Disability Poverty Campaign Group statement on Modernising Support for Independent Living: The Health and Disability Green Paper.

Tue,30 April 2024
News Benefits
Yesterday, Mel Stride MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced plans to reform the benefits system which has now been set out in a paper entitled Modernising Support for Independent Living: The Health and Disability Green Paper. The paper outlines the current government's proposals for changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), with proposed changes to the current eligibility criteria and assessments.

PIP is an extra cost benefit, designed to meet the additional costs Disabled people face, to help put us on a level playing field with non-disabled citizens. These additional costs include accessible taxis; wheelchairs and servicing costs; parts and insurance; incontinence products; the costs associated with extra laundry needs for bedding and clothing; specialist bedding; the costs associated with charging and running disability-related equipment; personal assistance costs and more.

Stride yesterday set out a proposal to “move away from a fixed cash-benefit system,” which would mean many Disabled people eligible for PIP would no longer receive a regular benefit payment. Instead, Stride explained, as now seen in their paper, the government proposes the introduction of a PIP voucher system, as well as directly funded access to treatments.

The language used by Secretary of State Stride and the Prime Minister in their interviews about these proposals cannot go unchallenged. In fact, there were many inaccuracies voiced by both in the media yesterday, inaccuracies about the volume of PIP payments, and access to them that could foster a growing resentment by many towards Disabled people.

The Disability Campaign Group wishes to make it clear to both that the hostile and misleading rhetoric they are opting to use as a precursor to their general election campaign launch is creating considerable distress across the Disabled community, at a time of exceptional financial hardship for Disabled households. This hardship is being driven by inflationary pressures, personal debt, negative budgets, long waiting times for the medical and mental health support needed to return to employment and rising social care charges. 

Our elected representatives in government have a statutory duty to uphold the Public Sector Equality Duty. The PSED requires our government to take into account how their policies will affect people with the protected characteristic of disability. We are concerned that the PSED is not being upheld in these proposals, nor in the language being used to discuss the proposals. 

It has become increasingly apparent in recent days that the Government are intentionally misrepresenting the realities of the disability benefits system, and the reasons why the benefits system is being increasingly relied upon by Disabled people in financial need. We remind politicians of the reality that PIP is not an out-of-work benefit: Disabled people in full-time employment can be, and are, assessed as eligible for PIP. 

We want to register in the strongest possible terms our objections to political language that seeks to divide communities, misrepresents the reality of the mental distress crisis in our country, and appears to be intended to oversimplify the complex barriers to employment faced by Disabled people.

The failure to ensure the population and the economy were adequately protected during the pandemic, the failure to address the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis, and the systemic breaches of Disabled people's rights noted by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this month, have resulted in rights-breaching levels of disability poverty in the UK. The government know the reasons why the benefits system is being used more widely. They are not being honest with the electorate.

We call upon Mel Stride MP to accept the logic of cause and effect resulting from his government's mishandling of our economy and the societal drivers of rising rates of disability. This would require him to accept this government's failure to implement a social tariff to protect low-income Disabled households faced with unpayable utility costs. It would ask him to acknowledge the dehumanising impact of providing ''vouchers'' in lieu of PIP cash payments and to accept the cash-first best practice approach to assisting low-income households set out by the Trussell Trust and the Greater Manchester Poverty Action Group, to name two third-sector experts in poverty. It would involve him addressing the data gathered by Citizen's Advice that illustrates that disabled households are disproportionately in situations of negative budget.

We remind Mel Stride MP that the government's justification for introducing PIP was that the previous benefit, DLA, did not fully recognise mental health impairments in Disabled experience. Yet now, we are seeing the government attempt to discredit its own argument and undermine disabled claimants with mental health-related PIP eligibility. 

Being offered vouchers in any proposed reform insults PIP recipients who are rigorously assessed, and reassessed, to determine their entitlement to PIP. We will use all possible avenues to challenge the implication that Disabled people eligible for PIP lack the capacity to manage cash-based income and ask Mel Stride MP to publicly acknowledge the range of expenses that PIP is used to meet.

Despite the lobbying of our sector, the government has chosen to end the Household Support Fund from September 2024, closing an important route for disabled people to seek financial support with the cost of living. The DWP's own data clearly shows the extent to which disabled households were drawing upon that lifeline.

We need our government to be willing to enter respectful, productive coproduction agreements with Disabled people and their organisations, to make policy on benefits work. We have offered the cooperation and expertise of our community countless times to numerous Ministers. But the door to coproduced policy is never opened. We know the Prime Minister and his government are seeking to weaponise Disabled people's poverty with their dishonest and divisive rhetoric to hide the deficiencies of their own failed legislation and years in office. We know they are playing games to secure media attention in the run up to a general election in which their party is expected to loss many of their MPs. We know some of those MPs are seeking to keep their seats by seemingly stoking division. 

The DPCG will continue our work fighting for a fair and rights-based welfare system for all entitled to that support. The benefits system must change—on that we agree—but the change must be understanding, investment and an acceptance of responsibility from Government for decades of neglect and blame focused on our community.