Changes to Disability Benefits and the Government’s blasé attitude to psychological distress.

Last month the Government announced that it was going to be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which would see those people with mental illnesses stuck without the vital support that they need. The Government has introduced these restrictions after losing two cases at tribunals.

The Tribunal ruled that someone who is unable to undertake a journey without assistance from another person due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulty navigating. Rather than accepting the ruling of the courts, the Government decided to change the legislation and the descriptors to exclude people suffering from some mental health disabilities by inserting the following into the legislation and the descriptors, “for reasons other than psychological distress”.

The Government produced its own analysis of which claimants and conditions are likely to be affected by these changes, 

These include people suffering from Dementia, Autism, Cognitive Disorder due to stroke, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotic Disorder, Schizophrenia, Agoraphobia, to name just a few. These are very serious debilitating mental health conditions that can severely restrict a person’s ability to live independently.

One of Theresa May’s first major speeches after becoming Prime Minister was about righting the social injustices faced by those suffering with mental health conditions, she talked of parity of esteem between physical and mental health and yet at the very first hurdle, She and her Government have failed miserably by introducing this legislation that discriminates against those suffering with mental health disabilities.

I  have been diagnosed with Severe Depression, Anxiety, Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, social phobia to name just a few. I have suffered with these conditions all through my adult life due to being sexually abused and raped on weekly basis for 12 years of my life. I frequently self harm, suffer from intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation. I wrote an article about my struggles with mental health, accessing appropriate NHS treatment and the benefit system here.

I currently receive the lower rate of Disability Living Allowance (Mobility Component) because I need the assistance of someone else in order to leave my home due to “psychological distress” When I am eventually migrated to PIP, I will no longer be entitled to an award or this support.

This is an example of what it is like for someone like me who struggles with these disorders outside the home.

When outdoors I can become so distressed by events and this can trigger an episode of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms. Symptoms include flash backs to an event that has caused much psychological harm and distress, visual hallucinations of the event that makes me feel that I am in another time and place, reliving the event as though it is really happening at that moment, becoming completely unaware of immediate surroundings. Coming out of one of these episodes is extremely distressing, confusing and disorientating and leaves me full of fear. My entire thought process is filled only with getting home and getting safe. I am no longer capable of following the route because my brain and thought process will not quieten down enough to think. I can only liken it to a petrified dog that will run off at full speed ahead, unaware of dangers / hazards / roads, petrified of people. All you can think of is getting home to the safety of your bed and cowering. The situation has caused me to put myself and others in danger whilst in this panicked state of mind. There are many things that can act as a trigger for me, It might be the way someone looks reminds me of person from my past, It can be a certain smell that acts as a trigger, it might be something I hear. I spend most of my life avoiding triggers. These are obviously easier to control within the safety of my own home, but impossible when I am outdoors.

I hardly ever go outdoors, I tend to only go out when it is for a necessity like going to the doctor, psychologist or hospital and then I need my partner or family member to accompany me to keep me safe and to intervene in the event of me having a psychological episode. I can on very rare occasions manage a trip out to the countryside as long as it is a wide open space and there is nobody else about and I can see any perceived threats well in advance and I am able to escape and get back to the car or home quickly. I have become totally disengaged from society; I cut all ties with friends and former work colleagues many years ago. When I am outdoors, if I am confronted with a possible social interaction my brain starts racing at a million miles an hour. I convince myself they are going to ask me personal questions which will cause me distress. My brain starts running through conversations before they have taken place, it becomes sheer manic and panic, trust me when I say it is pure trauma. When I get home, the only way I can deal with this “psychological distress” is to start self harming and deflect my emotional trauma into a physical trauma as a distraction to escape my thoughts. It is hell.

