04/08/2013 18:16 BST | Updated 04/10/2013 06:12 BST

Twenty Metres Stand Between People Living Life and Simply Existing


Living with a disability is expensive. Many can't work, or not to the extent they did, and more money is spent on heating the home, making adaptations, paying for cleaners and getting out of the house.

A short walk to the local shops might be a slow, painful process that leaves you so fatigued you struggle to do your shopping and then can't get yourself home, so you start getting taxis, or buy a scooter, or pay for your car to be specially adapted.

It's no surprise then that disability benefits like the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), or its predecessor Disability Living Allowance (DLA), designed to help with the additional costs of living with a disability, are a vital lifeline to people that need them.

But last year the government announced it was tightening the eligibility requirements for the higher rate of the mobility component of the benefit - the part designed to pay for the increased cost of remaining mobile.

If claimants can walk more than just 20metres (as opposed to the previous 50metres under DLA) - about the length of two buses, even using aids like sticks - they will no longer qualify for the highest rate of the benefit. It's a cruel twist in that achieving your end goal actually leaves you with nothing.

The government announced the decision without proper consultation, but after much campaigning from disabled people, including a legal challenge, the government conceded this should take place - and the six week consultation window closes today [5 August].

Those who no longer qualify for the benefit stand to lose more than £33 a week or, crucially, access to a Motability vehicle, mobility scooter or electric wheelchair. Without this, many won't be able to get to work, college or medical appointments, or even leave their house at all.

The mobility needs of these people will not disappear because they can walk 20 metres and so costs are likely to be pushed to other areas of (potentially more expensive) government spending, like unemployment benefits, social care and the NHS.

There's no evidence to suggest that 20 metres is the point at which the cost of a disabled person's mobility needs are reduced. Being able to walk an extra 30 metres, or even slightly further than 20, doesn't mean you can get to a bus stop or even get on a bus. It does not mean you no longer have to use a car or scooter to get to your local shop or pick your children up from school.

High streets and shopping centres across the UK are often designed so that, every 50 metres, you'll find a rest area. Even qualifying for a Blue Badge is based on a person's ability to walk 50 metres. There's well-embedded government guidance that suggests it is an appropriate measure of significant mobility impairment.

The Disability Benefits Consortium is a coalition of more than 50 charities and organisations calling for the government to reinstate the 50 metre rule - or those 20 metres will be the difference between people living their life, and simply existing.