This year has been an extremely challenging year for many disabled people and today is a perfect example of just some of those challenges. Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that thousands of people are still waiting to be assessed for Personal Independence Payments and are struggling to access this vital benefit. Alongside this, an opposition debate on the bedroom tax is a reference to yet another policy that has had a hugely negative impact on disabled people.
The latest figures on PIP show that nearly half of claims (excluding those made by someone with a terminal illness) are still outstanding. Currently there are 245,000 new claimants and 46,600 DLA reassessment claimants still waiting for a decision on whether they will receive their benefit.
DLA played a huge role in covering the extra costs that can come with being disabled and supporting people to live full and active lives. It is vital that PIP now takes on this role.
Being assessed or reassessed for benefits is an extremely stressful process. A long wait for a decision can leave disabled people in limbo, unsure if they will get the support they need. For the deafblind people Sense supports the worry of assessors not understanding their disability and being unable to provide them with a fair assessment is also very real. Sensory impairments are complex and require specialist knowledge of the impact on a person’s day to day life. Over the past 18 months we have heard examples of people who are deafblind not being provided with the appropriate communication support or of assessors being unable to understand the impact of having both a sight and hearing impairment.
Similarly the bedroom tax has posed a huge challenge for many disabled people, who find themselves forced to pay extra for a “spare room” they need because of their disability. Space for extra equipment related to their disability or a room for an occasional overnight carer are both reasons that a disabled person might legitimately need an extra bedroom for and should not be forced to pay extra for.
The irony of the bedroom tax for some people who are deafblind is that in order to live independently they may need extensive mobility training so they can navigate around their home safely. Forcing them to downsize to a smaller property will then result in a person needing further mobility training and potentially a live-in carer to support them during the process. This is not a cost-effective measure and is an extremely stressful prospect for someone with little or no sight and hearing. It is wrong that these needs are not automatically exempt from the bedroom tax. Of course people can appeal, and in some cases an individual’s needs will be taken in to account. But again, this is a very stressful and not a situation that disabled people should have to face.
Disability benefits such as PIP aren’t just about the basics like food and heating that we often associate with welfare. They are about ensuring a good quality of life for disabled people. When we talk about PIP delays or the impact on the bedroom tax we aren’t just looking at the financial cost, it’s so much more than that. It’s about people being able to be part of their community and not feeling excluded because of their disability. These issues with benefits are also set against a backdrop of huge cuts to who is eligible for social care, leaving many disabled people struggling to get by. It is vital that these issues are prioritised in 2015.
Richard Kramer is deputy CEO of deafblind charity Sense