I worry about these changes to disability benefits, not just for myself, but for people like me who suffer from debilitating mental health disorders who rely on the assistance of others and the welfare state in order to try and live an independent life. I think of last week’s terrorist attack where people who up until that awful day, might have lived a very ordinary healthy life and through no fault of their own, some person through this evil act of terror, has totally derailed their life  and left them suffering with severe psychological trauma and a disorder. The physical injuries may heal but the mental trauma can often be much more difficult to treat. I hope that these people get all the psychological support that they need to try and prevent a long term disorder, but I worry because I know firsthand just how hard it is to access mental health services through the NHS and even then when you can access it, it is severely rationed. I know what it is like to live with these conditions and the long term disabling effect it can have. I think people need to think about that, because if any of these people are left with a psychological disorder because of this terrorist attack and they end up needing the support of another person when outdoors because of “psychological distress” they will not be entitled to PIP Mobility component under the new legislation.

Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats have submitted a prayer motion in order to try and reverse these changes to PIP legislation. There is only 7 days left in order to get the debate in parliament and hopefully a vote to reverse this decision. I urge all LDV readers to contact their MP and ask them to sign this motion.

If Theresa May and this Tory Government are serious about parity of esteem between physical and mental health, they would reverse this unfair discriminatory legislation that is going to leave thousands of people suffering from debilitating mental health without the vital support they need.

* Matt is a reader of and contributor to Liberal Democrat Voice who is not a member of any political party

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  • Catherine Jane Crosland 28th Mar '17 - 11:49am

    Matt, Thank you so much for writing this article, and raising awareness of this issue. It must have taken a great deal of courage to write about your personal experience, and I am so glad you have done so. Your voice, as someone who will be affected by this legislation, needs to be heard.
    This cruel legislation shows a complete lack of understanding of the difficulties that people with a mental illness have to contend with. As your article powerfully and movingly shows, someone with a mental illness often has far greater difficulties to overcome than someone with a physical disability. So someone with a mental illness needs and deserves benefits, just as much as a physically disabled person does.

  • Diane Reddell 28th Mar '17 - 11:59am

    I personally will probably be affected by these changes, if not now but when my PIP is up for renewal as I need assistance for travel and walking out and about because I get dizzy and have panic attack in open spaces due to my condition. People need this help to be socially included in society. Again mental health conditions are not given parity to physical health conditions. If they start with this, they will then move on to Access to Work and then millions of disabled people will be excluded from work too!

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Mar '17 - 12:31pm

    Matt you are a hero.

  • @ Matt It took a lot of courage to write this article, Matt, and you have my respect.

    You are absolutely right on the issue, and I’m afraid it is to the shame of the party that they allowed Duncan-Smith to introduce a system which was always go to end up like this.

    Although not entirely the same as your situation, I would encourage everyone to go to watch, or to get the DVD of, ‘I Daniel Blake’.

  • Liberal Democrat Peers voted last night to reverse the Government proposals for PIP, on precisely the grounds that Matt so eloquently argues. We were supported by just three Labour members, but the rest obeyed their Whips and abstained. As a result we lost by 164 votes to 75. Subsequently, a limp “Regret Motion” from the Labour leadership was passed (by 162 to 154 votes) – with the support of Liberal Democrats, as better than nothing – but Ministers can and probably simply ignore this. Another Labour betrayal.

  • @Catherine

    Thank you for giving me the encouragement to write it.


    Thank you for standing up and adding your voice, I know how scary that is.

    @David and Sue, Thank you for your kind words
    I watched the I Daniel Blake and it was heart wrenching, sadly what he experienced navigating the DWP is all to true and common for so many people. The whole system is inhumane and unfit for purpose and in many cases end up with tragic endings like Daniel Blake.

    @Paul Tyler

    I am disgusted at Labour and I will never vote for that party again ever. I wrote a very personal letter to Jeremy Corbyn, Debbie Abrahams the shadow secretary for DWP, Baroness Sherlock The Shadown DWP Minister in the lords, not one of them saw fit to give me a reply.
    Less than half of Labour MP’s signed the early day motion submitted by Tim Farron
    I am not really sure how the process works but I am pretty sure that Damien Green has refused point blank to allow a parliamentary debate on the matter. Maybe someone can explain how prayer motions work?

