If memory serves me correctly, one of the key principles of PIP (Personal Independence Payment) was that it would be awarded to people according to their needs, not because they had a particular condition.
There would be no disabilities that automatically qualified someone to receive PIP, unlike DLA (Disability Living Allowance) which it replaced.
Instead, every claimant would be assessed, and points awarded, according to the level of difficulty they experienced with a range of daily living and mobility activities.
Leaving aside, for a moment, the demonstrable dishonesty of many such assessments, the principle seems fair. Anyone who struggles with daily living or mobility receives support, to a degree that reflects the amount of difficulty experience.
Nowhere can I recall particular disabilities being excluded from support. The idea that somebody who struggles to make a journey because they have MS, for example, is awarded PIP, while someone else who has as much difficulty with travelling is not deemed eligible, because they have dementia or PTSD, seems in direct contradiction of the way PIP was intended to work.
Tribunals have clearly come to the same conclusion.
A panel of three judges in the Upper Tribunal have ruled in favour of claimants, and against the DWP guidance to assessors.
The first tribunal said that claimants should receive more points in the “mobility” assessment if they suffer from “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone. They should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulties navigating. By way of example, the first group might include some people with isolated social phobia or anxiety, whereas the second group might include some people who are blind. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who cannot navigate, due to a visual or cognitive impairment, are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.
A second tribunal said that there should be more points allocated in the “daily living” element for people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. This should be scored in the same way as needing support to manage therapy, like dialysis, undertaken at home. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who need support to manage therapy of this kind are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.
These are independent appeal tribunals, set up to consider awards of PIP when the claimant is not happy with the original decision or the “mandatory reconsideration” which they have to go through before bringing their case to the tribunal.
Following the tribunals’ rulings would cost more money
Rather than accepting the rulings of an independent judiciary, which look to be closely aligned with the avowed intentions of the benefit, the government has introduced emergency legislation to change the rules.
They did the sums, and realised that it would cost an extra £3.7 billion by 2022, if the 160,000 people affected were to receive the support they are entitled to.
Therefore, they are changing the mobility descriptors in such a way as to exclude people suffering from psychological distress. The daily living descriptors relating to medication and therapy are also changed, to exclude taking medication and monitoring a health condition.
The changes come into force from 16th of March
Any PIP applications considered before that date should be assessed on the current rules. However, it is expected that decision-makers will delay applications likely to be affected until after the new criteria come into force.
Lib Dem peers have now tabled a motion to defeat the government’s plans
Liberal Democrats managed to thwart the Government’s plans to restrict tax credits back in October 2015. It is to be hoped that they can pull off this attempt to deny people the help and support that they need.
Baroness Cathy Bakewell, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:
The Government is using its recent losses in court as an excuse to severely restrict disability benefits. Rather than listening to the ruling they are using it to make matters worse for disabled people – that is utterly outrageous.
What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of by-elections. These decisions impact the lives of vulnerable people, Liberal Democrats will not allow the Conservatives to get away with treating people with disabilities with such total contempt.