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.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.