Almost a third of assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are not ‘up to scratch’, according to recent figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
This revelation follows a series of problems with the benefits system, which are causing unacceptable levels of stress to disabled people across the UK.
A DWP report published last month identified errors in the payment of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that could affect 75,000 disabled people. This has created an unnecessary burden on recipients, who have to navigate a broken system to receive payments that are a lifeline for disabled people and their families. The assessment can take several months, taking a toll on applicants’ physical and mental health.
Many disabled people can and want to work but for some it is not possible. Vital ESA payments are essential to their independence, and many say that not receiving the financial assistance they need makes it harder to move into work once they are ready. Disabled people’s day to day costs are significantly higher, from higher heating bills, travel costs, and paying for adjustments to their home. The news that thousands of disabled people have been short-changed on financial support they are entitled to will hit particularly hard.
Disturbingly, it seems errors such as these are becoming routine. The news in February that the cost of PIP and ESA appeals amounts to a staggering £108.1 million since October 2015 added a new twist to the sorry saga of a fundamentally flawed system.
The government recently U-turned in its approach to PIP claims and announced it would not appeal the High Court ruling that the changes to PIP regulations, introduced in March 2017, were discriminatory. This means the government will review 1.6 million claims to identify those who will now be in line to receive higher allowances – estimated to be around 220,000 people. But these people have spent the year since the regulations came into effect struggling to make essential journeys. This is, of course, part of a greater review of 1.6 million benefit claims.
Too many people have been put through the lengthy and distressing appeal process - waiting to hear if they were entitled to payments they need. Many who have been discriminated against through inaccurate judgements have not appealed. After a gruelling assessment process, many do not have the energy or resources to face what can be an overwhelming process.
We have to consider these issues in the context of the mounting human cost of a benefits system that continues to unravel.
The change in PIP regulations created a discriminatory distinction between people with physical disabilities and people with mental health conditions. When the regulations were announced, the Government claimed that psychological distress was not enough reason alone to score enough points under the “planning and following a journey” criterion to receive the higher mobility rate of PIP of £58 a week. This made even those whose mental health conditions prevented them from leaving their house alone ineligible.
Whilst we welcome the government’s decision to extend the review and cover all claimants, we can’t overlook the huge strain that the change in regulations put on disabled people over the last year. The Government’s actions in that time have been unjust and discriminatory towards disabled people with mental health conditions, while a lack of an over-arching strategic vision is all too apparent. The system needs a complete overhaul, so it is robust and can accurately and fairly assess whether people need ESA and/or PIP.
Although disabled people can now expect to receive the payments they are entitled to, quick fixes and a change of regulation will not resolve a system that repeatedly discriminates against people who feel they are an easy target for punitive, unjust measures. The further mistakes which have come to light over the last two months will serve only to validate people’s distrust in a seemingly shambolic system.