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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Let 2016 be the year that Ireland gives women the right to choose

As we commemorate and celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising next year, we must remember that while the constitution was hard fought for it cannot be static. 

There is mounting pressure for the Irish government to look into decriminalising abortion. It has been growing since Savita Halappanavar’s death three years ago in a hospital in Galway due to complications during pregnancy. She was refused an abortion because Irish law forbids it. Earlier this month Irish women tweeted the Taoiseach Enda Kenny about their periods using the #repealthe8th in an attempt to bring attention to the issue. Now last Friday, Amnesty International published a letter calling for the decriminalisation of abortion internationally, signed by 838 doctors, most importantly this included some of Ireland’s leading healthcare professionals. This is the perfect time for political parties to commit to holding a referendum on the issue if elected they are elected and form the next government in 2016.

One part of the Irish legislative process I have always been proud of is the use of referendum and bringing serious questions to the electorate. It protects the constitution from changing on political whims or based on the beliefs of whatever party is in government. As such it remains a document of the people, it was after all put to vote before it was instituted in 1937. It also passes issues, which have proved contentious and in other countries have relied on the sympathy of lawmakers, by popular consent. Same sex marriage was legalised in a beautiful display of support, 62% of the electorate came out to vote for equality. Social media was full of pictures of Irish people living abroad going home especially for the referendum.

There has previously been a number referendums on abortion and following Savita’s death, the  Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013 was brought in which allowed abortion if the mother’s life was in danger. It was important and a sensible measure to bring in. However it resulted in serious splits and some contentious situations. Lucinda Creighton defied Fine Gael’s whip and found herself stripped of her ministry and ostracised, leading to the creation of her new party Renua Ireland. Creighton was recently asked if she would agree with aborting baby Hitler. This is the ridiculous side of the debate which doesn’t help either side. Many thought that the 2013 act was too quickly done and not properly explained or understood. A referendum is the best way to avoid this. The question can be explained properly and debated to give people access to more information. Once passed, it is done so with consent from a majority of the electorate and this makes it much more difficult to argue against its legitimacy than if it is forced through. The result is also binding regardless of the current government’s stance, you can have a second vote but you can’t force people to vote the other way.

Public support for legalising or extending abortion rights is there. A RedC poll for Amnesty International in July showed 67 per cent of people thought abortion should be decriminalised while 81 per cent thought it should be allowed in more situations. 45 per cent were in favour of abortion whenever a woman wanted it. It is not an overwhelming figure but if 45 per cent of people believe this should be instituted then they ought to be listened to and the question brought to the country.

Realistically, nothing will be done before the next election which is expected to be held in early 2016. However now is an excellent time for political parties to examine their stance on abortion and look at holding a referendum and making it part of their manifestoes. The new government will then be in a position to announce a new referendum on abortion as soon as they are in power. The last one was held in 2002, meaning that many young people particularly women at the height of their fertility have never actually had a say on this matter.

As we commemorate and celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising next year, we must remember that while the constitution was hard fought for it cannot be static. The world that its authors inhabited is not the same as the one we live in today. The constitution has changed to bring peace to Northern Ireland, to legalise divorce and same sex marriage, let 2016 be the year it changes to give women the freedom to choose.