The government’s decision to stop regular benefit reassessments for some people with “the most severe, lifelong conditions” shows that replacing disability living allowance (DLA) with personal independence payment (PIP) was a waste of time and money, it has been claimed.
Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, confirmed this week that claimants with such conditions who are awarded the highest level of support under PIP – if their needs are expected to stay the same or increase – will no longer be subjected to repeat assessments.
Instead, they will have to undergo a “light touch review” every 10 years.
The announcement confirms a suggestion made by the government in its response to a report on the disability benefit assessment regime by the Commons work and pensions committee earlier this year.
In that response, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suggested it would change guidance to its civil servants to ensure that PIP claimants receiving “the highest level of support get an award duration that is appropriate to the condition and needs arising”.
Now Newton has confirmed that this guidance will be changed, with a new version to be published later this summer.
She said: “We’ve listened to feedback from organisations and the public, and this common-sense change will ensure that the right protections are in place while minimising any unnecessary stress or bureaucracy.
“The government will be working with stakeholders to design the light touch review process so that it adds value for both our claimants and the department – for example, by providing information on services available and ensuring that contact or bank details have not changed.”
Despite some claims in the media that this will mean all people with conditions such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis will no longer face PIP reassessments, this is unlikely to be the government’s intention.
Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS) warned on its Facebook page that disabled people should treat the government’s announcement “very cautiously”.
BuDS said: “The DWP haven’t said what they mean by ‘severe and lifelong’ conditions yet.
“However, the wording of this announcement is very similar to the one last year about [employment and support allowance], where the DWP said that people with severe lifelong conditions would not need to have repeated work capability assessments.
“So the feeling is that the same criteria will be used for PIP as were announced for ESA.
“But those criteria are very restricted and do not help very many people. Most of the people they help would probably have got a very long or unlimited ESA award anyway.
“So the PIP announcement today might be equally meaningless for most people.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, raised similar concerns.
She said: “I’ll believe it when we see this as we’re still waiting months later for people to be exempt from repeated ESA assessments as promised.
“Such changes would not in any way help the many thousands of disabled people who have lost DLA and been refused PIP because of the 20 metre rule either.”
Newton’s announcement has also been seen as another move back towards disability living allowance (DLA), the benefit PIP is replacing for working-age claimants.
One of the key reasons ministers gave for introducing PIP was that DLA supposedly allowed claimants to secure unchecked “welfare for life” because of the lack of repeat assessments.
The current work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, made the claim herself five years ago in a bid to justify the introduction of PIP and proposed cuts of 20 per cent.
Now McVey has approved changes that will apparently see PIP move back towards a DLA-type system.
Jenny Morris (pictured), who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, believes the government’s failure to secure the 20 per cent cuts to spending on disability benefits was partly because they mistakenly believed that reassessing people on so-called lifetime awards would find the support needs of many of them had reduced.
But disabled people with lifelong conditions see their support needs – and their benefits – increase as they age under PIP, when under DLA they would not have been reassessed and so would have been left on a lower level of benefits.
Morris said people were placed on lifetime DLA awards “for very good reasons” and all the government had done by introducing PIP and its frequent reassessments in 2013 was to “create extra costs for themselves”.
She said the latest move by Newton showed the government had spent years and wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on its PIP reforms, while exposing people to assessments that were “very oppressive and upsetting”.
She said: “One of the worst things about it is they have introduced a process which people find so distressing, so unhelpful, in an attempt to save money, and they haven’t even done that.”
She added: “We could have told you so, and we did tell you so.”
Meanwhile, the latest figures from social security tribunals show the proportion of claimants who have won their PIP appeals rose by seven percentage points in a year, from 64 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2016-17 to 71 per cent in the same period of 2017-18.