Disabled individuals in the UK that rely on state welfare have been adversely affected by so-called “reforms” to the benefits (welfare) system since the Conservative government came into power in 2010. In 2013, the government began to implement its new plan for disabled benefits, i.e. personal independence payments (PIP), which in effect means the mass, compulsory re-testing of all those claimants with disabilities and chronic illnesses. The results of this scheme have been quite frightening.
The charity Muscular Dystrophy UK recently released a report which is the latest exposé of an administrative disaster: it is a catalog of lost applications, appointments canceled at the last minute, and delays of around a year while applications were being processed. Out of the survey respondents, two in five of them reported being sent to an assessment center that was not accessible for disabled people. That’s right—in order to be tested for a disability benefit. You can't make this stuff up.
Even if the claimants managed to make it inside the building, the situation did not improve, in many cases. There were wide-ranging reports of assessors showing no respect for clients with disabilities, and some didn't even understand the details of the condition they were meant to be assessing. One man, who had muscular dystrophy, had to point out that “progressive” means that “muscles don’t get better”.
The effect of all this chaos on claimants has been severe financial hardship ranging from arrears of rent to massive credit card debt and psychological scarring. One woman who suffers from a muscle-wasting illness reported that she started suffering from panic attacks following her assessment. She now needs the care of a mental health team and is confined to her home.
PIP was deliberately created as a system with much tighter qualifying criteria and is even more troubling when we consider that it is a benefit linked to other essential services for the disabled. Now, unless someone has PIP, they cannot access any kinds of benefits, ranging from a carer’s allowance to a premium for severe disability. If that is not bad enough, anyone who does not qualify for PIP is automatically barred from the Motability scheme for a powered wheelchair or accessible car.
To give one example of the hardship caused, consider the case of Sarah, a 29-year-old pregnant nurse with a progressive muscle wasting disease. She has been forced to hand in her Motability car, after being reassessed for PIP (previously she was receiving the former benefit, Disability Living Allowance). Now she is not only without her mobility vehicle but is receiving the lower rate of benefit—despite the fact that her condition is deteriorating. She has trouble walking, which means that the vehicle was a lifeline to her. She says that now she has lost her independence. She was recently due to attend a tribunal to appeal against the decision, but it was canceled with just two days notice and no explanation. She has also recently been in hospital twice in one weekend. This story illustrates with great clarity the type of hardship PIP is causing people.
Clearly, this part of the system desperately needs to be reviewed.