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.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left