Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) reaction to government announcement on the Personal Independence Payment

Published: 27 Feb 2017

NRAS supports the response of The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) to the government announcement of changes to descriptors used in the assessment for the Personal Independence Payment. NRAS believes that the welfare system in this country is a safety net that we can be rightfully proud of, and we seek to help uphold its integrity and availability to those in need.

As a group of over 80 disability charities, the DBC is an authoritative voice on this subject, together we consistently stand up for the rights of disabled people when challenged by often hastily prepared government reforms.

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About the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC)

The DBC is a coalition of 80 different disability charities working towards a fair benefits system.

Key points

  • We are concerned that the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) criteria are already too strict, and that this has led to almost 50% of disabled people and people with long-term conditions losing access to some or all of their support when being reassessed from Disability Living Allowance
  • This is a particular concern in the context of the mobility component, where over 500 people are returning their Motability vehicles a week, because they are no-longer eligible for support
  • We support the reinterpretation of the ‘planning and following a journey’ descriptor, to better recognise the psychological impact of many long-term conditions and disabilities, which can create difficulties following a journey and is not adequately accounted for under the original descriptor
  • We are extremely concerned that tabled regulations which change the criteria back meet the original intention could cause around 146,500 people to move from the higher rate of mobility to no entitlement at all, according to the DWP’s own analysis
  • The DWP also acknowledges that 'impact of the judgment is complex to predict and so there is a significant risk that the numbers affected could be much higher.' 
  • We therefore recommend that these changes do not go ahead

Impact of the current PIP assessment criteria

The DBC has been critical of the PIP assessment since it was originally introduced. We are concerned that the criteria are too strictly designed to recognise the impact that many long-term conditions and disabilities have on a person’s ability to undertake daily living activities.

We are particularly concerned that the two mobility related descriptors (‘Planning and following a journey’ and the ‘moving around’) are set a level which means that many disabled people and people with long-term conditions are systematically receiving less support than previously under DLA.

We note, for example, that 48% of those who have been reassessed from DLA received a lower level of award or no award under PIP. Despite this, we also note that around 60% of PIP appeals are successful.

Changes to interpretation of the PIP ‘planning and following a journey’ descriptor

The DBC is concerned that the planning and following a journey descriptor, as originally designed, is too narrow in its focus. We note that the descriptor was ‘designed to assess the barriers to mobility that individuals may face, which are associated with mental, cognitive, intellectual or sensory ability, as opposed to physical ability – looking at whether people can plan and follow the route of a familiar or unfamiliar journey.’

We feel that the descriptor does not go far enough to acknowledge the significant psychological impact of a person’s ‘physical condition’ on their ability to follow a journey. This is substantially different from the impact of a person’s physical ability to walk, which is assessed under the ‘moving around’ descriptor. We note, for example, that the PIP assessment guide insists that “Overwhelming psychological distress’ means distress related to an enduring mental health condition”. This means that many long-term conditions and disabilities which include depression and anxiety as a common symptom will not score unless they have received a separate diagnosis of depression, anxiety or another mental health condition.

For example, Parkinson’s is a highly complex condition with over 40 physical and non-physical symptoms. Depression and anxiety can be a symptom of Parkinson’s, as a result of changes to the chemicals in the brain that are part of the condition. At any given time up to 40% of people with Parkinson’s will have depression and up to 40% of people with Parkinson’s will experience anxiety.

We therefore support the upper tribunal’s reinterpretation of the descriptor, to recognise that an individual who needs to be accompanied on journeys to avoid overwhelming psychological distress, could potentially score 10 or 12 points. We feel that descriptor B (‘Needs prompting to be able to undertake any journey to avoid overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant’) does not go far enough to recognise the degree of support provided by a friend, family member or carers to an individual in order to help a person complete a journey and avoid overwhelming psychological distress. This could, for example, include the need for a friend or family member to travel with an individual for the entire journey, to reassure them that they will not fall, or mitigate the impact of an episode of anxiety.

Furthermore, we do not agree with the DWP’s assessment that psychological distress suggests a lower need than a condition which requires supervision, physical intervention and support. We believe it is possible for the psychological distress associated with a given condition to be just as ‘severe and enduring’, particularly in the context of other physical symptoms – which could necessitate physical intervention and support from another person to avoid overwhelming psychological distress. This is not accounted for under the ‘moving around’ descriptor. On this basis, the possibility should exist that a person could score as highly as a condition which requires ‘physical intervention and support’.

Impact of changes to ‘planning and following a journey’ descriptor

The DBC is extremely concerned that the DWP’s own analysis warns that the group affected by regulation changes to offset the tribunal decisions is approximately 16% of the PIP caseload. It adds that 71,500 people (6%) of current claimants could go from the highest rate of mobility to losing everything, if they change the descriptors to undermine the tribunal's ruling. By 2020/23 this could be 146,500 people.

Most concerning, is the DWP’s acknowledgement that the 'impact of the judgment is complex to predict and so there is a significant risk that the numbers affected could be much higher.' 

On this basis, we recommend that the DWP does not proceed with changes to the PIP assessment criteria and instead undertakes a fundamental review of the PIP descriptors, to recognise the fact that almost 50% of DLA claimants are unsuccessful in retaining their awards.

Recommendation: The DWP does not proceed with changes to the ‘planning and following a journey’ descriptor

Recommendation: The DWP undertakes a review of PIP descriptors to address the near 50% reduction in successful awards from DLA claimants

Members of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC)

Action for Blind People, Action Duchenne, Action for M.E. Action on Hearing Loss, Advice UK, Advocard, Age UK, Ambitious about Autism, Arthritis Care, Arthritis Research UK, Aspire, Breast Cancer Care, British Lung Foundation, Capability Scotland, Carers UK, Child Poverty Action Group, The Children’s Society, Citizens Advice, CLIC Sargent, Contact a Family, The Council for Disabled Children, Crohn’s and Colitis UK, Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Deafblind UK, Dimensions UK, Disability Agenda Scotland, Disability Rights UK, Down’s Syndrome Association, Drugscope, ENABLE Scotland, Epilepsy Society, Epilepsy Action, Equalities National Council, Guide Dogs, Haemophilia Society, Hafal (mental health charity in Wales), Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE), Inclusion London, LASA, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Livability, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Meningitis Research Foundation, Mind, Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association, MS Society, Muscular Dystrophy UK, Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) Trust, Myleoma UK, National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society, National AIDS Trust, National Autistic Society (NAS), National Children’s Bureau, National Deaf Children’s Society, National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, National Union of Students, Nimah, Papworth Trust, Parkinson’s UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Royal British Legion, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal Mencap Society, Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), RSI Action, Scope, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Shine, Sense, Sense Scotland, St Joseph’s Hospice, The Stroke Association, Sue Ryder, Terrence Higgins Trust, Thomas Pocklington Trust, Together For Short Lives, Transport for All, TUC, United Response, Vitalise, Welsh Association of ME & CFS Support (WAMES), Zacchaeus 2000 Trust