Callous Tory ministers have been accused of “shifting the goal posts” on disability benefit entitlements, after it was revealed that the UK Government has rewritten the law to deny higher payments for more than 150,000 disabled people.
Two social security tribunal cases resulted in the government being told to ensure more disabled people qualify for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which would better recognise how their condition affects their ability to live as independently as possible.
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.
Claimants are awarded points in each component, depending on how their disability or long-term illness affects them on a daily basis, through an assessment system campaigners have likened to a “tick-box exercise”.
A minimum of eight points are required to qualify for the standard rate of each component, while claimants need to secure at least 12 points for the enhanced rate.
The first tribunal said those who experience “overwhelming physical distress” when outdoors alone, a common and debilitating symptom of severe psychological disorders that can leave sufferers trapped in their homes, should be awarded more points for the PIP mobility component.
An estimated 143,000 sick and disabled people would have benefitted from the ruling, with around half of these qualifying for the enhanced higher rate of £57.45 per week.
The other half would have qualified for the standard rate, currently £21.80 a week. A further 21,000 would have been moved from the standard to the enhanced rate.
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. More than 1,000 people would have benefitted from this decision, if the DWP had accepted it.
The DWP argued that adhering to the tribunal’s recommendations would cost the department an extra £3.7bn by 2022, the Daily Mirror reports.
So rather than accepting the Tribunal’s recommendations, and recognising how those affected incur extra costs as a direct consequence of their illness or disability, the DWP has instead decided to rewrite the law – yes, you read that correctly – thus denying tens of thousands of sick and disabled people the additional financial support they desperately need.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, blasted the decision: “Instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of PIP assessments and correcting these injustices, this government have instead decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings”, she said.
Abrahams added: “This is an unprecedented attempt to subvert an independent tribunal judgement by a right-wing government with contempt for judicial process.
“By shifting the goal posts, the Tory Government will strip entitlements from over 160,000 disabled people, money which the courts believe is rightfully theirs. This is a step too far, even for this Tory government.”
Rob Holland, Public Affairs Manager at Mencap and Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) Parliamentary Co-Chair, said: “We are concerned by these changes to the criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). These risk further restricting access to vital support for thousands of disabled people.
“Last year, MPs strongly opposed restrictions to PIP and the Government promised no further cuts to disability benefits. Other changes have already had a devastating impact on thousands and in far too many cases people have had to rely on tribunals to access the support they need.
“We are deeply disappointed as a coalition of over 80 organisations representing disabled people that we were not consulted about these proposals and their potential impact. The Government must ensure the views of disabled people are properly considered before they proceed with these changes.”
The Liberal Democrats have table a motion they hope will force the government to reconsider the restrictions.
Commenting, Baroness Cathy Bakewell, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: “The Government is using its recent losses in court as an excuse to severely restrict disability benefits. Rather than listening to the ruling they are using it to make matters worse for disabled people – that is utterly outrageous.”
She added: “What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of by-elections.
“These decisions impact the lives of vulnerable people, Liberal Democrats will not allow the Conservatives to get away with treating people with disabilities with such total contempt.”