Disabled people are already carrying a disproportionately high burden of the austerity cuts, despite government claims of economic recovery.
Government ministers are planning to cut a key element of the Personal Independent Payment (PIP). Last year a consultation indicated that the Conservatives were considering ways of reducing eligibility criteria for the daily living component of PIP, by narrowing definitions of aids and appliances.
From January 2017, the cut is likely to hit people experiencing incontinence, who struggle to dress themselves, and those facing other fundamental barriers to health and essential basic care. The cut, it is estimated, will affect at least 640,000 disabled people by 2020.
Controversially, it is alleged that the cuts to disability benefit will fund tax cuts for the most affluent – the top 7% of earners. The Chancellor is set to raise the threshold at which people start paying 40p tax, in a move that will probably see many wealthier people pulled out of the higher rate of income tax, in the coming budget. Mr Osborne says he wants to “accelerate progress” towards the Conservative’s manifesto pledge of raising the threshold for the 40p rate to £50,000 in 2020, it is understood.
Meanwhile, under the plans announced on Friday, sick and disabled people will be much less likely to receive essential disabled benefits if they use aids such as a handrail or a walking stick to get dressed or use the toilet.
The Department for Work and Pensions reviewed a sample of 105 cases of people who had scored all, or the majority, of their points for PIP due to aids and appliances, in order to assess the extent to which the award may reflect extra costs.
The review led the government to conclude that PIP “doesn’t currently fulfil the original policy intent”, which was to cut costs and “target” the benefit to “those with the greatest need.” That originally meant a narrowing of eligibility criteria for people formerly claiming Disability Living Allowance, increasing the number of reassessments required, and limiting the number of successful claims.
Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced. Of course the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” simply reflects a government that has simply made a partisan political decision to cut disabled people’s essential income to fund a financial gift to the wealthiest citizens. There is no justification for this decision, nor is it “fair.”
The government now claim that the proportion of people awarded the daily living component of PIP, who scored all of their points because they need aids and appliances, has more that tripled, from 11 per cent in April 2014 to 35 per cent in 2015.
The PIP assessment currently examines an individual’s ability to complete ten daily living activities and two mobility activities. Regular reviews were also introduced by the last government to ensure that claimants continue to receive the “right level of support.”
The increase has largely been driven by a significant and sustained rise in relation to activities one, four, five and six: preparing food, washing and bathing, dressing and undressing, and managing incontinence and toileting. Around three-quarters of those who score all of their points through aids and appliances score the minimum number of daily living points needed to qualify for the standard rate of the daily living component.
The government ridiculously claim that the “evidence” presented to the review suggested that in some instances points were being awarded “… because claimants chose to use aids and appliances, rather than needed them.” And noted that in many cases “ these were non-specialised items of very low cost.”
However, it’s very difficult to justify cutting support for people who require aids to meet fundamental needs such as preparing food, dressing, basic and essential personal care and managing incontinence.
Ministers have now announced their intention to cut PIP for people who currently receive it to help them afford specially-adapted appliances and equipment. Examples of qualifying equipment currently includes adapted cutlery for people who find it difficult to hold things for long periods of time and specially-designed household items for people less able to stand.
Justin Tomlinson, the disabilities minister, said that the cuts to funding for aids and appliances for the disabled could save about £1bn a year and was announced the week before the budget. Charities warned that the cuts to personal independence payments (PIP) would be devastating after the move was confirmed by Tomlinson on Friday.
Tomlinson, said: “The introduction of Personal Independence Payment to replace the outdated Disability Living Allowance for working age claimants has been a hugely positive reform.
But it is clear that the assessment criteria for aids and appliances are not working as planned. Many people are eligible for a weekly award despite having minimal to no extra costs and judicial decisions have expanded the criteria for aids and appliances to include items we would expect people to have in their homes already.
We consulted widely to find the best approach. And this new change will ensure that PIP is fairer and targets support at those who need it most.”
Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” and they frequently do. The cuts of £120 a month to the disability benefit employment support allowance (ESA) are also claimed to be “fair.” and “supportive.” Though I have yet to hear an explanation of how this can possibly be the case. Ministers claimed that people subjected to the ESA Work Related Activity Group cuts could claim PIP if they required support with extra living costs, but now we are told that PIP is to be cut, too.
Bearing in mind the Department for Work and Pensions “review” was based on a sample of just 105 people, it’s very difficult to see how further inhumane cuts to the lifeline income for this group of amongst the most disabled citizens can possibly be justified. How did ministers “plan” the assessment criteria for aids and appliances to work, exactly? People qualifying for PIP need extra support in meeting their living costs.
A coalition of 25 disability charities has written to the Government to warn against plans that would strip some disabled people of a key payments meant to help them live more independent lives.
The Disability Benefits Consortium wrote to Justin Tomlinson, to argue that proposed changes to Personal Independence Payment – or PIP – assessments would have a “severe impact” on people’s security and make it harder for them to find work.
Debbie Abrahams, the shadow disabilities minister, said: “Removing support for people who need help to use the toilet or dress is an attack on dignity.”
“These further cuts would represent another huge blow, making life even more difficult for many people who already facing huge barriers.”
Phil Reynold, policy and campaigns adviser at Parkinson’s UK, said: “If someone needs aids and appliances to carry out the most basic tasks that most people take for granted then they clearly need ongoing support to live independently, which is often expensive. They should not be penalised by making personal independence payments even more difficult to claim.”
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society, said: “This decision could have a devastating impact on the lives of people with MS. In the worst cases, they could lose up to £150 a week.
PIP is an essential benefit which goes towards the extra cost of being disabled. The new plans will fail some of the most vulnerable people in society and we have serious concerns about the future health and welfare of those affected.”
The government is currently being investigated by the United Nations because of serious allegations that many of us have made regarding the welfare “reforms”, which have extended gross and systematic abuse of the human rights of disabled people. The UK is the first country to be subject to an investigation regarding the government’s failure to meet legal obligations to uphold disabled people’s human rights. In the 6th wealthiest nation of the world, and a so-called liberal democracy, this treatment of an already marginalised and protected social group is utterly shameful.
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