A disabled activist has accused the government of a “cynical attempt” to hide its intention to tighten eligibility for support for people with the highest mobility needs.
Jane Young, coordinator of the WeAreSpartacus online network of disabled campaigners, spoke out after the government failed yet again to deliver clarity over changes to crucial assessment criteria for its planned new benefit.
Last month, the government published the criteria that will decide eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
Previous drafts of the PIP eligibility criteria stated that a claimant who could not walk “up to” 50 metres without using a self-propelled wheelchair would be entitled to the enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP, making them eligible to lease a Motability vehicle.
But last month’s final assessment criteria states that a PIP claimant will be eligible for the enhanced rate if they “can stand and then move more than one metre but no more than 20 metres, either aided or unaided”.
Leading disabled figures were horrified at this change to the “descriptors”, with Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the former Disability Rights Commission, describing the change as “extremely disturbing” and “draconian”.
Young said it had “seemed obvious to everyone, despite DWP’s insistence that the change is merely a clarification”, that the move from 50 metres to 20 metres was a significant tightening of the criteria.
But she believes that case studies included in the consultation on its draft criteria, published early last year, showed the government never intended – despite the impression it had given – that claimants who could not walk at least 50 metres would be entitled to the enhanced rate.
When she challenged a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) official last April about the discrepancy between the case studies and the descriptors, she was told the case studies were just provided “to make people think”.
Young said: “I responded that they merely served to frighten people… and it’s now clear our fears were entirely justified.”
She believes the government never wanted all claimants unable to walk 50 metres to be entitled to the PIP enhanced mobility rate, and that DWP used the phrase “up to” to disguise its true intentions.
She said: “This use of words to mislead is a cynical attempt to hide the government’s true intent: to remove previously secure mobility support for many thousands of physically disabled people who need it, with little regard for our well-being or for the wider impact on our families, our communities, public services and the economy.”
This week, DWP failed again to explain how a move from 50 metres to 20 metres could not mean a tightening of the eligibility criteria, particularly when the changes announced last month would see 51,000 fewer people eligible for the enhanced mobility rate by 2018.
A DWP spokesman said they had only “clarified” the rules, and that the change in that part of the descriptors would see the number of people eligible for the enhanced rate remaining “broadly the same… showing that the inclusion of the 20 metre measure is not a tightening”.
An analysis of responses to the government’s consultation by WeAreSpartacus has also revealed that only one of 173 organisations suggested the distance should be lowered.
The DWP has so far declined to respond to this claim.
This week, WeAreSpartacus produced its new Emergency Stop report, co-authored by Young, which looks at the impact of the government’s plans – through its DLA reforms – to cut the number of people eligible for the highest rate of mobility support by more than 400,000 by 2018.
Emergency Stop looks again at the potential loss to the economy caused by the reduction in the number of people eligible for the Motability car scheme, updating its earlier report, Reversing from Recovery: The Hidden Costs of Welfare Reform, to take account of the new, tighter eligibility criteria.
Under PIP, the government says there will be 428,000 fewer people who will qualify for the enhanced mobility rate and be eligible for the Motability scheme by 2018 than if the DLA reforms had not taken place.
The report estimates that these cuts could lead to 160,000 fewer Motability vehicles on the roads by 2018, and nearly 6,000 fewer jobs in Motability-related industries.
It concludes: “The conservative estimate is a combined loss of up to £1 billion of annual GDP plus a loss of tax revenues and increased costs to the public sector, once PIP is fully implemented in 2018.”
And it suggests that extending the PIP enhanced mobility rate to the 428,000 currently set to lose out would cost just under £1 billion a year.
17 January 2013