When the Government launched its disability benefit reforms in 2012, it lauded the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as being more efficient, more objective, and having disabled people at its heart.
In the five years since, the work I do every day with deaf young people has highlighted how this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Just this year, the National Deaf Children’s Society helpline had more than 200 inquiries about PIP from concerned young people and their parents. Over the last four years, we supported nearly 200 deaf young people to appeal decisions made by PIP assessors – and were successful in 70% of the cases we challenged this year. Clearly, the system isn’t working.
These numbers show a system in need of reform, failing to support the very people it’s designed to protect. My experience with families across the UK has highlighted so many simple ways that the Government can improve the system.
Transforming how benefits assessors are trained
One of the most shocking failings of PIP is how little understanding benefits assessors have about the basic aspects of a person’s disability.
One deaf young person was told he couldn’t have PIP because the assessor ‘thought he could hear fine’ in his assessment. Another was told her eyesight would compensate for her deafness. Many more say their assessment involved crude ‘hearing tests’ like facing a wall and trying to hear the assessor’s voice. There are too many tales of PIP assessors who do not know enough about deafness to make important, informed decisions about someone’s life.
The stream of complaints we see, and the legal challenges we have helped bring against the Government, could be easily prevented by setting out clear guidance and properly training assessors to understand different disabilities. How is it right that someone’s sole job is to make life changing decisions about what support a disabled person needs, but to have absolutely no training or guidance in how to make that decision? While we’ve seen steps in the right direction with newly updated guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), much of what was published was confusing and at times contradictory.
It’s paramount that PIP assessors, who wield so much power over the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities, actually understand the conditions they are making decisions about. We need clear, accessible guidance and a proper training programme to be introduced immediately.
Taking PIP into the 21st century
A solution at the heart of so many problems with PIP is taking the system online. The Disability Minister recently described it as a “modern, dynamic benefit” but you can’t even apply for it on the Government’s website.
The PIP application process starts with a phone call to DWP, which, while stating the absolute obvious, presents particular problems for deaf young people as so many of them can’t use the phone. If Armando Iannucci had written this into a script for the Thick of It, it wouldn’t have made the final edit.
Time and again, deaf young people applying for PIP tell me they are constantly called up by people from the DWP and their contractors at ATOS and Capita, despite having made their communication needs clear. This is a benefit meant to foster independence, to empower people, but the whole process utterly disempowers deaf young people right from the start.
PIP needs to become digital – not only to iron out these ludicrous problems, but to allow the Government to innovate. As the Government’s flagship disability benefit, PIP should be an example of what true inclusion can look like. Digitising the process would allow for the use of images and video, creating equality of opportunity for British Sign Language users and people who struggle to access written language.
A new Minister to make her mark
Often when we talk about problems with Government, it’s assumed that they are huge problems with intractable solutions. As Sarah Newton, the new Minister for Disabled People, sits down at her desk, she will be glad to know that although PIP has been controversial, there are simple ways she can challenge and change the system to make life better for deaf and disabled people across Britain.
To find out more about our PIP’d Off campaign to improve PIP for deaf young people, go to our website.