With regard to these PIP changes, the Government have done all they can to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. They have ignored the concerns repeatedly expressed by MPs and the Disability Benefits Consortium, as well as the deafening clamour of concerns out there.
There can be no doubt that these PIP changes are having a fundamental and life-limiting effect on those affected by them. The whole point of PIP is to help with the extra costs resulting from disability or long-term ill health, replacing DLA. The effect, real or accidental, is clear discrimination against those living with mental health challenges that could put vulnerable claimants at risk. That was the conclusion of the House of Lords.
The Disability Benefits Consortium is extremely concerned that these changes will restrict access for disabled people who need PIP in facing additional costs. Clearly, the criteria are now far too strict, resulting in almost 50% of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions losing access to some or all of their support on being assessed. In addition, over 60% of PIP appeals are successful. To those who have had their support withdrawn or reduced, I would say this: go to your MP for help. The process is distressing and upsetting, but please appeal any decision that you think is unfair, because over 60% of appeals are successful. This shows on its own that the process is not working. It also shows that the system causes unnecessary distress for far too many claimants. My constituency office in Ardrossan has numerous examples of such cases leaving claimants confused, frightened, bewildered and in serious financial difficulty.
There are also particular concerns around the mobility component, with over 750 returning their Motability vehicles every week due to the withdrawal of essential support. We know from the DWP’s own analysis that 146,000 disabled people could lose financial support as they drop from the higher rate of mobility to no entitlement at all. It is also conceded by the DWP that there is difficulty in predicting these numbers, and so the final numbers losing financial support could in fact be much higher.
It is vital that the PIP assessment criteria are reviewed to ensure that there are clear definitions in place before any changes are made. The criteria are far too narrow and restrictive. They simply do not recognise the impact that many long-term conditions and disabilities have on a person’s ability to undertake daily living activities, and often fail to take account of hidden and fluctuating symptoms, including cognitive difficulties. What kind of people are suffering under this system? Those with MS and those with Parkinson’s—serious chronic conditions. Those with such conditions very often also suffer from depression and anxiety. If that is not specifically and separately diagnosed, then in terms of PIP assessments, it does not exist. Those with long-term conditions and disabilities that include depression and anxiety as a common symptom will not score under the original descriptor.
These changes, on top of the arbitrary cut of £30 a week to the ESA work-related activity group which is also due to be imposed, show the complete disregard for disabled people felt by this Government. How can putting disabled people into greater hardship help to remove the barriers that will help them back to work? Where are the disability employment support programmes outlined in the Green Paper? We need to treat disabled people with dignity and respect. This Government need to listen and show some compassion and understanding, and stop trying to build an austerity programme on the backs of the poor and the disabled.