Why this government is failing the disabled AND the taxpayer (DLA vs PIP)

wheelchair at seaham (holga)
I have seen a number of news items recently, including periodicals which should know better, saying something like this:

 

“Disability Living Allowance, the benefit that helps with the extra costs of being disabled, is being replaced by PIP. PIP will have regular face-to-face assessments, rather than DLA which was based on self-assessment questionnaires.

 

This makes it sound like DLA was an easy benefit to get, that it didn’t require any medical evidence, and that the fraud level therefore must have been high. It is plain misleading, and the truth of what is happening is being buried under debates about Wizard of Oz songs in the charts.

 

Let me tell you the real deal with DLA.

 

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In 2008, when I first realised I was disabled enough to qualify for DLA, I filled in a questionnaire. It was relatively simple, with tick boxes, and you were given the option to write a little more. I ticked the ones applying to me (I couldn’t cook a meal for myself), and briefly explained the nature of my illness and why that meant that I was physically unable to cook for myself. You were asked for your GP’s details, so I assumed they would phone my GP to confirm my illness and the extent of my disability.

 

They didn’t phone. They just refused my claim.

 

The letter said, “You do not qualify for DLA Lower Rate Care because you can cook a meal for yourself.”

 

Just that.

 

They had not met me or contacted anyone who had examined me. They just looked at my description of my disability and called me a liar.

 

I quickly discovered that this was not an unusual case: most people were turned down initially, and you had to go to a tribunal in order to get the right decision. I learnt that although the form appeared simple enough, you would not have a chance of getting your award unless you provided medical evidence from a doctor. Why they had not written that on the guidance notes, I just don’t know. In cases where they weren’t sure, they had their own medical examiner who assessed the claimant in person.

 

So I appealed and provided them with a letter from my specialist who knew me and my condition well and had written up the notes of my latest appointment with him. He confirmed everything I’d said on the form.

 

In due course I had a reply from the DWP: it was still a no. This time they had called both me and my doctor a liar.

 

I got mad, so I went to tribunal for further appeal.

 

At any point during this process, they could have sent the DWP’s own medical examiner to my house. They often do this as a matter of routine, in cases where the level of disability is in doubt. One lady who worked for the CAB described to me how the DWP medical assessor pressurised her to raise her hands above her head, even though she had said the pain from her Fibromyalgia was too severe. She broke down from his questioning and bullying tactics, but didn’t raise her hands above her head: partly because it would have caused her unbearable pain and made her Fibromyalgia worse, and partly because if she had done it, he would have ticked it off on his sheet as ‘can raise hands above head, no problem’ and she wouldn’t have got the benefit. As it was, he marked it down on his sheet as ‘refused to cooperate with the assessment’ and she had to appeal at tribunal (she won).

 

When I went into the tribunal that day, three people (only one of whom was a doctor) questioned me. They didn’t only question me about my disability, but about my motives. “Don’t you want to get better?” they asked, as though disability were a lifestyle choice. “You will want to learn how to cook for yourself, won’t you?”

 

I broke. I cried, and felt like a hypochondriac. I would have walked out (or rather, been wheeled out) there and then, had my degree-educated, thoroughly-researched husband not been there beside me, answering for me when I couldn’t face any more. I won my tribunal. I didn’t feel triumphant; I felt traumatised.

No wonder the statistics said those without CAB advice or legal support were far less likely to win their tribunal. They will have been bullied right out of there. And now, with the government cutting legal aid, I dare say those numbers of tribunal successes will be kept at a government-pleasing low, irrespective of whether or not the DWP make the right decisions.

 

I was shocked at the effect that the DLA tribunal had on me. I had spent hours scrabbling around the internet to try and work out why on earth the DWP were refusing genuine claimants, and what were the ‘right’ words to describe your disability, all in order to get the £900-a-year benefit for Lower Rate Care. (Despite needing a wheelchair for any distance over 200 metres, I would not have qualified for the mobility component).

 

The stress of the appeal, the being labelled a liar and scrounger knocked me. The emotional strain contributed to a worsening of my physical illness. I can quite understand why those who have mental illnesses are significantly in danger of committing suicide when they receive a wrong judgement from the DWP.

 

A few months after the end of the appeal, the brown envelope came again – I had to reapply. The rate of fraud for this particular benefit has always been extremely low: even the DWP’s own figures estimated it at 0.5%. Frankly, I could understand why. The hoops are so hard to jump through.

 

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Under DLA, if your condition was variable or non-permanent, you were reassessed – regularly. This is nothing new. The only cases where people were not reassessed for DLA were cases where it would have been a waste of taxpayers’ money to do so, (for example, congenital blindness.) Now the taxpayer will be paying for such people to go through the stress of constantly being reassessed for PIP; presumably to check for the miraculous. (This also gives the government the option to further change the qualifying criteria for PIP in the future, excluding more disabled people from receiving help.)

