Another damning indictment against the UK government’s pathetic attitude towards disabilities and misdirected efforts to make ‘welfare reforms’ has surfaced in the form of a new and hard-hitting report.
Focus on Disability Benefits released this week by Muscular Dystrophy UK exposes and catalogues an administrative catastrophe that all of us know about whatever our disability. These include appointments cancelled at the last minute, lost applications, year-long delays. Two in five respondents report being sent to an assessment centre that wasn’t accessible for disabled people. That’s in order to be tested for a disability benefit.
The report states:
Make it inside the building and the picture is as dire: widespread reports of assessors – employed by private firms hired by the Department for Work and Pensions – who showed no respect for disabled people, while some didn’t even understand the condition they were testing (one man, with muscular dystrophy, pointed out that the word “progressive” means “muscles don’t come back”).
The result of this chaos is anything from rent arrears and credit card debt to mental scars. One woman, with a muscle wasting disease, said that she developed panic attacks after her assessment. She is now under care of a mental health team and doesn’t leave her house.
That the government deliberately built PIP with tightened criteria – and is sitting by as the system descends into disarray – becomes grimmer still when you consider that this is being done to a benefit tied to other essential disability services.
Without PIP a person with a disability cannot access anything from carer’s allowance to severe disability premium. And, if that isn’t enough, anyone who is rejected – or dropped down to the standard rate – is also barred from the Motability scheme for an accessible car or powered wheelchair.
Here’s one example from the report:
Sarah, a nurse with progressive muscle wasting and weakness, is seven months’ pregnant – and has been forced to hand back her Motability car. The 29-year-old had been receiving the higher rate of disability living allowance (the predecessor to PIP), but after being reassessed she was knocked down to the standard rate – despite her condition deteriorating.
Sarah can’t take her fatigue medicine without affecting her pregnancy, and her disability means she is at risk of falling when she walks, and permanent damage. “That vehicle was a lifeline to me,” she says. “I’ve lost my independence.”
Last week Sarah was due at a tribunal to appeal against the decision, but found it was cancelled with just two days’ notice – and no explanation. She’s been in hospital twice this weekend.
Muscular Dystrophy UK says that between 400 and 500 adapted cars, powered wheelchairs, and scooters are being taken away from disabled people every week. Independence gone and a maximum of just seven weeks to hand your lifeline back.
That’s less time than it takes to go to appeal or even to get the results of mandatory reconsideration. This means that the DWP’s ruling can be overturned but the disabled person’s car or wheelchair will already have been taken.
Ridiculous, if an appeal is lodged, the removal should be stayed. It is very interesting to note that some 50 – 60% of appeals against PIP decisions are successful.
This government is playing a game with people’s lives. Take away benefits and the sick become destitute. Remove a car or wheelchair and people with disabilities lose their independence and become housebound.
It’s time for David Cameron and Stephen Crabb to stop playing fast and loose with our lives and give us back integrity and respect. It’s not a lot to ask.