Opinion: what’s wrong with Personal Independence Payments?

I joined the Lib Dems only a couple of months ago after being a long time voter. In fact, I first voted Lib Dem back in 2001 at my very first election. I decided to join now because I wanted to become more politically active and because I was deeply unhappy with some of the policies of the Government. I’m totally blind, have been since the age of 5 and am extremely disturbed by the removal of Disability Living Allowance and its replacement by Personal Independence Payments.

There’s a great deal I could say about the current proposals and how they disadvantage people with disabilities. No doubt once I get into this Op Ed business I will be writing at considerable length. However, I’ll concentrate on one main area in this first piece.

One of the biggest challenges blind or Visually Impaired people face is in their ability to get around independently. Currently if you are registered as blind you will get the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance. This reflects a twenty year campaign on the part of RNIB and others to demonstrate how hard it is to get around if you can’t see and avoid obstacles, read signs, or recognise your surroundings with sight. Personal Independence Payments will take this away. The current proposals will mean that Guide Dog Owners will continue to qualify for the highest rate of the Mobility Component, whilst long cane users will not despite the fact that the Guide Dog and the Long Cane both have the same purpose. Both ensure that a blind person, or someone with little sight can get from point a to point B without hurting themselves. Undoubtedly they function in different ways, the Guide Dog is trained to take the blind person round obstacles and re-establish a straight course. The Long Cane strikes the obstacle thus indicating to the blind person that something is there and that they need to respond in some way. Whether it’s a Long Cane or a Guide Dog, a blind person couldn’t manage to get around safely without it.

The current proposals use the unhelpful terms familiar and unfamiliar routes. Whilst on the face of it, these seem to be appropriate, after all once you know a route you should be able to manage it independently? Well no actually that’s not true. A route that a blind person knows well can become impossible for them to manage if a pavement is dug up and they know no other way round the obstacle, if a controlled crossing is non-functional and they can’t cross a road and if public transport is diverted or cancelled and they can’t use it. I’ve lived in my current flat for over four years. I’ve regularly used the tram to go from my local stop to East Croydon. Three years ago the tram was not running all the way to East Croydon, stopping a couple of stops short. Due to the fact that I didn’t know the way from that stop to east Croydon I was unable to get to east Croydon and so missed a lecture at University.

One final point I want to make is that the current proposals don’t recognise the additional costs faced by people who are blind when it comes to travel. These obviously include greater use of taxis and public transport, but also include expensive technology such as talking GPS solutions.

I believe that our party is about fairness, that’s why we should be fighting against these proposals as they currently stand as they are totally unfair.

If you’re interested in how a blind person uses a cane to get around take a look at this short documentary I helped to make at university.

watch?v=RmsoHyMRtbg

Shameless self advertising I know.

* Yusuf Osman has been blind since the age of four. He is an expert in Middle Eastern history and is working towards a PhD at the School of of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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10 Comments

  • An excellent, clear and objective set of comments.

    I am a (sighted) volunteer, who collects money for the RNIB. I was disappointed that the RNIB’s “briefing” to members/volunteers about the legislation was nothing like as clearly stated or as explicit as are these comments. When I was prompted to spoke to an MP, I was given the impression that the RNIB had briefed MPs, but apparently without such clarity.

    Well done Yusuf.

  • Thank you, Yusuf, and welcome to the party.

    Very good article, and I didnt know about the current issue you mentioned. I certainly join with you on your thoughts.

  • Simon Beard 12th Jun '12 - 2:23pm

    Yusuf

    Good article, I hope you stick around and write more.

    I am visually impaired, but not totally blind, although my limited vision means I am ‘legally’ blind, like you this has been my situation since birth. I have to say I never really understood the blanket higher rate mobility payment for blind people, even though I have been very greatful for the money (it has been used on transport, but by paying for a rail season ticket, which fully sighted people in my position would almost certainly have to do anyway).

    Here’s the thing, all the problems you mention are absolutely correct and I agree with them no end. However, in my experience very few of the problems you mentioned can be solved by recieving a higher rate of benefit. Yes, GPS is a life saver, but its a one time cost, and it wouldn’t take anybody that long to save up the money for a system using lower rate, especially as it is often available at subsidesed prices or even free. The use of public transport is another thing you mention, and again I do this all the time as I can’t drive. However blind people already get a pretty good discount on must public transport. Obviously there are oddities here, like the fact that we get free bus travel but busses are, in my experience, the least accessable form of transport for a visually impaired person, but I think these could be ironed out. I used to live in London and there I got free public transport everywhere with my freedom pass (and still recieved higher rate mobility) so it is possible.