    I think our best chances of blocking this was in the lords and the Labour Lords well and truly screwed over disabled people by not even bothering to turn up and vote. How they can call themselves an opposition party and hold the Government to account or claim to be a party on the side of disabled people is beyond me, they are a disgrace.

    I really would like to see an MP take on Theresa May in the commons and drag her over the coals on this issue. She needs to explain herself about what she meant when she said about righting the wrongs and the social injustices faced by disabled people, Parity of esteem for mental health. And just what is her Government going to do for all the victims of the terrorist attacks if god forbid they end up with severe Psychological Disorders?

  • Graham Martin-Royle 28th Mar '17 - 2:30pm

    This is absolutely appalling, the Tory government have no idea what it is like living with these problems and their dismissive attitude towards them disgusts me. Labour are no better and their cowardice in not confronting the Tories is a disgrace.

    Matt & Diane, thank you for sharing your experiences. It is only when we hear directly from those affected that we realise just how devastating these cuts are.

  • Diane Reddell 28th Mar '17 - 5:49pm

    Whilst I understand the government and future government(whoever that maybe) has to do more with less with Brexit looming. They are targeting the wrong areas to make savings sometimes and there are better solutions out there. For example, with the development of personal tax accounts, earned income and self employment income should be treated the same and tax taken off on the gross figure and then expenses allowance are taken off, student loans awarded to EU students is claimed back(the last report I saw this was not being done due to the inability to locate the students), minimise/cap litigation of NHS and Civil Service Services or generate or generate new income from optional care insurance, personal support service or Reasonable adjustment stockist business ran by a business angel and apprentices etc.

  • Speaker John Bercow has granted an emergency debate tomorrow and It will last 90 minutes and begin straight after the Prime Minister’s statement on triggering Article 50 tomorrow.”
    Not sure how meaningful this is though, is this just a debate or will they be able to force the government to hold a vote? I don’t know how these things work with emergency debates, there has been no mention of any motions.
    My understanding is that a vote needed to take place by this Thursday before parliament breaks for recess in order to annul this legislation otherwise it will not be able to be automatically revoked by the deadline of the 3rd April.

    Maybe someone who understands parliamentary procedure can explain the process?

    I have no faith whatsoever in Labour on this matter more than half of them could not even put their signature to the Early day motion put forward by Tim Farron, Norman Lamb is the man to drag Theresa May and Damien Green over the coals and hold them to account.

  • Diane Reddell 28th Mar '17 - 8:47pm

    Please see attached for the process of emergency debates –

  • @Diane

    Thank you for the link, I am still unsure though of whether there is actually a vote taking place tomorrow at the end of the debate.

    I can not see anywhere mention if Tim Farrons early day motion “That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (S.I., 2017, No. 194), dated 22 February 2017, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23 February, be annulled.” is actually being debated and voted upon tomorrow, or if any other motion has been tabled and will be voted on.

    I guess what I am asking is, is there any substance to tomorrow’s debate, will there be a meaningful vote at the end of the debate which is able to make changes to this legislation? Or is tomorrow’s debate just parliamentary posturing that gives MP’s the opportunity to publicly criticise the Governments policy with no actual means or opportunity to amend it?

  • Martin Walker 29th Mar '17 - 7:56am

    Matt – thanks for writing this article. Although aware of the issues and the injustice of what was happening in general terms, your article was much more powerful than a dry, policy-based piece would have been. Thank you.

  • Diane Reddell 29th Mar '17 - 8:25pm

    I watched the emergency debate on BBC parliament today. There were some really strong arguments. I don’t think they has a vote on removing the amendment. They just had a vote on that the issue had been debated. There were action proposed to set up service user panels, reforms and improvements to the application form and assessment process. It was also stated that support will be based on need and the only 8 people affected would be people who had their decision changed by tribunal. DWP decisions would be ok. Also that they are continually reviewing the PIP process and that PIP has better outcomes than DLA did for mental health. The counter argument was that 100K+ people could be effected.

