THE BLOG

Was the Government's Decision to Tighten Disability Benefits Unlawful?

09/07/2014 13:35 BST | Updated 07/09/2014 10:59 BST

Court proceedings begin today (9 July 2014) in Birmingham to determine whether the government's decision to change the eligibility criteria for Personal Independence Payment, or PIP, was made unlawfully. The government's austerity measures have generated a lot of media interest to date, but what is this latest change, and what impact will it have on people living with a disability?

As a charity representing thousands of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) it's concerning when we see sensationalised stories in the media about 'benefit cheats' and 'disability scroungers'. These unappealing headlines, along with the much publicised Government benefit crackdown, do little to help members of the public understand what it's really like to live with a disability.

And the fact is that living with a disability is expensive, and disability benefits are not a luxury, but absolutely essential to help people live their lives reasonably, with some independence.

Yet the Government's 'benefit crackdown' continues, and one aspect of this is due to be examined in a court case starting today.

New eligibility rules introduced to Personal Independent Payment (PIP) mean that if disabled people can walk more than just 20 metres - even using a stick - they will no longer qualify for the highest rate of the benefit.

Government projections show that over half a million people are set to lose out following the new rules. The change could mean a loss of around £35 a week or access to a Motability vehicle, electric wheelchair or mobility scooter, meaning people could struggle to get to work, education or medical appointments.

This decision prompted uproar from disabled people and those that represent them when it was announced last year. Following public pressure, the government consulted on the decision; out of more than 1,100 responses, only five were in favour of the new rules.

Legal teams will argue today that the government failed to carry out a fair consultation before making their decision to adopt the new test for the mobility component of PIP.

We're not surprised that many people are terrified about what the change will mean for them. We've seen first-hand the life-changing difference the money people receive from PIP can have; it's the difference between people being able to live independently, and literally being trapped in their own homes. Living with a disability is hard enough, being stripped of your independence as a direct result of government 'savings' makes it even harder.

The Government claims that the change to benefits is needed to better reflect todays understanding of disability, but the impact of the changes being introduced - which includes this PIP 20 metre rule - defies this explanation entirely. It is precisely those that are in the greatest need that are set to lose out.

The court case will take a number of days, and the Judge will indicate after the hearing when we can expect a decision. We hope the government's actions are found unlawful, and that this finally prompts them to reconsider this change.