DR UK PIP reform briefing

Thu,17 March 2016
News Benefits

PIP has always been about cutting disability benefit expenditure.

It has been estimated that the government’s cuts to personal independence payment (PIP) will reach nearly £4.4bn by 2020. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 370,000 disabled people will lose an average of £3,500 a year.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK said: "This change is another unwelcome blow to disabled people’s independence, and will impact on people’s ability to work, enjoy family life and take part in the communities they live in."

However, from the very start the rationale for the introduction of PIP been about reducing expenditure.

The announcement to abolish Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and introduce a new benefit was made in the Chancellor’s 2010 Budget.

However, before the new benefit had even been named and devised the central assumption for the policy was that it would result in a 20% reduction in DLA caseload and expenditure once fully rolled-out. An annual saving of £2.2 billion.

So while the Government has sought to maintain that its intention has always been to support those disabled people who need it most there was no review of what the extra costs of disability actually are.

But a disabled person's disability does not go away just because the government has decided to save 20% on its DLA bill. The only change will be that those affected will have to fund the higher costs of living out of their own pocket.

And those pockets are already threadbare. The 2013 National Statistics Office report showed that disability is one of the key indicators for living in poverty – with a third of disabled adults living in poverty (This is twice the rate of that for non-disabled adults). This figure was confirmed in 2014 by the New Policy Institute estimated who highlighted the extra costs of disability.

The NSO found that the main reason that disabled working-age adults are more likely to be in low-income households is because they are less likely to be in work.

The number of disabled people in work has risen over recent years.

However, only around half of disabled people are in employment and the gap between disabled people’s employment rate and the rest of the population has remained largely static.

The Government has pledged to halve the disability employment gap.

We wholeheartedly support this ambition.

But it is difficult to see how PIP reforms reducing a disabled person’s income by £3,500 a year can further this.

PIP is already cutting and cutting too far.

Recent figures show that nearly 14,000 disabled people have had their mobility cars taken away with almost half of DLA claimants being reassessed for PIP losing their Motability vehicle.

This a massive blow which impacts on their ability to remain independent, take part in their communities let alone to get and keep a job.

The latest DWP statistics show that only around 75% of DLA cases reassessed for PIP result in an award, with 50% of new claimants being unsuccessful.  

Equally concerning, is that the quality of PIP assessment and decision making is low – with around of 50% of decisions being successfully appealed.

The current situation would be bad enough but needs to be seen in the context of welfare reforms that have steadily reduced the living standards of disabled people over the past few years.

Around two-thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax have a disabled person resident, often with a room for a carer or customised for their needs. According to the government’s own study, nearly half of those households have had to cut back on spending on food and 78% routinely run out of money by the end of the week or month.

Again, just this month, Parliament agreed to reduce the amount of weekly employment and support allowance (ESA) paid to disabled people in the work related activity group from £103 to just £73 from April 2017 (to new claimants).

In addition, the work capability assessment itself (used to assess ESA eligibility) has been consistently criticised for failing disabled people.

For example, last year the British Psychological Society (BPS) endorsed the findings of Work and Pensions Committee and called for an 'end-to-end redesign' of the work capability assessment (WCA) highlighting that it does not effectively measure fitness for work and that its application is producing inappropriate outcomes:

“There is now a significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to  assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately, with people who are seriously physically and mentally ill being found fit for work ... Appeals against the decisions are running at approximately 50 per cent and around half of those appeals are upheld. The cost to the taxpayer from this alone is £50 million, with a similar amount being spent on reassessment.”

The DWP has acknowledged that more than half of ESA claimants who received a benefit sanctioned between April 2014 and March 2015 had mental health problems.

And the WCA is costing disabled people’s lives. This month civil servants have refused a freedom of information request that would show how many secret reviews the DWP has carried out into benefit-related suicides in the last 15 months. Disability News Service had asked the DWP to update the figures it released 15 months ago, which showed there had been 49 reviews into benefit-related deaths since February 2012, of which 40 had involved suicides or attempted suicides.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report that concluded that disabled people had been disproportionately hit hard by the government’s welfare reforms. It also concluded that assessing the overall impact of welfare reforms and spending cuts on disabled people was “feasible and practicable”, despite the Government claiming such a task was impossible even though the social security advisory committee said it could and should be done.

What should be done about PIP?

The main disadvantage to the current system of PIP descriptors, is that it does not accurately take into account the broad additional costs that many disabled people face as a result of their condition outside of the narrow focus of the daily living activities.

For example, the PIP assessment fails to take into account the additional costs of high heating bills if a person is housebound, or increased water bills because a person is incontinent and must regularly wash their clothes.

We would like to see an assessment which accurately reflect these additional costs.

In the short term, the Government needs to acknowledge the widespread criticisms of its proposed PIP reforms and press the off button on them.

But this will not solve the fundamental problems with PIP.

Instead the Government should halt the migration of DLA claimants to PIP and bring forward its planned 2017 independent review of PIP.

In addition, it must carry out a thorough research study of the actual extra costs of disability with a view of investing in a new benefit that will accurately and fairly assess individual disabled people’s extra costs.

It also needs to commission a report examining the cumulative impact on disabled people of welfare reform to date.

Finally a cross Government strategy is urgently needed to support independent living, with investment in effective support for people to work where they can. This would ‎mean more disabled people contributing to families, communities and the economy.