Baroness Celia Thomas – what’s going on with the Personal Independence Payment?

Baroness Thomas of Winchester
Baroness Thomas of Winchester

So why has the roll-out of the Personal Independence Payment – the replacement for Disability Living Allowance – been slowed down even more than expected? Is it merely a matter of practicalities, or is it for a deeper reason?

The first we saw of PIP was in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which also introduced Universal Credit.  Much was made of the need to save 20% of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) budget, meaning that thousands of people would become ineligible for the new benefit.  There was one important matter the Government didn’t take long to concede –  that the enhanced mobility rate (entitling the claimant or driver to a Motability car) should not be taken away from those in residential homes – and there was one that was conceded to me in the Lords when I moved an amendment for PIP to be paid after three rather than six months.

Then all went silent while the DWP consulted extensively about the details of PIP for the all-important regulations.  They published two drafts, during which some of us lobbied hard for specific changes.  I was particularly worried about disabled people who used aids and adaptations (which I do myself) who seemed to be in danger of being penalised.  I took people with prosthetic legs to see the Minister to make sure he understood that those with prostheses might be able to walk one day but be in a wheelchair for the next five.  On the positive side, there was much better understanding of those with learning disabilities.

We were told we would see a third draft but suddenly the final regulations were published.  Those with sharp eyes immediately spotted an inexplicable change. One of the key descriptors in the ‘Moving About’ section had been made much tougher by changing 50 metres to 20 metres, meaning that those who could walk more than 20 metres (only two double-decker bus lengths) with or without aids and adaptations would not get enough points to receive the enhanced mobility rate, and therefore would not qualify for a Motability car.   The guidance for assessors was less draconian, and in the end we managed to get the guidance upgraded into amending regulations so that the assessors must by law make sure the disabled person can walk 20 metres safely, repeatedly, to an acceptable standard and in a reasonable time period.  And most current recipients of Disability Living Allowance won’t be reassessed until after at least one independent review of PIP.  What I dread is that disabled people who have had a Motability car for many years  might get their eligibility swept away by a tougher test while their mobility has not improved.

So my answer to the question in the first paragraph is that the system is not yet able to cope with a totally new procedure.  Going full steam ahead would have produced total chaos.  At present there are delays all along the line – so better to slow the whole process down and get it right.  And sooner or later, I hope that will mean changing 20 metres back to 50.

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.

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