Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Welfare Reform Bill: What's Wrong with Personal Independence Payments?

Edited on Monday 9th January to add a link to the report Responsible Reform [pdf]. Please read it and spread the word.

I put this together in my snail-like manner over Christmas, together with two other posts about the Welfare Reform Bill which is going to the vote in the House of Lords in the next few weeks. I mean these posts to be basic primers for anyone who doesn't know what's going on with disability benefits in the UK. Tomorrow, Kaliya, Sue and others are publishing their research project on the way the government has handled the abolition of Disability Living Allowance, so it seemed a good moment to post my little summary.

Personal Independence Payments are set to replace Disability Living Allowance, a UK state benefit awarded to disabled people who need help getting around or looking after themselves. This benefit has nothing to do with whether or not someone is in work, and is not means-tested in any way. The current criteria are very strict, fraud is estimated at under 0.5% and legitimate claimants frequently have to go through a demoralising appeals process in order to get the benefit. Despite the public shock at Sue's recent rejection, I don't think I know anyone with a subjective condition (one dominated by pain, fatigue, weakness or mental symptoms) who has not been turned down at least once. In fifteen years, I have been turned down twice, appealing successfully both times.

The Government have made it clear that they wish to reduce the DLA caseload by 20%  in order to save money. There is no evidence, not a scrap, that anyone claiming DLA has more money than they need - check out the Where's the Benefit? Podcast for some examples of what this money is currently spent on. The Government have also frequently muddled the issues of Disability Living Allowance and incapacity-type benefits, speaking as if reducing the numbers on DLA equates with getting more disabled people into work. On the contrary, DLA is an essential benefit which enables many disabled people to stay in work.

The criteria for Personal Independence Payments [pdf] are not yet set in stone, but they are stricter than the already very narrow DLA criteria and there are some things which are quite clear. In May, Lisa read the draft criteria and found that she, as someone with congenital impairments and chronic illnesses which stop her working, walking more than a few steps and put her at ongoing risk of broken bones (she has broken her back rolling over in her sleep), would be entitled to nothing.

 The most significant changes are:
  •  Someone who is able to propel their own wheelchair will be treated as if they have no trouble getting around at all, as if anywhere they might work, live in, shop or visit and any vehicles they travel in will be completely accessible. This is an absolute disaster for manual wheelchair-users.
  • The need for ongoing supervision is not mentioned in the PIP draft criteria. Currently, DLA is awarded to people who need a great deal of supervision at home (e.g. to be around if they fit, fall or faint in dangerous cirumstances, to make sure they don't harm themselves or wander off etc) and to people who need someone with them when out and about. Quite obviously, if people don't have the supervision they need, they are going to run into serious trouble.
DLA is a gateway benefit. For example, if you are in receipt of the middle or higher rare Care Component of DLA, then a partner, friend or family member who is unable to work full time because of their caring responsibilities may be able to claim Carer's Allowance.  Receiving some rates of DLA can mean being exempt from VAT when you buy essential equipment.  If you are in receipt of the higher rate Mobility Component of DLA, you are automatically eligible for a Blue Badge. You can also use your benefit to rent a suitable adapted car through the Motobility Scheme (nobody gets a free car!).

The Blue Badge and Motobility Schemes subsidise disabled car-use for a very good reason. While many non-disabled people regard their cars and car use as essential, people with mobility impairments have absolutely no choice about needing to use a car, needing to park in busy or expensive car parks or directly outside the place they're going to, including their own homes.  Often we don't have any choice about the type of car we need, because we need adaptions or we need a large enough vehicle to carry paraphernalia like wheelchairs, scooters and so on. Many wheelchair-users will lose this help altogether.

These changes are going to lead to  

1. A major increase in unemployment among disabled people. 

Public Transport is not wheelchair accessible and even when it is, wheelchair-users frequently face discrimination. The move to PIP will mean that some employed wheelchair-users will lose their means of getting into work, if they are no longer eligible for the Motobility scheme and can't otherwise afford to run a car or take taxis everyday. Wheelchair-using job-seekers will have their chances of employment reduced even further, because they may not be able to travel further than they can roll.  Given that, as Emma points out, even our streets and pavements aren't yet fully wheelchair accessible, this may not be very far at all.

The changes to the Care Component will also effect people's ability to work in less obvious ways.

2. A major increase in hospital admissions, medical emergencies and preventable deaths among disabled people.

Last month, Lisa wrote a powerful post about the new PIP, describing how she wouldn't survive without the help she currently gets, and if she did, her quality of life would be so poor that it would not be worth going on with. If disabled people don't get the help we need to pay for support, appropriate equipment, transport and so on, then depending on our cirucmstances and personal priorities, then we will be forced to
  •  Do much less. Go out less, have less social contact, quit our jobs, get less exercise, shop less, cook less, maybe eat less and certainly wash less. None of this is good for our physical or mental health. Our worlds will shrink and our health, happiness and life expectancy will adjust accordingly. 
  • Try to manage without the appropriate support, equipment and so on. This could mean attempting to push beyond our limitations, until our bodies or minds give up and things start falling off. Where there is a need for supervision, managing without supervision is likely to prove extremely dangerous. The physical isolation involved in losing our cars or money to get around is far more dangerous because we are disabled. 
People spend their DLA on a whole variety of different things, as you can hear in the Where's the Benefit? Podcast. Some of those items are about quality of life, such as being able to leave the house, see friends and family and so on. But most of these things are about survival; eating, basic hygiene, getting appropriate rest and sleep, taking medication, attending medical appointments and so on.

Without this help, people will get sick, people will get hurt and some people will die.

3. A major increase in the social segregation of disabled people. 

Sometimes people remark that there seem to be far more visably disabled people about these days; wheelchair and scooter users, people with white canes or assistance dogs, people walking with sticks or crutches. And you know what? This is almost certainly true.

Some of us could only have survived infancy in the last three or four decades. Some of us wouldn't survive even day to day life without modern medicine. However, a huge number of us would have lived, but would have never been able to leave the house even twenty or thirty years ago. And then, even if we did, there would have been not much to do and not many places we could go.

As Mary says, disabled people are not dead. Most of us are capable of living full and enjoyable lives, if we get the help and accommodation we need. DLA has played an important part in that.

Disability Living Allowance has been a huge part of increasing equality for disabled people.  It has been our means of working around the problems of a disabling world, our means of, at least partially leveling the playing field and doing it ourselves - not relying on charities or government organisations to determine exactly what we need in the way of transport or help at home. Personal Independence Payments threaten this for a great number of people.

1 comment:

Maddy said...

I've been keeping an eye on this. It's ok when Nonna's out here with us, but when she goes back.......