Nearly 14,000 disabled people have had their mobility vehicle taken away following Government changes to disability benefit assessments, which are carried out by private companies. Many more, yet to be reassessed, are also likely to lose their specialised vehicles.
In 2012, Esther McVey, then the Minister for people with disabilities, as good as admitted there are targets to reduce or remove eligibility for the new disability benefit Personal Independent Payment (PIP), which was to replace Disability Living Allowance. She told the House of Commons that “330,000 of claimants are expected to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced”.
This was a clear indication that the new assessment framework was designed to cut support for disabled people. A recent review led the government to conclude that PIP doesn’t currently fulfil the original policy intent, which was to cut costs and “target” the benefit to “those with the greatest need.”
That basically meant a narrowing of eligibility criteria for people formerly claiming Disability Living Allowance, increasing the number of reassessments required, and limiting the number of successful claims. The government have used the review to attempt to justify further restrictions to PIP eligibility, aimed at cutting support for people who require aids to meet fundamental needs such as preparing food, dressing, basic and essential personal care and managing incontinence. “Greatest need” has become an ever-shrinking category under Conservative austerity measures.
McVey also said that around 200 disabled people in every parliamentary constituency were likely to lose their Motability vehicle when she changed the qualifying walking distance limit from 50 metres to 20-metres.
And she pointed out that one of the Department for Transport’s own publications, Inclusive Mobility, recommends that “seating should be provided on pedestrian routes at intervals of no more than 50 metres, and that parking spaces for blue badge holders should preferably be provided within 50 metres of the facilities they serve”.
The Motability Scheme helped around 650,000 disabled people to lease specialist cars, wheelchairs and scooters. Anyone on the highest level of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was entitled to join the scheme which also helped to pay for expensive adaptations. Motability provides financial help (grants) to disabled people who would not otherwise be able to afford the vehicle or adaptations they need, and the charity undertakes a range of fundraising activities to contribute to the provision of financial help to those Scheme customers whose allowance does not cover the cost of the mobility solution that they need.
Last year, Motability revealed that around 100 disabled people claiming PIP are losing their crucial vehicle benefit every week. According to Motability, who lease specialised cars and powered wheelchairs to disabled people, 3,000 out of 8,000 of their customers who have so far been reassessed for PIP, who were previously claiming the Disability Living Allowance, have lost their eligibility for the scheme and have therefore had to give up their vehicles.
Motability raised concerns that the government reforms to DLA would affect many more. It has.
Under the new PIP rules thousands more people who rely on disability allowance to keep their independence are set to lose their vehicles. Many had been adapted to meet their owners’ needs and many campaigners warn that it will lead to a devastating loss of independence for disabled people.
A total of 45% or 13,900 people, were deemed as not needing the higher rate of PIP, and therefore lost their vehicles after reassessment. And out of the 31,200 people who were once on the highest rate of DLA who have been reassessed, just 55%, or 17,300 – have kept their car.
Given that many Motability vehicles are specially adapted to meet the highly individual needs of each person, I wonder what happens to all of those vehicles that are lost under the new restricted benefit eligibility criteria.
Around 51,200 disabled people have joined the Motability scheme using their PIP. Around 360,000 more people will undergo PIP reassessments and that will include “indefinite” or “lifetime” awards under the original DLA support.
Perhaps the government expect that severely and chronically ill people will miraculously recover, their progressive illness will stop progressing, maybe people will grow new limbs, find cures of their own where medical professionals and drug companies have failed and battle their “choice” of disability alone.
Being disabled is very expensive. The charity Scope has calculated that disabled people pay a huge financial penalty over and above the everyday living costs faced by the typical able-bodied person – on average £550 per month. One in ten pay more than £1000 a month over the odds.
Expenses range from door-to-door taxis to get around, extra heating costs, pricey specialist items like wheelchairs, hoists, or stair lifts. There may be extra laundry costs, continence aids, special dietary requirements, a need for home help and meals on wheels. Some disabilities place more wear and tear on shoes and clothing, some people need suitable kinds of footwear. Non-prescription medical items are also an additional cost. These are just a few examples of extra expenses. There are many more that most able-bodied people wouldn’t ever need to think of.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “Being disabled costs money. The Personal Independence Payment is supposed to help with those costs, but many people are being denied the benefit because they are not assessed properly.
“Sometimes that means people lose their cars; a massive blow which impacts on their ability to remain independent, take part in their communities or get and keep a job.”
Recent research revealed that of all the appeals related to PIP, 60% of tribunals have ruled in the claimant’s favour.
Motability provides a support package, including a £2,000 grant, to anyone forced to leave the scheme following a PIP reassessment.
The charity added: “This helps individuals to remain mobile, in many cases by purchasing a used car. Motability has already provided some £16m in support through this transitional package.”
The Conservative claim that “Government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable” doesn’t appear to stand up to scrutiny, given the Conservative’s policy record, including cruelly scrapping the Independent Living Fund which as had a hugely negative impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives. And the Access To Work funding has been severely cut – a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work.
Mr Duncan Smith said at the Conservative Party conference last year that many sick and disabled people “wanted to work”, and that the Government should give them “support” to find jobs and make sure the welfare system encouraged them to get jobs. I’m wondering what the word “support” actually means to Conservatives? Because there’s every indication that over the past five years, there has only been a withdrawal of essential support and lifeline benefits from those who need them the most.
Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities states that persons with disabilities should have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services; including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community.
Article 20 states that Parties shall take effective measures to ensure personal mobility with the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities, including by:
- Facilitating the personal mobility of persons with disabilities in the manner and at the time of their choice, and at affordable cost;
- Facilitating access by persons with disabilities to quality mobility aids, devices, assistive technologies and forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including by making them available at affordable cost;
- Providing training in mobility skills to persons with disabilities and to specialist staff working with persons with disabilities;
- Encouraging entities that produce mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies to take into account all aspects of mobility for persons with disabilities.
And Article 28 requires that States Parties recognise the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. Countries should take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realisation of these rights without discrimination on the basis of disability.
It’s difficult to see how the government’s cuts to lifeline disability benefits can possibly be consistent with their obligations to uphold human rights law.