Social Justice

'It makes me want to scream': PIP changes could be 'tragic' for disabled people, DWP warned

As the government officially publishes its proposed changes to personal independence payment (PIP), campaigners, charities and MPs react

mel stride/ dwp

Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, spoke in parliament on Monday (29 April). Image: Palriamentlive.tv

The government has officially announced proposals which could see personal independence payments (PIP) replaced with one-off grants, as part of reforms which experts fear could have “dangerous” and “tragic” consequences for disabled people.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has today (29 April) launched a 12-week consultation into the plans, during which people will be invited to share their views. It comes as a green paper, Modernising Support, is published and sets out the proposals in full.

Speaking in parliament, work and pensions secretary Mel Stride said: “This government’s priority is to make sure the welfare system is fair and compassionate – fair on the taxpayer, by ensuring that people of working age who can work do work, and fair on those who are most in need of the state’s help.

“Welfare at its best is about more than just benefit payments, it is about changing lives for the better. In recent years, the government has delivered successive reforms to provide a system that is fairer and more compassionate while delivering for the taxpayer.”

There are now 2.6 million people of working age claiming PIP and disability living allowance (DLA) – with 33,000 new awards for PIP each month, which is more than double the rate before the pandemic. This is expected to cost the taxpayer £28bn a year by 2028/29, a 110% increase in spending since 2019.

But as campaigners have pointed out, cuts to public services and a surge in poverty have led to increased ill-health and benefits cuts will not eradicate this problem, but could push more people into dire straits and cost the taxpayer more money in the long term.

PIP helps people afford these extra costs of having a long-term physical or mental health condition or disability, as well as helping people who have difficulty doing everyday tasks or getting around because of their condition.

Depending on the results of the PIP assessment, people can receive a minimum of £29 a week and a maximum of £184 a week.

Stride claimed that some disabled people may only have “small one-off costs” while others will need long-term help. He said the government hopes to “move away from the fixed cash benefits system so that people can receive more tailored support in line with their needs”.

On average, disabled households (with at least one disabled adult or child) need an additional £975 a month to have the same standard of living as non-disabled households, according to Scope.

A disability benefits claimant and activist who goes by the name of Ben Claimant said: “I find it very upsetting and it makes me want to scream. I am already seeing distress from my disabled friends.

“Mel Stride said today that he is determined to give sick and disabled people the right help, but how is cutting their income and replacing it with job application forms helping them? It takes his ideological belief that work is healthy to extremes.”

The government is proposing changes to PIP entitlement, which could potentially see fewer people being found eligible for PIP. But the benefit is already difficult to access – just 41% of people are awarded PIP if claiming for the first time, but the success rate of those who appeal PIP decisions is around 70%.

As the Big Issue has previously reported, the appeals process can be “traumatic”, lengthy and put people off challenging their decision.

The DWP has forked out more than £350m over the last decade in staff costs in an attempt to uphold decisions about PIP, according to freedom of information requests obtained by the Big Issue last year.

That is enough to cover the highest level of PIP payments for 36,500 people for an entire year. 

Mikey Erhardt, campaigner at Disability Rights UK, said: “At the end of the day, we all want the right support when we need it. We know that polls report that people want extra spending on benefits, not these dangerous changes, which, if unchecked, will make the UK’s social security system, already one of Western Europe’s least generous, even worse.

“PIP is a vital piece of social infrastructure, and the unspoken agenda of the government’s changes is to reduce the number of disabled people receiving the crucial support we rely on. Because of punitive government policies over the last decade, we have already lost average benefit payments of around £1,200 a year.”

The new announcements around PIP come on top of planned changes to the work capability assessment, which will lead to lower benefits or higher work-search conditions for around 457,000 people by 2028/29. 

Mel Stride claimed this will help more people into employment, but the Big Issue has reported that only 0.3% of those hit by these proposed benefit cuts will find work.

Ben Claimant said: “I’m really worried these welfare reforms will have dangerous, tragic consequences for some of those people. And what makes it worse, it was only last week that the UNCRPD report warned that the government’s reforms and rhetoric had resulted in hate speech and hostility towards disabled people.

“The government states it wants to use these welfare reforms in the forthcoming elections. They are hoping prejudice is a vote winner.”

The government has said the benefits bill is rising at an “unsustainable rate” because the number of people claiming for mental health conditions has soared. It has also previously announced plans to increase conditionality and sanctions to eradicate a so-called “sick note” culture.

But charities have warned that this punitive approach could push people into poverty, increase anxiety and poor health and have the adverse impact on pushing people further away from work and putting further pressures on the NHS.

Erhardt added: “Rather than focusing on blaming us, it is the policies of the DWP that are not working. Their punishing approach, which is obsessed with austerity, sanctions and conditionality, has fuelled increases in disability and sickness by under-resourcing not just the social security system but also health services, social care, education, housing and transport, excluding us from opportunities and driving us into poverty.

“It is simply naive to pretend that the world of work is open and accessible for those disabled people who want to work. The minister’s comments assume that we don’t work when we could – and the way to increase employment levels is to force us into unsafe, unsustainable, and exploitative work. 

“It’s clear from the fact that the disability employment gap has barely reduced since 2019 that these punitive policies simply don’t work, and the only way to close the disability employment gap is to remove the many systemic barriers that we face.

“Disabled people are not a scapegoat for a failing economy; we are a diverse, thriving community that deserves improved opportunities and access to employment and services that everyone, no matter their background, wants.”

It’s important to remember that these plans are likely to be a long way off, and the Conservative government may no longer be in power by the end of this year. Labour has also spoken about plans to reform the benefit system and drive people into work.

Alison McGovern, shadow minister for employment and social security, said: “The secretary of state wants my views on his, until this moment, unpublished thoughts – what was the problem? Was the printer jammed? Or rather, was it that the prime minister and secretary of state realised that once they published it, everyone would realise the truth about this government?

“It is long on questions and short on answers. This green paper is not a plan. It’s an exam that the secretary of state is hoping that he will never have to sit. He is hoping that he will be long gone before any of this is a reality. So can the secretary of state tell me where this leaves the government’s earlier half-baked plan with the work capability assessment, giving that that was to use the PIP assessment? He says some health conditions can be taken out of PIP assessments, which conditions?

“Do the government’s plans involve treating people with mental and physical health differently, and can he tell me the basis for doing so? Isn’t this green paper a huge admission of Tory failure in the NHS given it takes as its starting point the fact that people can’t get the treatment and care that they need?”

The consultation will also consider changes to PIP entitlement, and the PIP assessment could be reformed or removed entirely for those who are most unwell.

Ceri Smith, head of policy at the MS Society, on behalf of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said: “This consultation is cynical and cruel, unjustly targeting disabled people, including those with MS.

“MS can be debilitating, exhausting and unpredictable, and PIP is a lifeline to many, helping to fund the extra costs of being disabled. In many cases, it can actually help people stay in work and maintain their independence for longer. 

“If the government truly wants a ‘stronger, healthier and fairer society’, they should start by addressing NHS waiting lists and fixing social care. Instead, this approach will punish disabled people and push even more into poverty.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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