 

I will say it again: DLA was never awarded on self-assessment alone: you always had to provide written medical evidence from your doctor. They always had the option of sending their own DWP medical assessors – which they frequently did – and they always had the option to contact your GP and converse with them, which as far as I can tell, they didn’t.

 

It was only in cases of severe and irreversible disability that they didn’t constantly reassess. This seems like a good use of the taxpayer’s money, not a bad one.

 

And remember, DLA is a benefit to help disabled people with the extra costs of everyday living. it is not an out-of-work benefit: indeed, many people use their DLA to put towards hiring a car so that they can get to work more easily. (This is the motorbility scheme: not quite the same as saying ‘disabled people get a free car’).

 

So what has changed?

 

The biggest change is the descriptors for who qualifies as disabled.

 

Can’t cook a meal for yourself? Under DLA: disabled. Under PIP? Not disabled. No benefit.
Can’t walk more than 100 metres? Under DLA: disabled. Under PIP? Not disabled. No benefit.

 

And what of the claims that the government want to help the most needy?

 

What this means is that they will continue to give the benefit – the same amount of money, not an increased amount – to those who can’t walk more than 20 metres.

 

But to all those who can only walk 100 metres (From a non-disabled space in the car park to the supermarket, but not inside the supermarket, and not the return journey to the car) – no help.
All those who can only walk 51 metres (from your front door, across the other side of the road and back again) – no help.
All those who can walk only 25 metres (from your front door, across the other side of the road, but not back again) – benefit cut in half.
All those who are too ill to cook a meal for themselves – no help.

 

The government will give support to those who can’t walk 20 metres, this is true.

 

But only if you come, once a year or so, to an assessment centre that may or may not have disabled access, run by an organisation (Atos) that has secret targets to keep the payouts as low as possible, (yet no penalty if their decision is found to be wrong at tribunal). You will then be seen for 30 minutes or so by a nurse or Occupational Therapist (doctors are expensive so kept to a minimum), who may have no knowledge whatsoever about your particular condition and the complexities of it. You better hope you look ill on the day.

 

It will mean a continual fear of not knowing whether you will get your money.

 

It will mean that the most vulnerable in our society will feel sick to their stomach every time that brown envelope comes in.
 

It will mean a cut of £2bn on disability allowance, but an increase of almost £1bn to pay Atos to administrate these changes.
 

It will mean 500,000 disabled people losing all of their benefit, just so that the government could say they were targeting scroungers and could then afford to give a tax cut to the richest in society.
 

This is what the changes will mean. Just so we’re clear.

 
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77 Responses to Why this government is failing the disabled AND the taxpayer (DLA vs PIP)

  1. John L 27th October, 2018 at 10:27 pm #

    I am reading your replies now after having just had my PIP Interview, exhausting and almost ridiculous questions as well.

    I was a Police Officer in London in January 1992 when I was alone and in an area which was a known radio black spot. I was dealing with the usual day to day things we get involved in such as a civil dispute.

    I was approached by a very scared elderly lady who asked me to help in the local electricity shop. I wondered in and was confronted by a very large aggressive male, who it turned out was a semi pro Heavy weight Boxer and at least 5″ taller than I and about 18.5st. A dispute over a key charge was the issue and he was on a steroid high and was about to boil.

    The words that were inevitable were spoken by myself. “your under arrest” he charged me grabbed me by the throat and started to squeeze and then punched me in the face. I returned the gesture in an attempt to free myself and in doing so broke the knuckles and scaphoid bone in my right hand. He attempted to escape and I held on to him and called for urgent assistance to which I had no reply and judging by the chatter on the radio they had not had the transmission.

    We ended up in the High Street and he threw me into an oncoming car which luckily was moving slowly but it it still hurt and did some damage to my right thigh and ribs. I got up and chased him into a shop and caught him and he then he threw me at the shop window which I am glad did not break. We spilled back into the street (had an audience of onlookers jeering him and shouting…lovely people) I eventually had against a wall next to a BT junction box which is about waist high. I could hear now a roll cal on the radio and my number was pretty high up so they had a while to get to mine and eventually they got there and I could hear sirens in the distance.

    As we struggled he managed to push me against the junction box and forced me backwards over it and I felt searing pain in my back and legs which buckled under me and down I went with him stamping on my back several times with the free leg while I held onto the other (had arrested him and didn’t want to loose a days wage for loosing a prisoner) while I was on the floor feeling sick and cold rather than in pain I noticed a police car approaching me down the wrong way up a one way street.

    I was eventually examined at the hospital and hand in plaster and broken ribs diagnosed severe bruising to thigh and hip and various cuts and bruises.