  • @Diane
    The figures the Conservative bench were trying to use in relation to the better outcomes from DLA to PIP were misleading to say the least. Why they were not pulled up by it I do not know
    The Figures that they were using were for claims BEFORE these legislation changes.
    It is precisely because more people were being awarded PIP than what they anticipated, that they have made these legislative changes.
    Remember the whole reason why the Government changed from DLA to PIP was because the intention was to reduce the claimant count by 20% or more.
    These changes mean new claimants will find it harder to get an award and when current claimants come up for reassessment they will get a reduced award.

    So it will be next lot of stats that will show the outcomes for PIP are far worse than DLA.

  • There are a couple of important points I wish to make that I think shows the absurdity of the changes to these legislation but which also might be important information that is applicable to others who find themselves caught up in this PIP legislation and have found themselves on this forum.
    Entitlement to PIP is governed by the Welfare Reform Act 2012. There are two components: daily living and mobility. By section 78 a person is entitled to the daily living component if their ability to carry out daily living activities is limited (standard rate) or severely limited (enhanced rate) by their physical or mental condition. Section 79 makes similar provision for entitlement to the mobility component if their ability to carry out mobility activities is limited or severely limited by their physical or mental condition
    4. Regulation 4 provides for assessment of ability to carry out the activities, including the following: Where C is the Claimant “(2) C’s ability to carry out an activity is to be assessed –
    (2A) Where C’s ability to carry out an activity is assessed, C is to be assessed as satisfying a descriptor only if C can do so —
    (a) safely; (b) to an acceptable standard; (c) repeatedly; and (d) within a reasonable time period.
    (4) In this regulation — [2017] UKUT 105 (AAC) CSPIP/97/2016 CSPIP/106/2016 CSPIP/385/2016 CPIP/1599/2016 4 “safely” means in a manner unlikely to cause harm to C or to another person, either during or after completion of the activity
    In other words, if you cannot carry out an activity “safely” you should not be assessed as being able to carry out the activity at all.
    The Government has changed the decision maker’s guides with the aim to reduce awards by inserting the text “for reasons other than psychological distress” at the start of the descriptors.
    I do not know of many circumstances where a person suffering from mental health disorder and who is in Psychological distress can be classified as being “safe” carrying out that task, especially when Psychological distress in most circumstances leads to impaired judgement that can put themselves or others at risk.
    Given the emphasis that the Government puts on “safely” into legislation, it seems rather odd and contradictory for this new piece of text to be written into the descriptors “for reasons other than psychological distress”.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Mar '17 - 12:20am

    Matt. I want to point out that you seem to me a powerful person and a useful citizen. Apart from the meticulous care you have taken in presenting facts and argument about PIP mobility payments for people with mental health difficulties, you have achieved what only a tiny minority of people can ever achieve, having a current issue raised in both Houses of Parliament. Congratulations. Writing as a counsellor here, I hope very much that this achievement in itself will have given you a much enhanced sense of self-worth and awareness of your capacity to impact helpfully on our society, which should surely be beneficial to your mental health. I hope you will excuse this personal comment, which is born out of admiration and goodwill.

  • @Katharine Pindar

    Thank you for those kind and thoughtful words, however, I am not sure that anything I have said or done had anything to do with the debates in Westminster, so I don’t think I am worthy of that admiration, but I appreciate it all the same.
    All I did was to share my experiences {as difficult though as that was} sometimes you have just have to find your voice and to do what is best for the collective rather than for yourself, so that’s all I did and to share my genuine fear for others in order to try to appeal to LDV readers for support to lean on their own MP’s. I thank Catherine Jane Crosland for giving me the gentle nudge and encouragement to write.

