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The problems with infamous ’20 metre rule’ under the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and the stark implications it has for people with rheumatoid arthritis and disabled people across the UK.

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

I say to those watching today and who are genuinely sick, disabled or are retired. You have nothing to fear.”

These were the words used by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, at Conservative Party Conference in 2010. Fast-forward three years and we can safely say that this pledge has not stood the test of time.

In a move that shocked just about everyone in the sector the Department of Work and Pension (DWP) announced that to qualify for the higher rate of mobility under the new PIP assessment, a person would need to prove they can’t walk 20 metres instead of 50 metres  (the distance used under the Disability Living Allowance). To put the 20 metres distance in a bit of context, it translates to roughly the same length as two buses or less than a single tennis court. In fact, when in full flow, 100m legend Usain Bolt could cover it in approximately 1.6 seconds.

The problem? This one change in the law will instantly wipe 428,000 people off the higher rate of the benefit according to the Government’s own projections.

Rheumatoid Arthritis  is a chronic, progressive and disabling auto-immune disease, affecting over 690,000 adults in the UK. It is a painful condition, can cause severe disability and ultimately affects a person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks. The disease causes swelling and damaging cartilage and bone around the joints, commonly the hands, feet and wrists, making mobility extremely problematic. People with Rheumatoid Arthritis often use their mobility payments to secure a Motability vehicle which can get them to hospital appointments and work or for any of the many other higher costs associated with their disability. But owing to the changes now implemented under the new PIP assessment, many find their payments in jeopardy.

So what has changed? Is it just the case that 20 metres represents a fairer test of how far somebody needs to walk in order to engage independently with society? Not in the view of National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) or the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), and we’re not alone. Almost 11,000 people and 80 organisations signed a letter written by the DBC to David Cameron and Nick Clegg urging the Government to reinstate the 50 metre distance.

There has been no comprehensive assessment of what impact this will have on disabled people by the DWP, but from the work of National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and the DBC, it is clear that the loss of money or easy access to a vehicle (from losing a Motability vehicle) will lead to unemployment, isolation and depression.

Following concerted pressure from all those affected, including a judicial review of the decision, the DWP did decide to consult on the issue and we now await the verdict with baited breath.

Ultimately it comes down to a choice. Do you want to live in a society that accepts that disabled people need our help to live as full and independent lives as possible or do you want to live in a society that sees these people as a burden, that should be able to get by on less?

We know how we feel at NRAS… we hope you agree.

Leo Watson, Government Affairs Officer at the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS)


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600,000 fewer people to receive benefits under DLA reforms rolled out today, but has the government got it right?

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Today (8April 2013) sees the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment or PIP, another reform in a set of reforms that represents one of the biggest shake ups of the welfare system. PIP replaces the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and is designed to help people ‘with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability’. Like the DLA, eligibility for PIP is based on one’s level of disability, not employment status or means. The government intends for PIP to be more focused on those with the most severe level of need than the current DLA, with this need being regularly checked through an assessment process.

PIP is currently being rolled out for new claimants in some parts of the North, but will eventually be nationwide, with DLA claimants being reassessed from 2015 onwards.

A number of charities have commented on the DWP’s estimate that 600,000 fewer people will be claiming PIP by 2018 than would be claiming DLA, if the current system continued. Some of those who are re-assessed for the PIP may not be eligible for benefits, but the government needs to be certain this is the case. If a person is assessed as not being eligible for PIP when they do require support the cost to the government, and society, may be larger in the long run.

Without support in performing everyday activities such as travelling to work, it may become extremely difficult for these individuals to remain in the labour market. Unemployment can lead to an exacerbation of existing health problems, an increased likelihood of co-morbidity – and perhaps most worrying to the treasury – the uptake in out-of-work benefit and a loss of tax revenue. It is both financially and morally expensive for society.

In the short term, we must hope that the government and Atos (one of the main providers of the assessment) have learnt from the criticisms of the Work Capability Assessment, and in particular take into account the difficulty of assessing someone with a mental health condition or a fluctuating illness. It is however good to hear that an assessment of the PIP assessment service is planned for 2014. Although the Harrington Reviews of the Work Capability Assessment haven’t been able to resolve all the issues surrounding the WCA, it has nonetheless improved it.

It should of course be remembered that the 600,000 is an estimate – not a target – of the number of people who will not be able to claim PIP by 2018, but who may have been eligible for DLA. It is hoped that the government, and the organisations carrying out the assessment, see it this way as well, and give an honest and genuine assessment of the needs of an individual applying for PIP. With the number of people living with chronic conditions expected to rise significantly in the UK over the next 20 years it would be unwise not to, and could end up costing them and society much more in the long run.

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