The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released new guidance
for benefits ‘decision-makers’ as part of recently announced changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
PIP is awarded to cover the extra costs that disabled people face, and is gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance. Recently the Upper Tribunal ruled that people who need support to make journeys because of overwhelming psychological distress should be eligible for the higher rate of PIP to cover the costs of that support. Two weeks ago, the Government announced that they want to change the law so that they don’t have to follow the court’s ruling.
There has been widespread criticism of the emergency legislation, which will come into effect on Thursday (16th of March). Critics claim that the legislation discriminates against people with mental health problems and may affect up to 160,000 people with, for example, severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.
The Government claims that the legislation, which changes the wording of key descriptors that assessors use to decide if someone is eligible for the higher rate of PIP, is merely intended to clarify the original intention of PIP. The updated guidance includes the following case study:
Sukhi suffers from severe anxiety and claims she needs someone with her for reassurance when going out at all times as otherwise she suffers from very severe panic attacks, sweating and breathlessness. Sukhi has sought an award under mobility descriptor 1f as she cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person. However, the [decision maker] determines that because of the wording of mobility descriptor 1f (“for reasons other than psychological distress, cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid”), any problems following the route due to psychological distress are not relevant. Consequently the [decision maker] awards 4 points under mobility descriptor 1b “needs prompting to be able to undertake any journey to avoid overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant”.
Responding to the updated guidance, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind said:
“The purpose of PIP is to cover the extra costs people incur because of a disability – decisions makers shouldn’t discriminate between disabilities on the basis of their cause, but decisions should be based on the impact of the disability. People who struggle to leave the house without support may face the same costs whether their difficulties arise from, for example, a sensory disability or severe anxiety or other mental health problems. Yet those making decisions about the level of support someone will receive will now be explicitly told to disregard those barriers if they are a result of someone’s mental health problem.
“This move undermines the Government’s commitment to look at disabled people as individuals, rather than labelling them by their condition, and completely goes against the Government’s commitment to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health. It also undermines a specific commitment the Government made in 2012, when introducing PIP, that people with mental health problems who struggle to plan or follow journeys would be treated the same as other disabled people. For people with mental health problems, getting the right benefits can mean the difference between whether someone can get to work or appointments, whether they can see friends and family – the same problems that would affect any other disabled person confined to their house.
“In a speech in January, the Prime Minister talked of putting an end to the ‘burning injustices’ that people with mental health problems face every day. This is one such burning injustice. We urge the Government to drop these changes and respect the ruling of the Upper Tribunal.”