Friday, 18 March 2016

Personal Independent Payment: Please get your facts right.

So we've moved on - in the space of a week - from discussing the government's removal of £30 pw from those assessed as not currently fit to work but who might work sometime in the future.  

Now the debate is about the realisation that most of the money George Osborne needs to fund his tax cuts for the better off will be funded by reducing the amount of money spent on Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

In the debates and discussions which will happen over the next few days or weeks about the government’s plans for PIP, I’ve got an important request to make of journalists and politicians alike: please get your facts right.

For example, compare these statements by Tory MP, Dominic Raab, on the Daily Politics show on 9th March, with the facts:

He was being questioned by Andrew Neil about the cut of £30 pw to those in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG).

“We’re moving to a situation where if you have a disability condition you get your Job Seekers Allowance the same as anyone else and then the entitlement you get for your condition is moved over to what is called Personal Independence Payment - in effect it means that you have a personally tailored uplift bearing in mind the impact your condition has on your work prospects”.

Fact: Personal Independence Payment is nothing to do with whether someone is fit enough to work.  It is an additional costs payment, intended to mitigate the extra costs of daily life which disabled people incur.  PIP is made up of two components, a care element - eligibility for which depends on your need for assistance or equipment to do daily living tasks;  and a mobility element - which depends on your ability to walk or to move around unsupervised.  PIP is not means-tested: you can receive it regardless of your employment status or your income.  It is similar to child benefit, which is paid in recognition of the additional costs of bringing up a child and until recently was also not means-tested at all.

Another Fact: The higher rate for those on ESA, in comparison with Job Seekers Allowance, is in recognition that the great majority will be out of work for far longer than those on JSA, partly because they have been assessed as not being currently fit enough to seek work, partly because of the barriers they face to employment even if they are fit enough.  The longer a person is out of work, the bigger impact that has on their daily living costs (savings are depleted, repairs are required to household appliances, insurance has to be paid, etc etc). The removal of £30pw so that those in the ESA WRA Group only receive the same amount as those on JSA is a removal of the recognition of the financial costs of longer-term unemployment.

Andrew Neil asked Dominic Raab whether this £30 cut wasn’t rather cruel.  Raab replied:

“What is happening is it’s not a straight cut, that element is shifted into a personally tailored assessment of what actual need is so it’s not just a tick box exercise”

Fact: It is a straight cut. About half of people on ESA WRAG already get PIP.  The rest could be getting it if they were eligible. (So we might ask was Dominic Raab lying or is he just uninformed/misinformed?)

Another Fact: The assessment for PIP is a ‘tick box’ exercise.  The need to use particular equipment, or the ability to walk, is a proxy indicator of levels of impairment. It’s a much cruder measure than the assessment for Disability Living Allowance which was replaced by PIP.

Andrew Neil probed some more about the ESA WRAG cut, asking whether some people wouldn’t still be economically disadvantaged.

Dominic Raab responded:

“And that’s precisely why the Personal Independence Payment should make sure that doesn’t happen and it’s a far more accurate, personally tailored assessment of what their real personal needs are.”

Fact: He’s either lying or is uninformed/misinformed. See above.  Currently, about half of those in the ESA WRA group already receive PIP.  Future claimants of ESA, placed in the Work Related Activity Group, will receive £30 less per week - regardless of whether they qualify for PIP or not.  The government’s justification for reducing the payment to the same level as JSA was that the cut would be a financial incentive to seek work - although these are people who have been assessed as currently not fit to work.

Other misleading statements about the proposed change in eligibility criteria for PIP.

George Osborne: 
“On welfare, last week my Right Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions set out changes that will ensure that within the rising disability budget, support is better targeted at those who need it most.”

Fact: When the Coalition government came in they attempted to cut the budget spent on helping with additional costs of disability by replacing Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment.  The aim was to reduce the budget by 20%.  They failed to do this and the budget continued to rise but the change still meant that many, many individuals have seen a reduction in the help they receive.  For example, in order to lease a car or a wheelchair using the Motability scheme, someone has to receive the enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP.  So far 45% of Motability users (13,900) who previously received the higher mobility rate of DLA have been re-assessed for PIP and have lost their Motability-leased car or wheelchair as a result

The consequences for some people are life-changing - and life-ruining. Kate Rae, told the Guardian how, six days into a new job, she got a letter calling her for a reassessment as part of the replacement of DLA with PIP. Because she was assessed as capable of walking between 20 and 50 metres she lost the enhanced mobility rate, no longer qualified for her Motability leased car which she used to get to work.  She was forced to give up her job and, last night, on the BBC local TV news she was interviewed while she packed up her flat in order to move back to live with her mother. So much for ‘personal independence’ - and it’s only one example of how thousands of people’s lives are being ruined as a result of the ideologically driven aim of reducing the size of the state.   (See also this article by Frances Ryan)

Justin Tomlinson (Minister for Disabled People): 
“This is not a financial measure”.

Fact: It is. The replacement of DLA with PIP did not produce the 20% budget reduction that the government intended.  This is not surprising because the motivation for the change was solely driven by financial considerations - the government’s desire to reduce public expenditure - and bore little relation to the reality of disabled people’s lives. The government assumed a lower proportion of new claimants and people transferring from DLA would qualify for PIP than has turned out to be the case.  

As the reduction in the PIP budget is such a significant part of the savings to be made by 2019/20 in order to fund tax cuts for the better off, we can only assume that financial motivations were paramount in order to deliver the government’s political priorities.

Various Ministers: 

We’ve consulted on these changes and are following independent advice that the current assessment isn’t working well.

Fact: The government is ignoring the majority of organisations and individuals who responded to the consultation and has distorted the findings of the review it commissioned from an ex-DWP civil servant. 

281 responses were received to the consultation.  Only 11 (all individuals) supported the changes. The DWP recognised that the majority strenuously opposed them, summarising that:
  • Respondents felt that reliance on aids and appliances is a good indicator of additional costs.
  • Respondents questioned the effectiveness and accuracy of the PIP assessment, both in terms of the policy underpinning it and the application of the policy.
  • Respondents were concerned that any of the options for change would have a negative impact on the individuals affected.
  • Respondents felt that any of the options for change would increase individuals’ needs for support from other public services and could lead to increased PIP expenditure. 

(It’s also worth looking at the ‘Crippling Choices’ report by Spartacus Network - which is more grounded in the reality of people’s lives than any evidence the government has produced )

The ‘independent review’ cited is a 2014 report by Paul Gray, an ex-DWP senior civil servant who reported that:  “Anecdotally, the Review heard from some case managers who felt they saw a higher than expected number of assessment reports where aids and appliances were used in justifications”.  However, he concluded: “Data so far available is insufficient to draw meaningful conclusions about the composition of PIP awards”.  (see also this article which summarises the review’s findings on aids and adaptations )

When journalists and politicians debate these issues they are talking about things which affect many thousands of people's lives.  The least we should expect them to do is to get their facts right. 

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