19/04/2018 15:21 BST

Fears For Poorer Disabled People As Benefits 'Pay For Cars But Not Phones'

Costs for tech soon mount for those with low incomes and no savings.

Dean Mitchell via Getty Images
Disabled people can use their benefits to access special deals on adapted vehicles but not for everyday gadgets, MPs find.

Disabled people can use benefits to get deals on adapted cars costing tens of thousands of pounds – but not special phones and computers worth hundreds, MPs have found.

Many people claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP) receive a dedicated “mobility” payment to lease cars worth up to £35,000, but can’t do the same for phones worth £700.

The restriction has raised fears that disabled claimants on low incomes and without savings could be forced to take out expensive loans to buy day-to-day technology.

MPs said the situation means PIP is “out of step with modern life and work” and that low-interest loans should be made available to buy or lease technology that helps claimants lead their lives.

PIP helps people pay for the extra costs associated with physical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, or those brought on as a result of accidents, strokes and heart attacks.

It is made up of two parts, a daily living allowance worth £57.30 or £85.60 per week, and a mobility allowance worth either £22.65 or £59.75 – depending on an assessment of need.

While innovations like Apple’s Siri function turn an iPhone assists those who find speaking easier than typing, people with different disabilities often require different solutions to access the internet or make a call.

But for those who can’t speak, the options are more expensive. An iPhone 7 costs £699 to buy outright, while a device optimised for a non-speaking user costs around £2,500.

In contrast, the most expensive car available on the Motability scheme is currently a Mercedes-Benz Touring van, worth around £35,110 without adaptations.

Motability is a scheme which allows disabled people in receipt of state benefits access to discounted rates on vehicles.

But unlike cars supplied through the Motability scheme, expensive gadgets, dubbed assistive technology (AT), can’t be leased through monthly benefit payments.

Many of the more expensive AT items are funded by the workplace, either by employers or through a government grant, but fewer than 50% of working-age disabled people are in work, according to Leonard Cheshire Disability.

The charity’s Steve Tyler said: “We know that assistive technology is a game-change for disabled people.

“The ridiculous thing at the moment is that if you are in employment the government will fund this technology through a grant called Access To Work.

“But if you’re not in work, or not able to work, you don’t get that funding.

Tyler added that technology is crucial for many disabled people, in helping them to “get on the right path”, gain skills, and access employment.

“If you are unemployed, even £700 is a lot of money, and that doesn’t include the apps and connectivity you might need for a phone, for example,” he added. 

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee wrote in its report: “Cost barriers prevent disabled people realising the life-changing potential of assistive technology. Specialist AT can cost thousands of pounds. For disabled people with low incomes, even cheaper mainstream AT can be unaffordable.”

Sarah Newton, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, said the government’s “Access to Work grant is providing specialist equipment and support to disabled people across the country[.]

“We welcome the Committee’s work and will consider their recommendations in detail.”