    I was not feeling right at all and I felt something was wrong as I started to loose muscle definition in my Left leg and it began to drag and I was having serious sciatica pains.z Eventual my estranged wife who was a trauma nurse had mentioned this to one of the Neuro Surgical Consultants and she mentioned they had a new MRI in at a colleagues hospital and she would refer me.

    Day of the new experience….one of many to come I was scanned and when I came out they had the images on the screen and they both looked shocked. I was told I had over 70% compression of the thoracic spinal cord at T6,7,8 and 9. I was told to be very careful and to get some things together as he was referring me back to the Neuro Surgeon. eventually after various electric tests they said I needed the operation or I would be in a wheel chair for the rest of my life and in-fact its a 60/40 that I will after the op if I go ahead…some choice.

    Surgery done (8hr op 1.5 months in hospital) I had to recover slowly and then back to see the police medical officer who had agreed with the Neuro Surgeon, I should retire from the Police as a result. I was devastated, it’s my dream job and career as well as I have a police house and children to support. I disagreed with them and in the end I fought back and with various medical tests and fitness tests I managed to stay in the job (it hurt like hell and I suffered for weeks after though)

    I returned to work in the Police Command and Control Room as the Officer in charge and had a 3yr posting to keep me away from trouble while I recovered.

    1998 I was now out of the control room and as a qualified sexual offences investigator I was called in to deal with a very nasty and public rape. I was under pressure to get everything done and in on time or before for the reports to the CPS could be done. I went in on my sons 8th Birthday to finish off when I was asked to help arrest a target criminal and with much arguing and moaning I agreed and that led to me being attacked by a pit-bull terrier a drug dealer had at the time and he set it on me. my colleague who saw what was happening was about to hit out at the dog when he was overcome by CS Spray but he still hit out and missed and caught me in the face.

    I ended up being rushed to hospital by police car. I was unconscious for a while I had a massive eye injury eye lid missing bruised retina severe concussion that had effect on me for several months. I also had to have a fusion of the vertebrae in my neck.

    This was enough for the Police CMO Now and she retired me from the police with a 75% injury award.

    Due to Police Federation solicitor incompetence I received no compensation for the loss of my job.

    2010 I had started to drink heavily and was seriously depressed and attempted to commit suicide after a serious bout of what was diagnosed as PTSD from all my traumas in the police. I had help from a local charity who suggested I applied for DLA. They filled the forms out for me as I was finding it very hard and overwhelming with everything that was going on including the breakdown of my marriage.

    I was awarded Enhanced carers allowance and Higher Mobility award FOR LIFE. at last something good has happened. a Blue Badge for the days that are hard and I cant stand or walk a Freedom pass to help me about town.

    I have many medical issues I am under the care of 3 major hospitals for my chronic pain, neuro issues and eye injury. I have had over 6 spinal pain blocks and await further invasive treatments.
    I have traumatic glaucoma and my prescriptions mount to 18 different ones a month.

    I have had my PIP interview who when I asked why do I need to if its for life before she replied well maybe you’r better now.

    I do worry as I need the money as well as the use of a mobility vehicle

    Sorry to go on so much but it is also quite cathartic….even though it took and age to type.

    John

  2. Andrew 21st September, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

    I won my appeal, an appeal process that the DWP signed up to. The win meant I was to receive my PIP until 14/01/2017, when it would be reassessed. I have a very rare, complex and incurable illness that, during attacks, leaves me incapacitated in hospital and on morphine drips for up to 14 days, unable to move. The DWP stopped paying my PIP on 14/5/2016, which those who are intellectually gifted will know is before the 14/01/2017. Since when did the DWP become a higher point of natural justice than HM Courts and Tribunals? These tribunals do they have rights to enforce jurisdiction? Seems not when it’s the DWP. I know that ‘incurable’ is a complex and difficult to understand medical term. This is, presumably, why I must be reassessed, by a physio therapist, and now attend another Tribunal despite the original ruling. I guess I am to be refused my £210 pcm. After all why should anyone get any benefits at all. I just blow it all on food, trying to stay alive and going to hospital for life giving procedures, what a complete waste of tax payers money! I paid 40% tax and NI contributions, for 25+ years, during which time I hoped none of it was wasted on people in real need, like me now. Thank god our country can be justly proud of it’s Para-Olympians. Clearly none of them need PIP’s so why should we, especially if you can’t see any actual disability, then one clearly doesn’t exist. Is this really how it’s going to end for British society?

  3. Shoshana 6th January, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

    I found this post while looking for help and advice about applying for PIP. I have ill with ME since 2003, and I have never claimed anything. I am crying as I read this and I feel nauseous. How can people who are as sick as we are battle such a heartless system? I don’t think I have the strength to try.

    • Tanya 6th January, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

      I’m really sorry. The system really does suck. The best advice I can give you would be to not try to attempt it alone. You need an advocate. People at the Citizens Advice Bureau are really helpful, and the written resources on the Benefits and Work webpage are hugely helpful.

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