Baroness Thomas writes… Getting Personal Independence Payments right

This afternoon the Department of Work and Pensions announces a significant change on the new Personal Independent Payments following significant Lib Dem pressure. Celia Thomas, the Lib Dem peer who has campaigned tirelessly on the issue, explains why it’s a major win.

Getting the rules governing Personal Independence Payments right is vital. The new benefit, which will begin to replace Disability Living Allowance later this year, will have a huge effect on disabled people up and down the country.

I’m broadly in favour of the change to PIP, which seeks to clarify the eligibility of disabled people to this benefit, the purpose of which is to help enable disabled people to live as independently as possible. But, when the Regulations were published last month, a serious flaw was revealed.

This was the Government’s attempt to clarify the ‘Moving Around’ criteria. All the drafts which had been published before the final version of the Regulations came out, talked about a person being able to walk, aided or unaided, up to 50 metres. Many people criticised this as it left a lot of people who could only walk a very short distance unclear as to whether they would receive the enhanced rate of the benefit – the gateway to, for example, an entitlement to a Motability car.

The final draft made changes aimed at solving this problem by guaranteeing that those who cannot walk more than 20 metres will get the higher rate. Those who can walk between 20 and 50 metres will qualify for either the enhanced or standard rate of the benefit, depending on if they are able to walk this distance safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner, i.e. not too slowly.

However, the Government intended to hide away this test away in the guidance given to the people who carry out the assessment, wrapping up “repeatedly, reliably, safely and in a timely manner” in the one word “reliably”. I believed that this was too important to be left just in guidance and should appear in the assessment itself.

Immediately I tabled a Motion to try to put all these vital words into the Regulations which would mean that they would become part of the law. The Lib Dem DWP team in both Houses went to work (Stephen Lloyd, Greg Mulholland and Mike German) and we lobbied our DWP Minister Steve Webb to take up the battle with his colleagues. Steve managed to persuade his colleagues that these words must be part of the Regulations themselves, and today we have heard that this has now been agreed.

This is a tremendous victory, which will mean that disabled people need not fear that the bar to receiving the enhanced mobility rate is too high. The Government has made it clear that, for example, if someone can walk 20 metres one day, but not necessarily the next, then they will be deemed not to be able to do so repeatedly.

By putting these words into amending Regulations, we are ensuring that support will be given to those who need it most. This adds to our other victories on PIP, including halving the waiting time from six months to three, and ensuring that the mobility component remains for those living in residential care.

These changes wouldn’t be happening without the Lib Dems in Government and shows just what we can do to protect some of the most vulnerable.

* Celia Thomas is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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  • Ruth Bright 31st Jan '13 - 4:01pm

    To present this as some sort of triumph beggars belief. The “safely, reliably, repeatedly, timely” test still caters inadequately for people with early-onset dementia and many, many other conditions.

  • And 20 metres is there and back. So really only 10 metres.

  • Richard Dean 31st Jan '13 - 5:16pm

    This sounds awfully cruel. My 90-year old mother can fortunately still walk the 200 metres to and from the local shops, but she has to be driven by someone if she wants to go most anywhere else – even just to enjoy a view.

    I wonder if there is perhaps an absence of joined-up thinking? Surely a person who cannot walk even 50 metres would need to be under some form of care – for instance by a doctor? Would it not be the carer who should be assessing ability to walk, by reference perhaps to guidance rather than regulation, rather than a civil servant or perhaps worse, an outsource organization?

  • Sam Barnett-Cormack 31st Jan '13 - 6:57pm

    Suggesting this fixes the 20m/50m issue is just misleading.

    A person who can walk 40m, rest for 30 minutes, walk 40m, rest for 30 minutes, walk 40m again may (it’s still horribly unclear) be considered to be in descriptor C or D (depending on whether or not they need an aid), giving only 8 or 10 points, so no enhanced rate if that’s their own mobility problem.

  • Richard – one of the problems with using carers for assessment is that it could compromise their caring role. Imagine a situation where the carers assessment was that someone no longer qualified for a particular benefit or level of benefit – it would probably impace on the reliationship they had with their client.

