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.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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