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

Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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Why gay men love this photo of Prince George looking fabulous

It's not about sexuality, but resisting repressive ideas about what masculinity should be.

Last week’s royal tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge provided the most intimate view of the young family to date. Throughout the five-day visit to Poland and Germany, it was the couple’s adorable children who stole the spotlight.

As George and Charlotte become better acquainted with a world in which everyone recognises them, this level of public scrutiny is something that will no doubt have to be carefully managed by the family.

But there is one particular image from the trip that has both captured people’s hearts and prompted debate. On the eve of his fourth birthday, Prince George was invited behind the driver’s seat of a helicopter in Germany. Immaculately dressed in a purple gingham shirt neatly tucked in to navy shorts, the future King is pictured staring out of the helicopter in awe.

As a man who was visibly gay from a young age, the distinctly feminine image of George smiling as he delicately places his hands on his face instantly struck a chord with me. In fact, an almost identical photograph of five-year-old me happily playing in the garden is hung on my parents' kitchen wall. Since the photos appeared online, thousands of other gay men have remarked that the innocence of this image reminds them of childhood. In one viral tweet, the picture is accompanied by the caption: “When mom said I could finally quit the soccer team.” Another user remarks: “Me walking past the Barbies at Toys ‘R’ Us as a child.”

Gay men connecting this photograph of Prince George with their childhood memories has been met with a predictable level of scorn. “Insinuating that Prince George is gay is just the kind of homophobia you’d be outraged by if it was you," tweets one user. “Gay men should know better than that. He is a CHILD," says another.

Growing up gay, I know how irritating it can be when everyone needs to “know” your sexual orientation before you do. There are few things more unhelpful than a straight person you barely know telling you, as they love to do, that they “always knew you were gay” years after you came out. This minimises the struggle it took to come to terms with your sexuality and makes you feel like everyone was laughing at you behind your back as you failed to fit in.

I also understand that speculating about a child's future sexual orientation, especially from one photograph, has potential to cause them distress. But to assume that gay men tweeting this photograph are labelling Prince George is a misunderstanding of what we take from the image.

The reaction to this photo isn’t really about sexuality; it’s about the innocence of childhood. When I look at the carefree image of George, it reminds me of those precious years in early childhood when I didn’t know I was supposed to be manly. The time before boys are told they should like “boy things”, before femininity becomes associated with weakness or frivolity. Thanks to a supportive environment created by my parents, I felt that I could play with whichever toys I wanted for those short years before the outside world pressured me to conform.

Effeminate gay men like me have very specific experiences that relate to growing up in a heteronormative world. It is incredibly rare to see anything that remotely represents my childhood reflected in popular culture. This image has prompted us to discuss our childhoods because we see something in it that we recognise. In a community where mental illness and internalised homophobia are rife, sharing memories that many of us have suppressed for years can only be a good thing.

People expressing outrage at any comparisons between this image and growing up gay should remember that projecting heterosexuality on to a child is also sexualising them. People have no problem assuming that boys are straight from a young age, and this can be equally damaging to those who don’t fit the mould. I remember feeling uncomfortable when asked if my female friends were my girlfriends while I was still in primary school. The way young boys are taught to behave based on prescribed heterosexuality causes countless problems. From alarmingly high suicide rates to violent behaviour, the expectation for men to be tough and manly hurts us all.

If you are outraged at the possibility that the future king could perhaps be gay, but you are happy to assume your son or nephew is heterosexual, you should probably examine why that is. This not only sends out the message that being gay is wrong, but also that it is somehow an embarrassment if we have a gay King one day. Prince William appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine last year to discuss LGBT bullying, so we can only hope he will be supportive of his son regardless of his future sexuality.

Whether Prince George grows up to be heterosexual or not is completely irrelevant to why this image resonates with people like me. It is in no way homophobic to joke about this photograph if you don't see a boy being feminine as the lesser, and the vast majority of posts that I’ve seen come from a place of warmth, nostalgia and solidarity. 

What really matters is that Prince George feels supported when tackling the many obstacles that his unique life in the spotlight will present. In the meantime, we should all focus on creating a world where every person is accepted regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, because clearly we’ve got some way to go.