The government is facing mounting outrage after planning to restrict eligibility for support for people with the highest mobility needs, without any warning or consultation – and then lying about what it had done.
Anger has been growing following last week’s publication of the final assessment criteria that will decide eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
Campaigners have now realised that the documents show the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) wants to tighten eligibility for the top – “enhanced” – rate of the mobility component of PIP.
The changes will – by 2015 – see 20,000 fewer people eligible for the enhanced rate than under the previous version of the PIP regulations, with this gap rising to 51,000 by 2018.
Previous drafts stated that a claimant who could not walk at least 50 metres would be entitled to the enhanced rate, making them eligible to lease a Motability vehicle. But this has now been slashed to just 20 metres.
There was no mention of the alteration in the Commons statement made last week by Esther McVey, the minister for disabled people, or in any of the government’s consultations on DLA reform.
There was some better news within the new criteria, with the government estimating that changes it had made to its draft plans – including the addition of a new “reading” activity – would see an increase in the number of people eligible for the daily living part of PIP.
Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the former Disability Rights Commission, said the alteration to 20 metres was “extremely disturbing” and “draconian”, while he said there had been “no discussion, no forewarning” from the government about the change.
He added: “Esther McVey says there has been consultation with disability groups. I would like to see details of every disability group that has called on the government to reduce the limit from 50 metres to 20 metres. I think it would be a very short list.
“We trust ministers to be accurate and truthful. I can’t reconcile their statements with the [new] regulations.”
He has already spoken to one disabled person who works for a government department, and can walk 20 but not 50 metres, and predicts he will now lose his Motability vehicle and be forced to take early retirement.
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK, said it was “pretty outrageous” for the government to introduce changes “at the last minute” which had not been consulted on.
She said: “Our charity responded to all three consultations and at no point did it say 20 metres.
“The goalposts have been moved so far it seems the only people they want to get the benefit are wheelchair-users, but they aren’t the only people with severe mobility problems.”
Jane Young, coordinator of the WeAreSpartacus network, which has played a prominent role in analysing the impact of government cuts on disabled people, said she and fellow campaigners were “shocked and stunned” when they read the final PIP criteria and saw the change from 50 to 20 metres and realised how many people would lose vehicles they currently lease through the Motability scheme.
Young added: “With no car, they will be unable to go to work, get to the doctor’s, go shopping, take their kids to school or have any kind of social life.
“They will become isolated, their health will deteriorate and there will be significant demands on other public services, particularly health and social care.”
In the light of the new figures, WeAreSpartacus will now be revising its Reversing from Recovery report, which earlier this year calculated a likely 17 per cent reduction in the number of disabled people eligible for a Motability vehicle as a result of the move from DLA to PIP.
But despite the government’s own documents showing the number of people eligible for the enhanced mobility rate dropping by 51,000 by 2018, a DWP spokeswoman claimed: “It is not a tightening of the assessment – our modelling shows that, after this change, the number of people receiving the enhanced rate of the mobility component as a result of the ‘Moving around’ activity will be broadly the same.”
She added: “The intention of the criteria remains the same – to make sure support is targeted at those who need it most, by making sure those who receive the enhanced rate of the mobility component are those who face the greatest barriers to mobility.”
Despite Disability News Service then emailing her links to the relevant sections in her department’s own documents, she replied: “I’ve discussed with colleagues again and there’s nothing more to add to what I’ve explained below about the change you’ve outlined.”
The government documents also reveal that the number of people receiving PIP will be 608,000 lower by May 2018 – a drop of 28 per cent – than the number (2.182 million) who would have been receiving DLA without the government’s cuts and reforms.
The number eligible for the PIP enhanced mobility rate in 2018 will be 602,000, compared with 1.03 million on the upper mobility rate if DLA had not been reformed.
And by 2018, more than half a million current DLA claimants will have had their award decreased after being reassessed, while another 450,000 disabled people will lose their benefit completely in the transition from DLA to PIP.
20 December 2012