George Freeman, MP for Norfolk and chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, has defended the government’s decision to subvert the judicial system, by disregarding the rulings of two independent tribunals regarding Personal Independent Payment (PIP) for disabled people.
In an interview on Pienaar’s Politics, on BBC 5 Live, Freeman said: “These tweaks [new regulations] are actually about rolling back some bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.”
He claimed that the “bizarre” Upper Tribunal rulings meant that “claimants with psychological problems, who are unable to travel without help, should be treated in a similar way to those who are blind.”
George Freeman MP said: “We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.”
He added that both he and the Prime Minister “totally” understood anxiety. “We’ve set out in the mental health strategy how seriously we take it,” he said.
“Personal Independence Payments (PIP) reforms were needed to roll back the bizarre decisions of tribunals”, said Freeman.
— George Freeman MP (@GeorgeFreemanMP) February 26, 2017
His controversial comments about people with anxiety “at home taking pills” implies that people with mental health problems are ‘faking’ disability. It trivialises the often wide-ranging disabling consequences of mental health problems, and clearly implies that Freeman regards mental illnesses as not a ‘real’ disability.
He contradicts the government’s pledge to ensure that mental health and physical health are given a parity of esteem, just months after the Prime Minister pledged to take action to tackle the stigma around mental health problems.
Despite some scathing comments and challenges from the opposition, Freeman maintains: “My point was that these PIP reforms are partly about rolling back some frankly bizarre decisions in tribunals which have seen money that should go to the most disabled spent on people with really much less urgent conditions.”
The chief executive of Scope, Mark Atkinson. said: “It is unhelpful to make crude distinctions between those with physical impairments and mental health issues because the kind of impairment someone has is not a good indicator of the costs they will face.
“Many disabled people will be now be anxiously waiting to hear as to whether or not these tighter rules will affect their current PIP award.
“The government must offer clarity and reassurance that these new measures will not negatively affect the financial support that disabled people receive now or in the future, and that they stand by their commitment to making no further changes to disability benefits in this Parliament.”
Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has also responded to the comments by Freeman.
“Mr Freeman must immediately apologise for the comments he made regarding sick and disabled people”, she said.
“Freeman dismissed the needs of people with mental health conditions saying support should go to “really disabled people” rather than those who are “taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.
“Not only does this fly in the face of the commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for people with mental health conditions, but it directly contradicts Theresa May’s comments on mental health and two recent tribunal judgements.”
I think unless you have been affected directly or indirectly, the cuts to/effects on chronically sick & disabled people are not widely known https://t.co/5YeBxz1yYu
— Debbie Abrahams MP (@Debbie_abrahams) February 26, 2017