The Government has got itself into an enormous mess over Personal Independence Payments (PIPs). Not only will the government’s review of PIP payments cost a huge amount of taxpayers’ cash, it will also cause undue concern and upset to hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
It is nothing short of a national disgrace that Ministers persisted with the utterly flawed and unfair system of assessments for Personal Impact Payments, despite all the warnings and mounting evidence from campaigners and charities. I know from my own constituency surgeries that people were treated appallingly by the PIP assessment process. Often the initial assessments were wrong, denying people the support to which they were entitled, and adding to their discomfort and concern. Almost every appeal led to a change of judgement, proving that most assessments were wrong in the first place.
A hurried assessment by barely-trained assessors can lead to the terrible misjudgements, making the lives of people with mental illness even more uncertain and miserable. Some have even taken their own lives during the PIP assessment process. Yet ministers have refused to recognise this, or to apologise to the relatives of those who have died.
Having a mental illness can mean a loss of income and an increase in expenses. Support is vital for people whose mental illness means they cannot live independently, so that they can remain a part of society, stay in touch with family and friends, and live a full life. As the charity Mind says, anyone should be treated with dignity and respect when they go for a benefits assessment. They state ‘that’s not happening at the moment.’
It was only when the High Court ruled that ministers’ changes to PIP ‘blatantly discriminate’ against people with mental health conditions, and were a breach of their human rights, that this government announced this week it would review 1.6million individual cases. Mr Justice Mostyn issued a written ruling which stated ‘the 2017 regulations introduced criteria ... which were blatantly discriminatory against those with mental health impairments and which cannot be objectively justified.’
Today in Parliament I pressed Ministers on the impact on people with mental health conditions and hidden illnesses. I asked the disabilities minister for a reassurance that in the future PIP assessments will take into account the full range of symptoms and factors affecting mental health, especially those conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, and phobias which present differently on different days.
We must keep up the pressure on the Government. The system doesn’t work. I remain unconvinced by ministers’ warm words about ‘fairness’. The experience on the ground is one of unfairness, inefficiency and inhumane treatment, and that must change.
Luciana Berger is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree