MPs vote to remove mobility help for those who can walk over 20 metres

Latest changes to the Personal Independence Payment.

A group of MPs voted on Tuesday on the latest changes the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will bring to the disability benefits claims system.

After a debate of just over an hour, the House of Commons Eleventh Delegated Legislation Committee voted 10 – 7 to remove any help with mobility for people able to walk for more than 20 metres.

In the previous system, known as the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the Higher Rate of Mobility Component was available to people who had significant difficulty to walk 50 metres, making the new requirements a 60 per cent cut.

The changes will be put in place from the 8 April later this year, and will concern eligible “working age” people, from 16 to 64.

Though opponents of the controversial bill managed to add an amendment making it clear that someone would need to be capable of walking “reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner” for 20 metres, it has been argued that the proposal was deeply flawed.

Addressing the Commons, Anne McGuire, MP for Stirling, called the plans “a crude and blatant attempt to reduce the benefit bill”, and attacked the idea that the DLA was an “easy touch for so-called cheats and scroungers”, since “the fraud rate for that benefit was around 0.5 per cent.”

She also countered the claims that the Government simply wanted to provide a better help to those who were the most disabled, as “the Minister [advised] to the House a few weeks ago that the new PIP benefit rates [would] be exactly the same as the DLA rates.”

It has also been pointed out that Esther McVey’s proposed changes were not in line with other government policies, as proved in the Department for Transport’s “Inclusive Mobility” guide. The document’s guidelines clearly state that seating should be provided on pedestrian routes every 50 metres or less, and that parking spaces for blue badge wearers should be no further than 50 metres from the facilities they serve.

The new PIP system was also attacked by MP Lucy Powell, who said that the way the assessment worked would be damaging to people with certain types of disabilities that are not constant. She gave the example of one of her constituents who suffers from arthritis and can walk for 20 metres or more “perfectly well” on certain days, but finds it very difficult “when her condition is particularly acute in her feet.”

Losing the “higher” level of disability status would also mean losing the benefits of the Motability scheme, which provides special vehicles for people in wheelchairs and with mobility difficulties. This would put more pressure on the carers, whose allowances could also be lost if certain disability benefits get withdrawn.

At present, there are 3.2 million people on DLA; it has been estimated that around 130 000 people – 200 in each constituency – will lose their Motability vehicle in the changes. Charity Carers UK has also warned that 24,000 carers could lose government help when PIP comes into effect.

Last May, over 5,000 disabled people protested against government cuts Photograph: Getty Images

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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