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The painful journey for disabled people in the UK

April 15, 2019
topic:Health and Sanitation
tags:#United Kingdom UK, #disability rights, #Personal Independence Payment (PIP), #NHS
located:United Kingdom
by:Federica Tedeschi
The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has been set in 2013 by the Department for Work and Pension (DWP), to cover the extra costs of living with a disability. It was introduced to eventually replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Between April 2013 and April 2018 over 3.6 million disabled people claimed PIP in the UK and almost 1.4 million of them fell under the ‘reassessed registrations’ category (switching from DLA to PIP), according to Official Statistics released by the DWP last June.

Disabled people expect PIP to make their life easier, however, the bureaucracy and complexity of the process itself often wear applicants down.

The PIP assessment, in fact, only looks at a limited range of daily living activities which rarely give an accurate or holistic indication of the actual disabled people's support needs. As a result, many applicants are rejected and apply for ‘mandatory reconsideration’, an internal review of a decision by DWP, which rarely overturns the original verdict. The next, final chance is for the disabled person to appeal.

‘We've found that people have a higher cost of living due to the need for help with domestic tasks, having a restricted diet, and needing therapeutic treatment to maintain health which is not available on NHS. None of these difficulties or additional needs are covered in the PIP assessment’, said disability campaigner Catherine Hale, referring to the research work of ‘Chronic Illness Inclusion Project’, which she leads.

The Project aims to bring the chronic illness community together online to explore their experiences under a social model for disability and look at ‘how cultural attitudes and social organisation create unnecessary disadvantage’ to the disabled people’s wellbeing.

Managing such an inspiring online community has given Ms Hale the chance to identify further flaws in the PIP application form.

‘The PIP descriptors don't capture the lived experience of impairment but rather a stereotypical and mechanistic idea of what disability means. The assumption that you can measure how restricted someone is in day to day life by observing their range of movement out of the context of daily living is simply false,’ stressed Catherine Hale.

Besides, some health conditions are not immediately visible, still, they restrict people’s lives through fluctuating pain and fatigue, not to mention mental health conditions; and they can hardly be observed during a quick assessment.

Are these the reasons why assessors at the DWP make the wrong decision most of the time?

The disability campaigner that FairPlanet interviewed also highlighted that ‘assessors with limited medical training routinely override what a claimant says on their form, and even what their medical evidence says, on the basis of spurious observations like reaching into a bag to pick up a pen’.  

Many disabled people have an imperfect understanding of how the complexity of their health conditions, difficulties and impairments ‘are supposed to be shoehorned into the arbitrary tick box system for point scoring in PIP’, Ms Hale pointed out.

‘PIP assessment process is like an adversarial court proceeding. It is rigged towards an assumption that claimants' and their own doctors' accounts cannot be trusted and that the job of DWP and its contractors’ is to find evidence against claimants. Yet, to add insult to injury, research has shown that assessors regularly fabricate evidence against claimants and tell barefaced lies,’ she added.

Roger D. is a disabled Londoner in his fifties who has been on a power chair for 7 years, due to a form of arthritis. When he was asked to switch to PIP from DLA, his claim was rejected on the basis of a false report.

‘The assessor asked me for how long I could walk and I could not answer, so she asked me where I do normally walk and how long it takes. I explained that I bring the rubbish out once a week, the bin is just 5 m from the front door and it takes me 2- 3 minutes, including standing time,’ stressed Roger.

‘She wrote that I can walk for 2-3 minutes and as a result, I was assessed as being able to walk normally.  I can’t walk, I shuffle instead,’ he added.

He explained to FairPlanet how the DWP also rejected him for mandatory reconsideration by answering that their ‘assessors are properly trained and have been vetted, also they do not make mistakes’.

On the bright side, winning a PIP appeal is not rare.  According to data published by the national press, a whopping 71% of those who went to appeal during the first trimester of 2018, won.

Eleven months after his initial application form, Roger D. himself won appeal thanks to a letter from his GP.

‘The PIP assessment is made to fit the person to the form. It does not account for real, disabled people,’ he explained.

Was the previous DLA process more in favour of the claimant, then?

Ms Hale explained that the target was to cut 20% of spending on DLA. There were reductions in eligibility, especially for the higher rate mobility component which gives people access to the Motability scheme*.  ‘The threshold was changed from 50 m walking distance to 20 m, with no rationale except cost-cutting’.

Is there any way to help applicants avoiding extra stress?

‘Ask for help to someone with experience in answering the questions, contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or disabled people organisations, as it can make the difference,’ added Roger D.

*The Motability scheme helps people with a disability exchange their mobility allowance for a new car, mobility scooter or electric wheelchair.

Roger D.'s real name was changed, as he has asked to stay anonymous. 

Article written by:
Federica Tedeschi
United Kingdom
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