Last week the Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP, commented that 'one thing I've noticed since taking up the role of Minister of State for Disabled People is that not many people are aware of the specific reforms we have made with regard to disability benefits - in particular Disability Living Allowance.' He went on to talk about the importance of reducing the amount of money the Government is spending on disability benefits and the need for face to face assessments.
It is true, not many people are aware of the move from DLA to Personal Independence Payments and the potential financial savings for the Government. But many will also be unaware that figures released from the DWP last week, showing that out of a total of 229,700 new claims for PIP made since last April, only 43,800 decisions have been made. Some of these applications will have only been made over the past month, but many disabled people will have been waiting for an inordinate amount of time for a decision on whether not they receive this benefit.
DLA and now PIP is a benefit for working age people with disabilities and is available to cover the extra costs associated with their disability. In the case of the deafblind people that Sense supports, this might be to purchase specialist equipment that can be surprisingly expensive such as talking kitchen equipment or a screen reader to enable someone to use a computer. Not knowing whether you will have the money to meet these extra costs can be extremely distressing. PIP is a hugely important benefit as it is available to you whether you work or not and in some cases is key to supporting disabled people who are able to work.
And these benefits aren't just for purchasing equipment. Imagine if you were unable to communicate with another person unaided. You might use a form of sign language or tactile communication. As a result, in order to go to the doctors, visit the bank or carry out day to day errands you might need the support of an interpreter. Social services provide some support in these areas, but this will be the bare minimum and PIP is often needed to make up the short fall. Having to wait months to find out whether you would receive or continue to receive financial support to do this is unthinkable.
The past year has been a challenging one for many disabled people and PIP isn't the only benefit causing the Department for Work and Pensions problems. The adoption of Universal Credit has been a slow and hugely over budget process and of course the 'Bedroom Tax' has been a real struggle for many disabled people. However, what marks PIP apart is the seeming lack of drive from the DWP to solve the backlog. And without this drive, I fear the problem will only get worse.
This is in contrast to other areas where the Government is making some really positive changes for disabled people, such as the Care Bill which is set to overhaul social care. This makes it an even greater shame that the same people who stand to benefit from a better care system face such delays in getting the benefits that enable them to live independent lives.
Mike Penning also said : 'This country can rightly be proud that we are world-leaders in support for disabled people' but we can only go on being proud if we are providing access to the benefits that disabled people need to live full and active lives.