I’m beyond exhausted. Since 13 December, when the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 were tabled, I’ve barely stopped. I’m passionate about all ill-advised and incompetent welfare changes that affect disabled and sick people, but I confess I’m even more passionate about this one, as it affects me. I hope that doesn’t shock you; we’re all more motivated by issues that affect us personally, it’s only human.
Once we’d analysed the regulations, it was clear there was some reason to rejoice, but also much to concern us. The positive news was that the Government has decided on a longer, phased implementation period, such that DLA claimants with indefinite awards won’t have to apply for PIP until October 2015 and thereafter – after the next general election. This is obviously a political stunt, dressed up as ‘listening'; it’s clear the Coalition parties don’t want media reports of hundreds of thousands of disabled people losing their Motability vehicles on their watch, so what better idea than to dump it onto the next Government? After all, the likelihood of Labour being willing and able to reform PIP in five short months if they win the election in May 2015 has to be slim. And anyway, that’s of no comfort to the 30% of DLA claimants on time-limited awards who expect to have to apply for PIP before 2015.
In front of the Work & Pensions Select Committee on 21 January it was amusing, in a ‘black humour’ kind of way, to listen to Esther McVey, the Minister for Disabled People, deny all responsibility for her department’s own projections of the number of people expected to be claiming different combinations of PIP components in 2018, once the implementation is complete. But let’s not knock it – at least the delay gives a glimmer of hope that substantial changes could be made when PIP is reviewed in 2014.
Whilst PIP is a deeply flawed benefit, and there are numerous problems with the criteria and process for assessment, in mid-December we decided there were two especially worrying issues relating to the draft regulations:
- Although most organisations who responded to the consultation thought the qualification that a claimant should only be considered able to undertake an activity if they could undertake it ‘reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner’ should be given legal force by their inclusion in the regulations themselves, the Government had decided these definitions should only be included in guidance.
- In order to be eligible for the enhanced mobility component of PIP, and therefore the Motability scheme, claimants who have difficulties moving around (but have no problems planning or following a journey) would have to show they are able to walk up to 20 metres and no further. This is a ridiculously short distance, insufficient to provide a practical level of mobility.
Campaigning has been frantic, with many disabled people contacting their MP’s and the Work and Pensions Select Committee to express their concerns about both of the above issues. In the public domain, our PR consultant achieved an impressive level of media exposure and as usual the Spartacus network used social networking to get the message out. Quietly behind the scenes we liaised with individual Parliamentarians, mainly peers (the House of Lords seems so much more representative of disabled people, with several wheelchair users, at least one blind member and a few other disabled members!) and we know that individual Parliamentarians have also negotiated hard behind the scenes. A significant list of Parliamentary briefings, case studies, analysis documents and media reports have been collected at http://wearespartacus.org.uk/pip-factsheet/.
On Thursday 31 January came the official announcement of the Government’s decision that the definitions of ‘reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner’ would be included in regulation and given legal force after all. That’s another win, and we can rejoice, mostly because it indicates the Government feels it must start to listen. But you may feel it’s worth reading the amendment regulations before getting too excited – you can find them at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/pip-draft-amendment-regs-2013.pdf; judge for yourselves. I’ve been joking they’re almost short enough to fit into a tweet!
But…. there’s always a but! We’re still faced with criteria that mean someone who can walk reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner for more than the ludicrously short distance of 20 metres could lose their entitlement to the enhanced mobility component of PIP and hence the Motability scheme (or, of course, the resources to fund an alternative means of independent mobility). Since most wheelchair users can walk, if not very far, this means that disabled people could lose adapted cars and expensive, complex wheelchair conversions. That includes me, as I explained at http://janeyoung.me.uk/2013/01/01/how-welfare-reform-will-take-away-my-independence/. This really matters – not only to me, but to many thousands of others who have significant difficulties getting around.
As we approach the home straight in this leg of the campaign, I’ve sent a briefing to those MP’s who will be debating the PIP regulations in committee on Tuesday afternoon, 5 February. As you’ll see from the briefing, our barrister is advising that the lack of consultation on the 20 metres may be challenged in the courts. If such a challenge is possible, we’ll do our best to get it up and running, for the sake of all those with physical mobility difficulties whose independent mobility is threatened by the current criteria for the enhanced mobility component of PIP.
We’ve won some important battles but we’ve not yet won the war. It will be unacceptable for several hundred thousand disabled people to be unable to leave their homes, visit their GP surgery or the hospital, visit friends, take their kids to school, participate in voluntary work or be reliant on the Access to Work scheme to get to work. Independent mobility matters to all of us, including disabled people, so we keep fighting.