    I have always had a strong sense in social justice, even when I have felt that I am not worthy of something myself or when I struggle to find a voice for myself. I will always try to find my voice for others. Sometimes it is easier to argue for others than it is for yourself. I always found that quite strange.

    One day I hope that I am more stable and able to face the big wide world again, maybe I would want to become a voice for people who suffered from mental health especially victims of abuse or other serious mental trauma victims, the troubles we face accessing the appropriate personalised treatment, instead of the one cap fits all approach that is currently used for treating people with mental health. The difficulties faced with accessing the DWP and other governmental departments. In my experience it has been hell and needs serious reforms, lessons are not being learnt, because I keep coming across the very same thing year after year after year.
    Funnily enough, that leads me to believe that one day I might be able to get involved in politics with the Libdems in some way, because they’re the party that I identify with most on this issue and it’s an issue that goes to the core of my very being. I have lived with these difficulties for all of my life and I know how devastating and derailing they can be. I still have a long way to go though before any of that becomes a reality, but in the mean time, I will find my voice when I can and speak up when I can.
    I know there is another debate to take place in parliament on the 19th April, it is too late to get this legislation automatically revoked, but it is not too late to put pressure on the government to reverse this legislation. I hope LDV readers will get behind that all they can

    Kind regards


  • Catherine Jane Crosland 30th Mar '17 - 2:49pm

    Matt, It is great that you feel that perhaps, some time in the future, you may be able to become involved in politics with the Lib Dems. You would be very welcome, and you have so much to contribute.
    Thank you again for finding the courage to share your personal experience, to raise awareness of this issue.

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Mar '17 - 1:36am

    Just to echo Catherine on this, Matt, I too hope that you will become involved in Lib Dem politics further in the future. Your strength to overcome your difficulties seems to have grown, and I hope your self-confidence will have expanded likewise, seeing that your effective expression on behalf of others is being heard here and acted upon.

  • First of all, I want to say thank you to you guy’s

    I always want to report, this morning I just woke up to the dreaded brown envelope from the DWP about my PIP decision.

    I am sorry to say that my PIP award has been significantly reduced from what I was getting on DLA
    On DLA I received Middle Rate Care. On PIP I have just been reduced to standard rate care.
    On DLA I received standard Rate Mobility. On PIP I have just been declined mobility because apparently I only need “prompting” to go outdoors to “avoid stress”
    This is despite them having a Psychiatric report and a consultant Psychologists report, detailing all my diagnoses and the effects they have on me.

    This means my benefits have now been cut by £21.25 a week and I have lost vital support

    It means I now have to go through the stressful process of appeal.

    This is exactly what I have been saying would happen to people with the changes to these legislation. People who suffer from mental health, who do manage sometimes to go out doors for medical appointments etc but can only do so if accompanied will be deemed as only needs prompting and therefore not eligible.

    Here we go again, more months of added stress and uncertainty, Thanks DWP and Theresa May. Just loving your Parity of Esteem

  • Matt. I am so sorry. Try to keep your pecker up and get advocacy help if you need it to take the sting out of things on your appeal.

    Advocacy Services –‎‎0300 456 2370
    Supporting people in vulnerable situations. Contact us for help
    Free Services · Make A Referral · Direct And Local Support
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  • Matt – thank you for sharing all this with us. Certain your writing will have helped others .

  • Just want to say a final thank you to everyone who contributed towards this thread.

    I am not going to post anything else about my particular circumstances as I am now going to go through the appeal process and it probably is not wise for me for me to do so, only to say that this has absolutely devastated me and knocked the stuffing right out of me and put me in an even more perilous position than I was already in.

    I cannot do this alone anymore, so I have sort the support of my MP.

    I hope that my writing this thread and raising this issue, just as other forum readers / members have written articles about, it has given people some insight into the kind of pressures that we face and the injustices that are occurring on a daily basis.

    Thank you all again

    Kind regards


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