Up to 500 disabled people every week have had to give back the vehicles that help them stay independent because of a new tough benefits rule.
The Government "Motability" scheme allows disabled people to lease mobility scooters, electric wheelchairs and cars.
But every week, between 400 and 500 people are forced to hand over their vehicles after a controversial “20-metre rule” was introduced, according to a report by a leading charity.
The survey by Muscular Dystrophy UK also found people living with disabilities suffered serious delays getting their benefits.
To qualify for a vehicle under the new Personal Independent Payments (Pip) system, a person must not be able to walk for 20 metres. This is less than half the 50-metre limit the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) enforced previously.
By the end of 2016, 35,000 are expected to have lost their vehicles over the course of the year.
“This is having a devastating effect on quality of life and levels of independence,” the report said.
Almost 40 per cent of the 300 people with muscle-wasting conditions the charity surveyed in 2015 had delays while applying for benefits, resulting in more than 30 per cent experiencing financial hardship.
One in five had to wait more than six months for an appointment to assess their eligibility for benefits.
A third of respondents felt they were not treated with dignity by their assessors.
“Having a progressive illness is difficult enough without being treated as though you are exaggerating. I struggled not to sink into deep depression,” Joyce Matthews, who has myotonic dystrophy, told researchers.
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
1/7 Closing Remploy factories
The Work and Pensions Secretary called time on Britain’s system of Remploy factories, which provided subsidised and sheltered employment to disabled people. People employed at the factories protested against their closure and said they provided gainful work. “Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?” Mr Duncan Smith said at the time, defending the decision. “I promise you this is better.” The Remploy organisation was privatised and sold to American workfare provider Maximus, with the majority of the organisation’s factories closed. The future of the remaining sites is unclear
2/7 Scrapping the Independent Living Fund
The £320m Independent Living Fund was established in 1988 to give financial support to people with disabilities. It was scrapped on July 1 2015, with 18,000 often severely disabled people losing out by an average of £300 a week. The money was generally used to help pay for carers so people could live in communities rather than institutions. Councils will get a boost in funding to compensate but it will not cover the whole cost of the fund. This new cash also doesn’t have to be spent on the disabled
3/7 Cut payments for the disabled Access To Work scheme
Iain Duncan Smith is bringing forward a policy that will reduce payments to some disabled people from a scheme designed to help them into work. The £108m scheme, which helps 35,540 people, will be capped on a per-used basis, potentially hitting those with the more serious disabilities who currently receive the most help. The single biggest users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and hearing. The cut will come in from October 2015. The charity Disability UK says the scheme actually makes the Government money because the people who gain access to work tend pay tax that more than covers its cost. The DWP does not describe the reduction as a “cut” and says it will be able to spread the money more thinly and cover more people
4/7 Cut Employment and Support Allowance
The latest Budget included a £30 a week cut in disability benefits for some new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Government says it is equalising the rate of disability benefits with Jobseekers Allowance because giving disabled people more help is a “perverse incentive”. The people affected by this cut are those assessed as having a limited capability for work but as being capable of some “work-related activity”. A group of prominent Catholics wrote to Mr Duncan Smith to say there was “no justification” for this cut. Mental health charity Mind, said the cut was “insulting and misguided”
5/7 Risk homelessness with a sharp increase disability benefit sanctions
Official figures in the first quarter of 2014 found a huge increase in sanctions against people reliant on ESA sickness benefit. The 15,955 sanctions were handed out in that period compared to 3,574 in the same period the year before, 2013 – a 4.5 times increase. The homelessness charity Crisis warned at the time that the sharp rise in temporary benefit cuts was “cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness”. “It is difficult to see how they are meant to help people prepare for work,” Matt Downie, director of policy at the charity added
6/7 Sending sick people to work because of broken fitness to work tests
In 2012 a government advisor appointed to review the Government’s Work Capability Assessment said the tests causing suffering by sending sick people back to work inappropriately. “There are certainly areas where it's still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement,” Professor Malcolm Harrington concluded. The tests are said to have improved since then, but as recently as this summer they are still coming in for criticism. In June the British Psychological Society said there was “now significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately”. It called for a full overhaul of the way the tests are carried out. The WCA appeals system has also been fraught with controversy with a very high rate of overturns and delays lasting months and blamed for hardship
7/7 The bedroom tax
The Government’s benefit cut for people who it says are “under-occupying” their homes disproportionately affects disabled people. Statistics released last year show that around two-thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty, widely known as the ‘bedroom tax’, are disabled. There have been a number of high profile cases of disabled people being moved out of specially adapted homes by the policy. In one case publicised by the Sunday People last week, a 48 year old man with cerebral palsy was forced to bathe in a paddling pool after the tax moved him out of his home with a walk-in shower. The Government says it has provided councils with a discretionary fund to help reduce the policy’s impact on disabled people, but cases continue to arise
Pip is not means-tested – instead it uses a points system to evaluate how heavily a person’s disability affects their life. The more points, the higher the benefits payment.
The DWP has launched a review into Pip, although it will not be concluded until April 2017.
“Whilst we welcome the Government’s announcement of a review into Pip as an acknowledgement that much needs to change, we are concerned by the eight-month timeframe," Nic Bungay, a director of Muscular Dystrophy UK told The Independent.
"As we await the review’s findings, countless disabled people will undergo stressful and inaccurate assessments. It is disturbing that this flawed process will result in many more losing their Motability vehicles.
"The DWP must act now to ensure disabled people are treated with respect and provided with the support they rightly deserve.
“The DWP’s shocking ‘20-metre’ rule is stripping thousands of disabled people across Britain of vital lifelines to their independence. It is simply unacceptable that those judged able to walk just 20-metres are being considered fit and forced to return their Motability vehicles," he added
The Pip support allowance made headlines in March, when the Government announced plans to heavily cut the points afforded to people with disabilities, resulting in a planned £4.4bn saving by 2020.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said this cut would have seen 370,000 disabled people lose around £3,500 per year. The Government later backed down on the policy, which proved unpopular.
The Independent approached the DWP with the findings of the report. A spokesperson said: “The PIP process is continuing to work effectively and we are committed to working with our providers to ensure claimants get the best possible level of service.
“People are waiting just seven weeks on average for a PIP assessment and there are now more people on the Motability scheme than before PIP was introduced.
"Anyone leaving the scheme is eligible for a one-off payment of £2,000 to help meet their mobility needs," they said.