When the eyes of the country were on Copeland and Stoke, the Conservative Government snuck out a proposed change to the social security system. One which ensures that 160,000 disabled people will not be able to access the full support they are entitled to – an effective cut worth £3.7bn.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) helps chronically sick and disabled people fund their living costs and, in particular, the additional financial costs faced by disabled people. Disability charity Scope has estimated that these additional costs amount to approximately £550 a month. Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people as a result of these additional costs, and PIP is a key source of income to prevent real hardship. Currently 600,000 disabled people are in receipt of the payment.
Not one but two tribunals have ruled that the Government should expand the reach of PIP. But instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of PIP assessments, the Government has decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings by stopping the change going ahead.
The first judgment held that needing support to take medication and monitor a health condition should be scored in the same way as needing support to manage therapy, like dialysis, undertaken at home.
The second held that someone who cannot make a journey without assistance due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulties navigating.
Instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of PIP assessments and correcting these injustices, this Government has decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings. The tribunal’s decision illustrated exactly how the PIP assessment process is just not fit for purpose.
Unusually, the Government did not consult the Social Security Advisory Committee before announcing the changes. The Secretary of State deemed it “inexpedient” on grounds of “urgency”.
The Government's own equality assessment shows that these changes will affect more than 150,000 disabled people cutting the proposed £4.7bn increase in the cost of PIP.
It is action like this which reveals this Government’s twisted priorities.
One can draw one’s own conclusion as to the reasons for the timing of this announcement, snuck out while the media watched two by-elections.
We also need to ask whether the urgency of the Government’s written statement is to demonstrate to the Office for Budget Responsibility its intent to supersede the legal judgments without which it would have had to increase the estimates for public spending on PIP ahead of next month’s Budget. Especially considering that 65 per cent of PIP assessments where the claimant is turned down are overturned at appeal.
This is another damning indictment of this Government’s cruel social security reforms targeted at the sick, disabled and poor during seven wasted years of austerity.
The minister for disability, health and work said she was reforming the payments to "restore the original aim of the benefit" to make sure that the most needy were given the right support.
The truth is that the Tories are failing to give support to those who need it most. They have failed to ensure that all assessments are undertaken fairly and by appropriately trained specialist staff, causing unnecessary and avoidable distress to claimants. A survey conducted by the MS Society found that 87 per cent of respondents felt the process of claiming social security such as PIP is stressful and in some cases they reported it had caused deterioration in their condition.
These proposed cuts are on top of those already underway through the 2012 and 2016 welfare reform acts, the cumulative effects of which has been estimated at £28bn, affecting 3.7 million disabled people. The Government needs to show through substantive action, not just appeasing words, that it is not rebuilding the economy on the backs of the poor and disabled. After all, the measure of a just society is how we treat our most vulnerable.
In stark contrast Labour is committed to transforming our social security system, based on the principles of inclusion, dignity and support. Through our Disability Equality programme we are working with disabled people to develop innovative new policies.
Labour will not stand by as this Government makes further draconian cuts to disability benefits. Enough is enough.
Debbie Abrahams MP is shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
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