Miliband aids blind man’s benefits battle

Cash fears ... Peter Bennetts, left, with the Royal National Institute for the Blind's Henri Murison.
Cash fears ... Peter Bennetts, left, with the Royal National Institute for the Blind's Henri Murison.

A BLIND dad is hoping the power of Twitter will help overturn Government benefits reforms threatening his financial future.

Worried Peter Bennetts, 56, fears he will lose virtually all his income when new rules on disability payments come in next year.

But he has taken heart after his MP David Miliband tweeted details of their meeting to his 82,000 followers.

Dad-of-two Mr Bennetts has also won the support of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the UK’s leading charity for those with sight loss.

It claims policy changes fail to take into account the very real disability that he and 450 other blind people in South Tyneside face.

Henri Murison, its regional campaigns officer, said: “Everyday tasks all create extra costs to people living with sight loss.

“We are glad David Miliband will be writing to the Government supporting Peter and others registered blind in South Tyneside.

“We urge the Government to ensure the country’s 42,000 blind and partially-sighted people are not left without the support they need to live independent lives.”


Mr Bennetts, of Berkely Street, near South Shields Town Hall, claims he stands to lose hundreds of pounds a month in benefits from next April.

That is when changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Incapacity Benefit (IB) – both of which he receives – start.

DLA will become known as Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and IB as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The ex-council senior education officer, whose eyesight started failing at 14 and who was registered blind in 1992, claims changes will leave him virtually on the breadline.

He believes only people in wheelchairs are likely to qualify almost automatically for higher rate PIP.

Others, including the visually impaired, will have to prove they are disabled enough in face-to-face meetings.

Divorcee Mr Bennetts, who retired in 2001 due to ill-health, also fears his small works pension will count against him under ESA.

He expects it to be taken into account if he has failed to find employment within a year of the rule changes – and may lead to his benefits being axed.

Mr Bennetts said: “These changes will impact on me and people like me in a most dramatic way. I had to give up work – who is likely to employ me now? It’s very difficult to cope as it is. Just close your eyes for a moment and imagine what it’s like – it is not a level playing field.

“Those like myself with a severe disability will no longer be entitled to the help and support we need to get around unless the Government changes it mind.

“I am glad that Mr Miliband is supporting local blind and partially-sighted people as we campaign to protect the money we rely on.”

Mr Miliband wrote on the social media site: “Moving surgery w/blind constituent on govt welfare bill.

“Because not in wheelchair he doesn’t count as disabled, also directing people to write to their MPs across the country on the issue.”

The South Shields MP told the Gazette: “Peter’s story is a powerful example of the dangers of the Government’s approach on welfare reform.

“I’m pleased to have been able to promote the good work that RNIB are doing in this area.”

The Department of Work and Pensions said DLA was outdated and a lack of checks had led to hundreds of millions of pounds in overpayments.

A spokesman added: “We are introducing a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews. This is to ensure support is going to those who need it most. Most individuals will have a face-to-face consultation with a health professional as part of their claim.

“This will provide individuals with an opportunity to explain how their impairment affects their everyday lives.

“We are re-assessing everyone who claims IB to see if they are fit for work, and not writing people off as happeed in the past.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazette