How the Disability Living Allowance is being reformed

A response from the Minister for Disabled People.

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

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism