Over the past year or so I have written many times on the subject of Personal Independence Payments, or PIP as this essential welfare benefit is better known. It started with a series of articles charting my own battle with the assessment system when my life time award for Disability Living Allowance stopped as I was moved over to PIP. My PIP Saga ended up being four articles, which saw my award finally being returned to the level of my DLA, following a “mistake” about the meaning of my medical evidence. During this very draining and mentally challenging time I also wrote about the broader issues surrounding PIP and how the assessment system has seen many people who obviously should have been entitled to the support it brings denied an award, or given a very low award at the least. This was especially the case for people who are experiencing mental health issues, neurodiverse people and people with health conditions such as MS.
Following a series of unfair and cruel changes in the rules around who was entitled to PIP (that are explained in this article) led campaigners to take a court case to challenge the changes… and they WON! In December last year Mr Justice Mostyn said, “In my judgment, the 2017 regulations introduced criteria ... which were blatantly discriminatory against those with mental health impairments and which cannot be objectively justified.” It was believed that the new minister for the DWP, Esther McVey, would try to fight this court’s finding but instead it has just been announced there will be a full review of all PIP claims, they state with the aim of ensuring the correct awards are given to all people who should be entitled. There is even talk of back pay for those people illegally refused PIP or given the wrong award. Hooray.
Or is it? I have seen many disabled people who, like myself, battled to get the award they knew they were entitled to say how worried this reassessment of all claims makes them feel. If they’re anything like me, this battle left them so exhausted, physically and mentally, the merest concept of having to go through it again is unbearable. The online news outlet The Skwawkbox has announced it asked the DWP to confirm that no claimant will be down graded in this new round assessments but it is still a valid fear. Social media has been awash with people stating how worried they are. That’s how little trust most disabled people have in our current government. Most disabled people really feel as if they have been specifically targeted for austerity cuts, and I would say the government’s actions would prove them right. Let’s, however, give the DWP and Esther McVey the benefit of the doubt and say this reassessment will only lead to people getting the higher award they deserve and won’t be a back door to cutting awards to other sections of the disabled community. At least try.
If this is the case, it raises another major question. Who is going to pay for this new round of assessments? For some, the answer should be the government as they created the rules that have been found to be unsuitable. There are many others, who will hopefully also benefit from this reassessment process who had a similar experience to mine and found their medical information was not understood, or worse believed, by the assessors who dealt with their case. I was lucky and fought my corner well, with the guidance of the CAB, but many more ended up being penalised by a system that allows occupational therapists and physiotherapists to assess complex medical cases.
In my opinion, all of these reassessments should be funded by the companies paid to carry out PIP awards. They delivered a substandard service so it shouldn’t be the tax payer who coughs up even more money for them to correct their mistakes. At the end of the day, this whole PIP mess proves yet again that outsourcing like this does not work. A freedom of information request highlighted that between 2013 and 2016 the government paid ATOS and Capita over £1.5b to oversee the move to PIP. I’m sorry but they really didn’t get their moneys worth. On top of that huge sum, as Labour shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams asked, “How much public money has been spent on lawyers, trying to defend the indefensible?” Alongside the folly and runaway expense of outsourcing the whole PIP saga, that now feels more like a horror film where PIP is the evil character that just won’t die, has proved that the move to Personal Independence Payments from DLA was a total waste of money, time and the torment of many disabled people. The whole thing should be scrapped, Disability Living Allowance should be reinstated and each member of the government who has had a hand in the whole debacle should be put in stocks for the public to pelt with rotten fruit. OK, maybe the last bit is a step too far, but it is really appealing. I know I’d be at the front of the queue, with a bin bag full of stuff to throw.
Seriously, let’s hope this sees the beginning of the end of a period that has seen many disabled people left destitute, depressed and broken. Whatever your political leanings, surely it’s time to stop targeting those people who need a little extra help to live as they wish? However awful the financial situation our country might be in, or was in, isn’t it time to give support to those who need it? Come on Britain, we’re bigger than this.
Mik Scarlet 2018