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How the Disability Living Allowance is being reformed

A response from the Minister for Disabled People.

Photograph: Getty Images

I was concerned to read the recent New Statesman blog about reforms to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which was based on a number of factual inaccuracies about the new benefit - the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). I’d like to address those inaccuracies to prevent unnecessary concern and hopefully address those the writer had for people in their care.

PIP is very much a ‘personal’ payment and recognises that everyone is different. Even two people with the same condition can be affected in different ways - so a key part of the new benefit is making sure that we have a fuller understanding of how someone’s disability or condition affects them.

Face-to-face consultations help us do just that and give claimants the opportunity to discuss in person with a healthcare professional how their condition affects their ability to live an independent life.

In the article, the writer expresses concern that some claimants will find travelling to a PIP assessment difficult and stressful. Not everyone will be asked to attend a face-to-face consultation – for example where there is sufficient supporting evidence available the assessment can be carried out on a paper basis. These decisions will be made case by case.

Your readers might also be interested to know that Capita are taking a new approach and will provide many consultations in a claimant’s own home. They also aspire to make sure that around 40 per cent of their advisers; centre hosts and administrators will themselves have long-term health conditions or be disabled.

The writer says that the assessment will prioritise testimonies from GPs, over other evidence. This is not the case. The decision to award the benefit will be based on all of the available evidence, including the claim form, the report from the assessment provider and any other evidence provided.

The writer mentions ‘Jane’ who has Parkinson’s disease - and suggested the assessment might be inaccurate and overlook the practical tasks she cannot complete and the social interactions she cannot have.

The new PIP assessment focuses on exactly that – the challenges that individuals face. Unlike DLA, people claiming PIP are given the opportunity to describe their condition both on good and bad days, and the new assessment has been specifically designed to better recognise fluctuating and mental health conditions. The assessment also looks at reading, verbal communication and how someone engages with other people.

The writer also mentioned her concerns about eligibility for the mobility component of PIP, specifically around the distances a claimant can move. The assessment will look at the claimant’s ability to move around without severe discomfort, and will also consider whether the individual can walk – or undertake any of the activities - safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period. This means, for example, that someone who can move more than 20 metres, but can’t do it in a safe and reliable way, would actually get the enhanced rate.

The writer also asked why people should be regularly re-assessed, especially if their disability or illness is not going to change. PIP is based on how a person’s condition affects them, not the condition they have. So although someone’s condition may not change, the impact it has on their life may do so. That is why we will be regularly contacting people to make sure they are getting the right levels of support as their needs change over time.

Under the current system 71 per cent of claimants get an indefinite award without any systematic reassessments and every year this has led to hundreds of millions of pounds of both over-payments – and more worryingly - under-payments.

Disability Living Allowance was introduced over twenty years ago and it was widely accepted by all political parties that it was badly in need of reform to better reflect today's understanding of disability. The new face-to-face assessments and regular reviews, which are missing under the current system, will ensure that the billions we spend on the benefit gives more targeted support to those who need it most.

We rightly continue to spend around £50bn a year on disabled people and their services and I am proud that we are one of the world leaders in the rights for disabled people with the UK spending on disability-related benefits a fifth higher than the EU average.

We are not 'moving the goal posts' to reduce welfare spending. Funding on this benefit will in fact increase over the course of this Parliament, and what we are doing is making sure every penny of the £13bn budget we continue to spend is targeted at those who need it most.

Esther McVey is the Conservative MP for Wirral West and the Minister for Disabled People at