    I do think that some “victories” such as this:
    “The Government has made it clear that, for example, if someone can walk 20 metres one day, but not necessarily the next, then they will be deemed not to be able to do so repeatedly.”
    Are in effect putting existing caselaw into statute (albeit with a lower distance)

  • Richard Dean 1st Feb '13 - 12:37am

    I can see that, Hywel. But statute law is so inflexible, and opens the possibility of being treated like ATOS is said to. Would an NHS doctor be qualified and trusted to make an assessment, rather than a nameless official?

  • ‘This is a tremendous victory, which will mean that disabled people need not fear that the bar to receiving the enhanced mobility rate is too high.’
    Wrong, disabled people are all in a state of fear. The private company assessing them will say they CAN walk more than 20 metres. The companies, eg ATOS have already lied with the WCA and this will be no different.

  • Yellow Bill 1st Feb '13 - 1:56pm

    The Royal British Legion is very concerned that this will impact on many of the young men and women of the armed forces who have lost lower limbs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • The British Legion identify one of my concerns with these regs. Under DLA someone with no feet is automatically treated as unable to walk even if they can with the aid of prostheses and so qualifies for higher rate mobility (the threshold for Motability). These regulations don’t seem to have a similar provision but seem to be introducing a more complex assessment. That will either result in people who get higher rate mobility DLA missing out under PIP or will be a complete waste of time!

    Richard – Statute law is only inflexible if drafted that way – but as you can see above Sam is saying it is horribly unclear so you can’t both be right!

  • While I appreciate the challenge and hopeful inclusion of this draft amendment to the regulations I am still really concerned about the 50m. I work with disabled people and I have seen what a HUGE different mobility support and motability makes to some people who would lose out under even this draft. My workplace disabled parking spaces are much closer to 50m from our entrance than 20m.

    What are the chances of an amendment being made to the 50m distance? I think we need to ensure we still request this and keep explaining why. My MP Steve McCabe was really responsive to my initial concerns and I would consider going to him again to ask him to push for the 20 to be returned to 50 as I really do not think the mobility aspect of DLA is too generous, if anything it’s not generous enough. 50m is really no distance at all. I don’t live within 50m of a bus stop or indeed my workplace.

  • Yellow Bill 1st Feb ’13 – 1:56pm
    The Royal British Legion is very concerned that this will impact on many of the young men and women of the armed forces who have lost lower limbs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    You really do need to keep apace of whats taking place…forces personnel under the armed forces compensation scheme are able to claim “armed forces independence payment” which is a new benefit solely for ex forces with injuries and problems with mobility etc…comes into effect in April 2013. Thus veterans prior to 2005 continue with the war pension scheme and post 2005 veterans claim the newly introduced benefit.

  • Leekliberal 3rd Feb '13 - 7:29pm

    Well done Celia! – What cynics don’t understand is that every victory however small small improves the quality of life of some disabled people. Get the message cynics – we have 56 MPs and the Tories 300+ . Sadly we have to choose where to draw the line to reflect this reality.

  • Clive Arnold 24th Jun '13 - 2:48pm

    The Lib Dems have betrayed disabled people, there is no doubt and their can be no forgiveness. What has also become known since this original post is that there will also be between 10,000 and 25,000 carers who will lose their Carers Allowance. Something else that we carers won’t forgive the Lib Dems for.

    Follow that on a little, all those carers who lose Carers Allowance, they will be made to claim JSA instead. What do you have to do to be eligible for JSA? You have to be actively seeking work or taking part in some stupid job search scheme (scheme being the operative word) Even the most stupidly loyal Lib Dem or Tory fan-boy will know that the vast majority of these carers will STILL have their caring roles to fulfil, that means their JSA will be sanctioned. The reality is that many carers will drop out of the benefit system to continue their caring roles and be vastly worse off.

    Well done the Lib Dems for colluding with the Tory welfare reforms AKA- ‘death by tory’, may you never be allowed anywhere near power ever again.

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