Another Budget, another benefit cut, as George Osborne announces changes to the way that Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is assessed which will leave 640,000 people worse off.

You may wonder why PIP, which was introduced in 2013 as a cut to the existing Disability Living Allowance (DLA), is being cut so soon, before the “migration” of DLA claimants to PIP has even been completed. The answer lies in the inability of the Tory Government to understand that some people are actually just ill, and is an object lesson in what happens when the unstoppable force of Conservative Ideology meets the immovable object of real life.

Photo by Joshua Zader

Photo by Joshua Zader

DLA and PIP are benefits designed to cover the extra expenses you might incur as a disabled person. For someone able to work, they might fund the car that gets them there. For someone unable to work, it can be the difference between a dignified life and a desperate scrabble for survival on means-tested benefits alone.
DLA has never been an easy benefit to get, but the number of recipients did increase over time since its introduction in 1992. Part of the reason for this was a growing recognition of disabilities which had been overlooked at its inception.

A need for “Guidance and Supervision” when walking outdoors, initially intended to cover sensory and learning difficulties, was expanded by case law to include those who need assistance to get home during a panic attack. “Attention in connection with bodily functions,” originally a test of physical need, came to be understood as including a need for prompting and encouragement as well.

A common complaint about DLA is that the test was not designed to take into account the needs of people with mental health problems. That is absolutely correct. It was stretched to fit the mentally ill over time as claimants and their representatives challenged decisions through the tribunal system. It is a law hack, and a very successful one. The need for disability benefits to cover the needs of the mentally ill is now undisputed and a stated aim of PIP is to assess those needs more effectively.

Tories, of course, are not enthusiastic about increasing the number of people entitled to benefits, even in recognition of genuine unmet need, so another aim of PIP was to reduce the number of claimants.
DLA Care Component has three rates: Low, Middle and High. The equivalent Daily Living Component of PIP has just two rates: Standard (equivalent to DLA Middle Rate Care) and Enhanced (equivalent to DLA High Rate Care). The government hoped to reduce the cost of disability benefits by 20% by abolishing the entire Low Rate of the Care Component, paid to those with a “significant” rather than “prolonged and repeated” need for care. Or, as they would have it, by “focusing help on those who need it most.”

As it happened, the figures were disappointing. 55% of new claims for PIP are successful, more than the government had hoped. An extract from Paul Gray’s Review of the PIP Assessment published from just before Christmas last year stated that “The review has not been able to determine the reasons why new claim awards are higher than expected.” Despite this uncertainty, Mr. Gray’s beady eye fell upon the assessment criteria, concluding that these was not effective. Since “effectiveness here is defined as the extent to which something is successful in producing a desired outcome” and the desired outcome was a benefit cut of 20%, I suppose this is true as far as it goes.
In contrast to DLA’s open ended “essay question” criteria, PIP has a relatively simple points-based system. And whereas DLA had been solely concerned with a claimants care needs, PIP allows for points for needing “Aids and Appliances.”

This is a good thing. Under DLA, it would be relevant to your claim if you need your husband to physically help you to sit down on the toilet seat. But if the council fitted grab rails, that wouldn’t be relevant, even though your condition would be the same. Since the legal test was the care that was “needed” rather than the care actually received, it was open to the DWP to argue that a person could “reasonably be expected to use” a grab rail, even if they didn’t actually have one. Many hours of tribunal time and a large body of case law built up around completely hypothetical grab rails, dosette boxes and (my personal bugbear) perching stools.

Under PIP this problem was partially solved. The claimant with grab rails would score 2 points, rather than the 4 available for physical assistance and, provided they got 8 points overall, would be entitled to PIP.

Paul Gray’s report hit upon this as a possible explanation. Recognising disabled people’s need for aids and appliances was slightly offsetting the effect of failing to recognise their care needs. Too many people were still getting benefits.

So to more “effectively” kick people off benefits the government have decided to reduce the number of points available for using an aid or appliance for dressing or using the toilet from 2 to 1. This seemingly trivial change will see a loss of income for 450,000 people and a complete refusal of disability benefits for 200,000 more.
The guardian recently interviewed Kate Rae and Bethen Thorpe, two of the people likely to be effected.

These are people who once received DLA unproblematically and at reasonable rates. They have moved from comfortable entitlement under DLA, to borderline entitlement and a struggle through the tribunal system under PIP, to no entitlement at all under the new rules. Little by little they chip away.

Both made the point that the small investment of proper Disability Benefits would allow them to work and pay taxes, whereas a lifetime of benefit dependency beckons as things stand. There couldn’t be a better illustration of the ridiculous false economy and human cost of the Tory austerity project.

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