people with progressive conditions such as Parkinsons or MS. A survey conducted by the charity Macmillan Cancer Support found that one in ten cancer patients would struggle to pay their rent or mortgage if ESA was cut. The Government has estimated that 500,000 disabled people will be affected by this £640m cut in social security support for disabled people. But there has been no assessment by the Government of the impacts this will have on the number of disabled people and their families pushed into poverty, or the effects on their health condition or disability.

On top of this, 13 policy measures from the 2012 Welfare Reform Bill which will have taken £23.8bn in support from 3.7m disabled people by 2018, the £3.6bn cuts to social care since 2010 affect support to disabled people as well as older people…I could go on…

This PIP consultation represents this Government failing disabled people yet again – failing to ensure the PIP assessment process was fit for purpose; for example, someone who needs to sit down in the shower but can use a standard shower, scores the same number of points as someone who is a permanent wheelchair-user and needs a fully adapted shower; and failing to keep its manifesto commitment to protect ‘disability benefits’.

The Government has tried to regenerate the economy on the backs of the poor and disabled. In their response to the Autumn Statement, the Institute of Fiscal Studies said:

‘The OBR has significantly reduced its forecast of savings from disability benefit reforms – in particular the move from disability living allowance to personal independence payment. This is familiar. Year after year expected savings from this reform go down. In fact this change in forecast would have ensured that the welfare cap in 2020-21 would have been breached.’

So the Government is failing here too!

I urge anyone who is potentially affected by these PIP changes to respond to the Government’s consultation rejecting all of the options and demanding that they stick to their manifesto commitment.

Like the NHS, our social security system is based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us of our dignity and the basics of life, should any one of us become ill or disabled or fall on hard times. The Government needs to remember this and stop its attacks on disabled people.

My response to the consultation can be read here.

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