In an attempt to cut the deficit, the government is looking at many areas of public spending. One of their key areas since coming to power in May 2015 was to cut the welfare bill more than it had since the coalition government that began in 2010. This includes child payment, unemployment benefits and disability benefits. With regard to disability payments, they wish to make further reforms to the Personal Independence Payment.
What is PIP?
Introduced in 2013 with the Welfare Reform Act 2012, it replaced the Disability Living Allowance. Despite being initially scheduled for October 2015, it has only recently been fully rolled out across the country following several trials in the north. If you are 64 or over, you will continue to receive payment under the DLA scheme until the Department for Work and Pensions contacts you directly. For everybody else, the switch to PIP is automatic and imminent, if not already in place.
It is a tax free payment and recipients will get it regardless of whether or not they are in work. It comes in two parts, a “Daily Living Component” (valued at £55.10 or £82.30) and a “Mobility Component” (valued at £21.80 or £57.45).
What the Government Says
Although it has only recently been introduced, from January 2017, the formula that is used to calculate PIP will change. The government claims that the move is designed to make the system fairer, but acknowledges that over 640,000 will be affected by the changes between now and 2020 when this parliament ends and it may be subject to further reform or reform.
Under the present system, you could get between £21.80 and £139.75 per week. The changes to PIP are not based on the condition(s) the person receiving it has, but on severity and how much it affects their day-to-day living. Each applicant will be subject to an assessment to ascertain suitability and the level of financial help they will receive – graded on a points system. It is expected that this will cut the social security bill by £1.2bn over the next few years, yet continue to provide help to those who need it.
An independent review this week criticised the PIP saying that it does not work as intended and would grant benefits of day-to-day extra living costs to those who do not have extra living costs. Additionally, the DWP said that simple chairs and beds could be considered “living aids” if it helped people with disabilities with their mobility; three legal rulings found in the government’s favour. A second review of PIP is due in April next year following the proposed changes introduced in January.
What PIP’s Critics Say
Critics say that it is little more than a cost-cutting exercise and will not be fairer for the people who come to depend on the PIP payments, especially for people who are unable to work and those on low incomes. This has always been a concern for disability groups and activists and especially so since the budget deficit began cuts in 2010.
Following the announcement of the independent review, Disability Rights UK expressed concern over the cumulative effect of persistent cutting of funding to people with disabilities; they went on to explain that it was removing the ability of some to live independently and the government plans are counterproductive to what was originally intended with PIP. They implored the government to consider the extra costs of living that many people with disabilities incur, costs that people without disabilities take for granted.
Opposition parties and disability activists also accused the government of ignoring people with disabilities, as well as their carers and professionals. Former MP Anne Begg, herself a wheelchair user, expressed particular concern that the government were attempting to remove 500 000 people from being able to claim disability benefits, purely as a cost-cutting exercise.