Emma Lewell-Buck: PIP assessments in urgent need of overhaul

Claimants have won 65% of appeals against PIP assessment decisions.
Claimants have won 65% of appeals against PIP assessment decisions.
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Personal Independence Payments help chronically sick and disabled people to fund their living costs and in particular, the additional financial costs faced by them.

After already being hit hard by seven years of painful austerity cuts, the Government has recently pressed ahead with more changes to the payment that will see more than 160,000 people lose their entitlement.

We already know that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people as a result of the additional living costs associated with having a disability.

PIP is a key source of income to prevent this hardship.

In fact, the charity Scope has estimated that these additional costs amount to approximately £550 per month.

The changes put forward by the Government came after two tribunals ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions should expand the reach of PIP.

But instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of PIP assessments, they have decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings by introducing punitive changes that will cause damage to those who rely on PIP.

The tribunals said claimants should receive more points in the ‘mobility’ assessment if they suffer from ‘overwhelming distress’ when travelling alone, and also recommended more points in the ‘daily living’ element for people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition.

Not only is this Government content to show contempt for our judiciary, it has also ignored efforts by opposition MPs and a petition signed by more than 185,000 people demanding the changes be halted.

The 2015 replacement of Disability Living Allowance with PIP has been a disaster from the outset.

It is clear that one of the key premises of this change was to deny many people the payment.

With more than 65% of appeals against decisions being successful, it is leaving people in little doubt that the tightened entitlements and imposition of unqualified people carrying out the assessments was a deliberate design by a callous Government.

In my time in Parliament, I have rarely been as disgusted as I have been when Government Secretaries of State and Ministers come to the House to defend policies and policy changes such as this.

A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission said progress towards equality in the past 20 years was “littered with missed opportunities.”

The report, Being Disabled in Britain: A Journey Less Equal, covers six key areas - education, work, standard of living, health and care, justice and detention, and participation and identity.

Shockingly, it found that disabled people in the UK were experiencing disadvantages in all those areas.

It is outrageous that in modern 21st century Britain people are being disadvantaged because they have an illness or a disability.

The Government must now take speedy and effective action to overhaul the PIP assessment process, including revoking the emergency PIP regulations discriminating against people with mental health conditions, reviewing the contracts of private assessment providers and ensuring a ‘get it right first time’ approach to assessments.

Labour will continue to fight hard for the rights of all of those in our society who need support through no fault of their own.