03/03/2017 07:11 GMT | Updated 04/03/2018 05:12 GMT

PIP Is Vital But The Insecurity Is 'Overwhelming'

On Thursday last week the government announced it wanted to reverse the effects of a court ruling which expands the number of people who can claim the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This decision led to an unhelpful narrative and subsequent comment from No 10 policy unit head George Freeman who said those "taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety" should not receive PIP - he has since apologised

But the debate that has followed between who is "really disabled" and who is not has done real damage to perceptions of disabled people and caused anger and distress amongst many disabled people across the country.

PIP offers vital financial support to thousands of disabled people every year. It helps them manage some of the extra costs that many face. Scope research shows disabled people spend on average £550 a month on disability-related costs. For one in 10, these costs amount to £1,000 a month.

These costs might include expensive items of specialised equipment such as wheelchairs, spending more on things like energy to keep warm or taxis to get around, and even certain types of insurance.

PIP should help with some of this. But instead the government is tightening access to the benefit and the flawed assessment process continues to fail people at a time when they most desperately need financial support.

The number of disabled people seeking support with PIP through the Scope helpline has sharply risen in the last year. According to new figures released today, Scope's free helpline service handled 2,185 PIP related calls over the past year - a 542% increase on 2015-16.

Debbie on our helpline told us: "Working on a national helpline is eye-opening because we can see so many variations nationwide. We have heard hundreds of stories about bad assessment reports and bad decision making.

"65% of people who dispute their PIP award are successful in their appeal of that decision; this is clear evidence of how flawed the system is. The insecurity PIP has created has been overwhelming.

"It's also been quite common for disabled people to be assessed for both ESA and PIP at roughly the same time, causing incredible anxiety and stress."

Scope gets contacted daily with concerns around PIP, people like Sarah (not her real name) who has been diagnosed with multiple illnesses, including fibromyalgia. She told us: "I experience all over body pain constantly, weakness, severe exhaustion all the time, problems sleeping and can't do much for myself. I have severe depression because of it all.

"I struggled without support for years. I couldn't get the benefit help that I needed. I got into serious debt.

"I started DLA payments four years ago. They put me on the higher rate for mobility and care which I've been on for the last four years. In February 2016 I was changed over to PIP - I was reassessed, we had to do the whole process again, reapply. Unfortunately the ATOS assessor that assessed me as not very disabled and took all my care off me. It was absolutely devastating."

PIP is a financial lifeline for thousands of people across the UK. The overwhelming surge in calls our helpline has received on PIP must serve as a wake-up call to the government.

The current PIP assessment is not fit for purpose and tightening access to this vital extra costs payment is only causing further worry and stress for the thousands of disabled people who rely on PIP.

We are calling on the government to rethink its decision. Before making any further changes to PIP the government must urgently address the very real concerns that disabled people have and reform the PIP assessment so that it accurately captures the extra costs disabled people face.

For more information on PIP visit the Scope website.