    The one remaining cost you mention is taxis. This is a biggy of course, if you make use of taxis the costs soon rise up. However one problem I have here is that anybody who does makes use of them at all regularley probably is going to be racking up costs beyond even the higher rate mobility allowance in doing so, so that’s no sollution by itself either. Again in London there is a ‘taxi card’ for frequent disabled taxi users that part subsidises the cost of short taxi journeys, this is surely far far better a sollution than higher rate mobility payments as it focuses the money where it is needed.

    The big problem however remains the unpredictability, as well as the unelpfullness of those who deliberatly obstruct efforts to increase accessability e.g. By turning off voice announcements on trains and busses. No amount of money paid to disabled people can, I think, solve these problems, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be solved. Some of these sollutions however will take public money, and I feel strongly that blind people should be focusing on protecting this funding, as well as campaigning against those who try to make it hard for us, rather than protecting the higher rate mobility payments for all blind people.

    One final point, yes of course it is ludicrous to distinguish between guide dog and cain users for allocaiting mobility allowance. Whoever thought that idea up should be made to navigate roadworks with a cain and a blindfold for a few days untill they break their ankles. A far more useful distinction would be print readers and non-print readers as even with limited sight, the ability to read a sign, map or stuck up timetable (evantually) makes a huge difference when the unpredictable happens. Again I think that is an issue worth campaigning on.

  • Andrew Suffield 12th Jun '12 - 7:42pm

    Good point. Have you sent it in to the consultation? The current proposals are not final, and the point of the consultation is to fix problems like this one.

  • Welcome, Yusuf, and thanks for an informative article.

    Out of curiosity, what determines whether a blind or partially sighted person uses a Long Cane as opposed to a Guide Dog? Or is it just personal preference?

  • Yusuf Osman 14th Jun '12 - 7:19pm

    Thanks for everyone’s kind words and apologies for the time its taken me to respond. If I forget to respond to a specific point remind me please as I’m writing this in word and popping in and out of Internet Explorer to check on the various comments. Catherine the choice about whether to use a Guide Dog or Cane is partly one of personal preference. Some people don’t like dogs, or have religious reasons for not wishing to use one. A Guide Dog also comes with a significant amount of responcibility, unlike a Cane you can’t walk in the door and hang it up till you need it again. You have to feed it, groom it, spend it (let it go to the toilet), which of course means you need to clean up after it, play with it and practice obedience work. I have owned a Guide Dog but came to the conclusion that in my current circumstances it wasn’t for me. Andrew, I did respond to the consultation, 6 pages of response actually, I must admit though to having some doubts as to whether the Minister concerned, IDS, will pay attention. With the stated aim of cutting the budget by %20 and the fraud rate for DLA being a massive %0.5, legitimate claimants are going to have to lose out if that %19.5 difference is going to be realised. Now’s the time though, to put pressure on each individual MP whether they are Lib Dem or not to lobby the Minister about these glaring floors in the current proposals. Simon, funnily enough the person I showed this piece to before I sent it in said I should mention why its still important to get the high rate of the Mobility Component even though in London at least there is the Taxi Card and the Freedom Pass. I didn’t have the space and so was thinking about writing another piece on that specific issue. All the points you refer to raise valid questions, however I’m still in favour of the higher rate of Mobility going to blind people. Just to take a couple of examples, the costs of a GPS system, might involve upgrade costs, maintenance costs and added insurance costs, which would come out of the Mobility Component. If you use an IPhone, for example, you have to pay a higher monthly tariff and higher insurance, I believe. I will write that other piece soon, but just before I sign off, do these comments have a character limit? Your right if someone uses taxis a lot the current amount of Mobility isn’t likely to cover them, however I don’t think we should be cutting the Mobility component because we can’t get out everywhere we would like to go. Cheers

  • Andrew Suffield 15th Jun '12 - 8:35am

    With the stated aim of cutting the budget by %20 and the fraud rate for DLA being a massive %0.5, legitimate claimants are going to have to lose out if that %19.5 difference is going to be realised

    Yes, and it’s mostly coming off the bottom end – the people who genuinely have little need for money, either because their problems are more inconvenient than debilitating, or because money just doesn’t help them.

    In fact that’s aimed to be more than 20%, with the rest of the money being reallocated to those who do have a real need for it. This bit I can really get behind: I’m not fond of cutting the disability budget overall, but I’m all in favour of the money going to those who need it most, rather than being spread around indiscriminately.

    One of the major objectives of the consultation is to sort out precisely who does and does not need financial support.

    What you have here are clear examples of how blind people who use a cane have real needs for financial support, and hence should be placed in the group that receives it. That’s exactly what they need to get the new system right, and it’s why we have consultations.

