The proposed Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has been brought back into the headlines following an interview with Iain Duncan Smith; the Work and Pensions Secretary by the Daily Telegraph. The interview revealed that up to half a million people could be set to lose their disability benefits under Government plans. Iain Duncan Smith is determined to introduce radical reforms that have the potential to dramatically reduce the annual cost of disability allowances by £2.24bn.
There are approximately 500,000 people in the UK who currently receive Disability Living Allowance but could no longer be eligible for the proposed PIP. In his interview, Mr Duncan Smith said there had been a 30% rise in the the number of claimants in recent years, with the annual cost of the benefits soon to reach £13bn. As part of the proposed PIP, up to two million claimants would have their claims reassessed in the next four years. Only those considered to be in need of support following this reassessment would qualify for PIP.
Mr Duncan Smith said “We are creating a new benefit, because the last benefit grew by something like 30% in the past few years. It’s been rising well ahead of any other gauge you might make about illness, sickness, disability or for that matter, general trends in society. A lot of that is down to the way the benefit was structured so that it was very loosely defined. Second thing was that in the assessment, lots of people weren’t actually seen. Third problem was lifetime awards. Something like 70% had lifetime awards, (which) meant that once they got it you never looked at them again. They were just allowed to fester.”
He went on to discuss the potential for amputees (including ex-servicemen and women) to no longer being entitled to disability benefits as their everyday mobility was not affected by their prosthetic limbs. “It’s not like incapacity benefit, it’s not a statement of sickness. It is a gauge of your capability. In other words, ‘Do you need care, do you need support to get around?’. “Those are the two things that are measured. Not, ‘You have lost a limb.’”
As we noted in our original response to the DWP consultation on the proposed PIP (which can be read here), one of its underlying aims was to to address the current levels of fraud and to reduce public spending. While this approach is entirely reasonable, it should not be achieved at the expense of those who have a clear and legitimate requirement for assistance resulting from limb loss. Mr Duncan Smith takes the view that the loss of a limb does not automatically relate to the need for support. While, in some instances, this may be true (at least in the short term), it does suggest a worrying lack of understanding of the effects of amputation and what is required on a daily basis to cope with the demands of being an amputee.
While there are amputees who are very fortunate in being able to carry on with life after amputation without the need for assistance, the fact remains that amputees (even those who do their level best to carry on with life and do not accept that they are disabled), will experience problems due to ill fitting or poorly suited prosthetic limbs. Older amputees also encounter further issues that arise as a consequence of wearing a prosthetic limb. These often result in increased joint pain or arthritis and shortness of breath. Such problems make even short journeys more difficult. As a general point, it should be noted that the ability to deal with a prosthetic limb tends to lessen over time due to the effects of ageing and to the demands that wearing a prosthesis places on the body.
Lower limb amputees may be able to walk reasonably well on one day (a good day), but then be unable to walk for the next few days due to sores, abrasions or ulcers on their stump or the part of their limb that abuts the socket of their prosthesis. Without a proper fit, a prosthetic limb cannot be worn with comfort or the necessary degree of control; factors which render even the most advanced prosthesis inadequate. Some may be able to walk for short distances, but longer trips can prove to be difficult, particularly where inclines, steps, uneven or slippery surfaces are involved. This is where the Blue Badge scheme that those with DLA are able to access, is a positive help in that it allows amputees to use disabled parking spaces close to the shops and facilities that they need to access on a regular basis.
The apparent lack of appreciation or awareness by the DWP and the Government is why we sought to have the needs of amputees recognised in the proposed PIP assessment. We asked that those undertaking the assessments must be intimately involved in the form of disability under review (i.e. from our perspective – that person would need to be an amputee AND a consultant/surgeon/prosthetist). Without this level of understanding, it is unlikely that the situation faced by the applicant will be properly understood. To that end, we are actively working with the DWP on the proposed assessment criteria to be used in PIP.