The transition from DLA to PIP will harm disabled claimants

Causes for concern from a care worker.

I am a care worker supporting disabled people to live independently within my community. Many of my service users claim disability benefit, and I am concerned that the new assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which has replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA), will not only cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety but threaten the freedom and standard of living they are used to having - and have a right to have.

The assessment for PIP requires claimants to attend face-to-face consultations, unless they’re housebound or unable to travel for medical reasons. Dave* has multiple sclerosis. Although he is not technically “housebound” it would be an enormous task for him to attend a consultation because he is wheelchair bound and doesn’t have easy access to disabled-friendly transport. It would be mentally overwhelming too, because beneath the bravado of a bloke who used to run a building site, Dave like many other disabled people has suffered a huge loss of confidence. The prospect would cause him unnecessary distress and it would take days to recover from the mental and physical upheaval of having been. But practical obstacles and vulnerable states of mind do not count as excuses to avoid these consultations.

The new assessments also prioritise testimonies from GPs and specialists rather than those from families, carers and social workers. Whilst a doctor’s input is invaluable in proving what disability a claimant has, they are no more qualified to comment on how that disability affects the claimant on a daily basis outside of the doctor’s surgery or hospital. 

Jane* has Parkinson’s disease and a rare condition that causes jaw spasms and excessive dribbling. She sees a specialist twice a year who is “managing” her well - she receives treatment, of varying success rates, for her medical conditions. So her doctor could feasibly suggest that Jane copes alright at home. If this testimony is the extent of Jane’s supporting evidence then her assessment will be inaccurate and overlook the practical tasks she cannot complete and the social interactions she cannot have. Jane’s doctor doesn’t know she spends her days hunched over a bin of wet tissues, often crying, with a constant stream of saliva pouring from her mouth. Nor should they be expected to, because they do not live and work alongside her. Since PIP is supposed to improve disabled people’s “ability to participate in society”, assessors should surely be concerned with living socially as opposed to surviving medically. As it stands, the new assessment and its preoccupation with medical evidence will fail people like Jane.

Claimants will be regularly reassessed for PIP once they receive it to ensure their circumstances have not changed. Bizarrely this will even apply to permanently disabled people like Tony*, a paralysed stroke victim, and Sue* who has Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). Their condition will never improve but they will nonetheless have to endure routine reassessments causing unnecessary stress and disruption – lest they forget that it is not their right to have this support; it is their short term privilege which can be taken away at any time.

Indeed it will be taken away. People who have leased ‘motorbility’ cars using their DLA risk losing them because the ‘walking distance’ that decides your eligibility has been decreased from fifty metres to twenty. Lucy* has cerebral palsy but whilst she cannot walk fifty metres, she can struggle to walk twenty. She lives in a remote village, miles from amenities and relies on her car. The infrequent and unreliable bus service clashes with her shifts as a ‘blood bikes’ co-ordinator (a voluntary courier service for the NHS) and besides, she suffers terribly with travel sickness. If her car is taken, Lucy’s independence will be taken as well.

Lucy said to me last week “we talk about vulnerable disabled people, but my disability doesn’t make me vulnerable – this government does!” As PIP sweeps across the country, I fear she is right. My service users will face a lifetime of exhausting assessments or have the disability benefit safety net pulled from underneath them altogether, simply because our government has decided to move the goal posts closer together in a bid to reducing welfare spending.

We must raise awareness about the impact these PIP assessments will have on disabled people. The MS society has campaigned successfully for PIP assessors to allow for the fluctuating nature of multiple sclerosis, something they previously failed to consider. Parkinson’s UK has campaigned to postpone reassessments for current DLA claimants until October 2015, to allow time for an independent review on how PIP works for new claimants. More of us need to follow suit, and I for one wouldn’t be doing my job properly as a care worker if I didn’t speak out against these PIP assessments, and the harm they are likely to bring my service users.

*Some names have been altered to protect the identities of affected individuals.

A response from the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey, to this piece is published here 

The assessment for PIP requires claimants to attend face-to-face consultations, though many are not able. Photograph: Getty Images.
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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.