  • Yusuf Osman 18th Jun '12 - 9:08pm

    Andrew, the current system already does this, someone who has some sight will get less benefit than someone who has no sight at all. The problem is that these proposals are trying to create a hierarchy between someone who is totally blind, someone who is in a wheelchair and someone who has learning difficulties, just to name three disabilities. I’m not sure that you can create such a hierarchy. In my opinion you risk placing values on things that can’t really be compared. Is it more important to give someone money to help them get up and wash, or give someone money who because of their blindness can’t get out easily. I’m not convinced that DLA needed reforming in this way. If the argument goes that DLA was failing because it was going to lots of people who shouldn’t have been receiving it I don’t think the stats support that. If the argument goes that DLA was a disincentive to work, it should be remembered that it wasn’t a work related benefit and that many people used their DLA to pay for work related transport costs. Finally, there’s the real reason for these reforms and that is the state of the economy. The DWP has the largest government budget and so it needs to bare some of the cuts. If the government made the argument just on that one point we could argue about the fairness of asking the poorest and most vulnerable to pay for the mistakes of bankers, company directors and politicians. We could also say that the largest part of the DWP’s budget is actually pensions and not welfare benefits. Unfortunately too often the government has pandered to the media portrayal of cheats and scroungers.

  • Michael Wilson 29th Jun '12 - 12:15pm

    Yusuf – This is a great article.

    We now know that – according to the Government’s own figures – about half a million people will lose entitlement altogether as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Still others will qualify for a lower rate than they currently receive. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is currently developing the assessment criteria and final thresholds for receiving PIP. The consultation closed at the end of April and we are waiting for the third draft of PIP regulations.

    I think the main concerns are:
    * Personal Independence Payment threatens to turn back the clock to 1992. You are guaranteed the enhanced rate of the mobility component if you are a wheelchair user, you don’t get it indefinitely if you are blind.
    * Regardless of the length of time a person has lived with sight loss, the difficulties and barriers remain. The impact of sight loss does not diminish over time. There is a fear of routine reductions in PIP awards at periodic reviews.
    * Sight loss is a serious disability but in key areas the Personal Independence Payment assessment fails to recognise this at present.

    As Yusuf said the upper rate was only awarded in 2011 but was agreed with cross party support only a couple of years ago. One of the main arguments of reform of DLA to PIP is that it hasn’t been reformed for over 20 years, however the upper rate award for blind people HAS been, and now they are threatening to remove it.

    Despite the Government saying it wants to move away from the pure medical model of disability to a social model of disability and that it wants to judge each person on their individual circumstances, the second draft regulations guarantee enhanced rate PIP for people in wheelchairs – this in effect means that the Government recognises the additional costs of someone in a wheelchair but doesn’t for those people who are blind, in effect reversing a cross party decision a couple of years ago, and turning back the clock to 1992 dismissing out of hand the additional barriers/costs of sightloss.

    As Yusuf said, there is no such thing as a familiar journey. However there are a number of issues in the PIP criteria which fail to recognise the impact of sight loss – communication, adaptation, finances, looking after household – the list goes on.

    The upper rate of DLA currently costs the government £19m and is given to those people who have the severest visual impairment. Despite being able to find money for fuel, pasties, skips, churches they are currently refusing to budge on this despite Steve Webb and Liberal Democrats previously supporting this.

    Andrew – as stated above. Consultations are a good thing but the current criteria fail to recognise additional costs of sightloss which is a step back to 1992. Also what is to stop regular reviews which slowly but surely chip away at PIP awards? Consultations are only good if Government listens – Maria Miller has given no indication that she is listening so far.

    Dennis B – I’d be interested if you would be willing to share your concerns about the RNIB briefing for MPs. As well as being a former Lib Dem councillor and Campaigns Officer, I now work for the RNIB and welfare reform/PIP has taken up a huge amount of campaign time. RNIB campaigners have contacted over 85% of MPs over PIP and the impact on blind and partially sighted people using the briefing. There are a number of MPs from all parties that individual staff members at RNIB have spoken to but mainly it is our campaigners who relay their personal experience of the issues they face on a day to day basis. You can reach me on my RNIB email address (firstname.surname at rnib.org.uk).

    There will also be a number of people who are classified with partial sight who will lose out altogether despite facing additional barriers and costs. As well as watching Yusuf’s video I would suggest watching three videos the RNIB have produced (tinyurl.com/dla2pip) to find out more. If you live in a seat with a Lib Dem MP, I would also ask you to speak to them and find out their position on PIP for blind and partially sighted people.

    Michael Wilson

  • Alexander Shannon 29th Jun '12 - 8:59pm

    I agree with everything yusuf has said in his blog, but particularly the part regarding the fact that PIP distinguishes between users of Canes and Guide dogs. As someone who is registerred blind, but who has some residual vision, I carry a guide cane, as I feel that my residual vision means I don’t require a long cane, but i find that I sometimes need to use a cane to distinguish where steps are in situations where they are not marked with white lines and therefore there is no colour contrast.

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