People suffering with debilitating mental health conditions are to be denied equal access to the disability benefits system, after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) instructed assessors to openly discriminate against mentally ill benefit claimants.
New guidelines handed out by the DWP instructs assessors not to consider the physical aspects of mental illness in the same way as physical disabilities, in relation to how these impairments affect a person’s mobility in regard to completing a journey unaccompanied.
According to the DWP, the mobility restrictions experienced by people with mental health conditions are “not relevant” and should be disregarded when determining a person’s eligibility for the higher mobility component of Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
It means that claimants with severe mental illness that includes very real physical impairments, a common ‘side-effect’ associated with many mental health conditions, will be refused the same level of financial support enjoyed by people with physical disabilities, such as needing a wheelchair to move between two points or locations.
The move comes after two social security tribunals ruled that more than 150,000 mentally ill people should be awarded higher PIP payments, acknowledging how their condition affects their ability to move around outdoors unaided.
A case study included in the new guidance reads: “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.”
PIP consists of two separate components – a daily living component and a mobility element – each paying a standard or enhanced rate, with the enhanced rate paying more than the lower rate.
One tribunal ruled that those who experience “overwhelming physical distress” when outdoors should be awarded more points for the PIP mobility component, while a second tribunal said more points should be awarded in the daily living component for those who need help taking medication and monitoring their condition.
Over half would have qualified for the standard mobility rate, currently £21.80 a week, and a further 21,000 would have been moved from the standard to the enhanced rate of £57.45 a week.
In response to the rulings, the DWP simply chose to rewrite the law in a way that denies higher PIP payments for those claimants who would have benefited from the rulings, without consulting medical experts and MPs.
Responding to the new guidelines, Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity 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.”
He added: “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.”
A DWP spokesperson denied allegations that people with mental health conditions were being treated differently to those with physical disabilities: “At the core of PIP’s design is the principle that mental health conditions should be given the same recognition as physical ones”, the spokesperson said.
“In fact, there are more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than the DLA equivalents.
“This Government is also investing more in mental health than ever before – spending more than £11 billion this year.”