#InPoverty: Personal Independence Payment has affected the lives of many

In a country praised for its inclusivity, how can the government let disabled people down for seven years and counting?

Person sitting on a blue wheelchair
As of March 2019, the number of people on Welsh local authority registers with a physical or sensory disability was a total of 52,296

Waiting for a payment that could make a difference between living in poverty or with dignity, between life and death, is a situation that no one would want to live in. A sense of insecurity, of hope crushed by the weight of negative thoughts, provoked by the knowledge of what many had to endure and are still enduring, occur all too frequently for those waiting for for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

PIP was introduced in 2013 to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The majority of people claiming PIP were previously granted DLA, but now do not know whether they will still be eligible for state benefits. The uncertainty in the air is thick during the many weeks claimants have to wait for an answer from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

In 2013 it was guaranteed that the waiting times for PIP would be short (four weeks) and the system efficient. But the loss of more than 17,000 lives, people left living in poverty for weeks (months sometimes) therefore losing their independence, will disagree.  

It seems like a good time to talk about the issues and daily challenges that PIP has brought into the lives of many during the month of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December) and of the Human Rights Day (10 December); international days aiming to shed light on overlooked issues that minorities face every day of the year. 

An Unfair Form

Louisa Davies is 30 years old and has autism, cerebral palsy, mental health issues and cannot speak. She lives with her mother, Ann Davies, who looks after her, in their home near Caerphilly. When the PIP was introduced they applied to it. Ann believes that, although the process to request benefits has always been complicated, the one for PIP is even more difficult and unfair. Some questions she read on the form are “Can you put a pen in your top pocket?” or “If there was a box on the floor, would you be able to pick it up and move it from the right to the left?” If you can do these simple actions, then you are regarded as fit for an office job, she added.

Ann believes that the process to re-claim benefits should not be complicated for people with serious disabilities, as the DWP already has information on them. She is aware that some people applying for PIP had to wait for an answer for more than six weeks, unlike her daughter Louisa. She knows that these people have lost access to health services and facilities, due to the lack of financial support from the government.

In a video posted by the DWP the process to claim PIP seems fairly straightforward.

In this video the DWP shows how to claim PIP. The DLA recipient has to wait for a letter from the DWP explaining how to apply for the new state benefit. A ‘How your disability affects you’ form has to be filled in and sent back to the DWP. The DWP will either accept the request, deny it, or ask the claimant to attend a face-to-face evaluation with an independent health professional. Then a decision will be made and communicated. If the claimant does not agree with the final decision, there are possibilities for appeals.

Easy, right?

Unfortunately the reality is much more complicated and much more painful for those who have to go through this process.

Words asking for fairness

Rob Palk is a writer based in Leicester, author of the novel Animal Lovers (2018). A few years back he suffered from an unexpected
brain haemorrhage which left him permanently visually impaired. Due to this accident he was granted the lowest rate of DLA. When he finally received a letter advising him to apply for PIP he followed all the steps leading to his face-to-face assessment.

I appealed but it got rejected because they kept sending information about it to my old address

As he stated in an article published by The Guardian, he put in the effort to be agreeable and hospitable to the assessor. Yet, the DWP decided not to accept his claim to PIP. In fact the report stated that he could see well enough to drive (although he did not know how to drive even before the haemorrhage), and he did not suffer from stress or anxiety as he seemed engaging, calm and made eye contact.

“I appealed but it got rejected because they kept sending information about it to my old address and I’m now trying to reopen it,” he told Alt.Cardiff. Due to this uncertainty, his stress and anxiety got worse. Rob confirmed, “I am prone to being stressed and anxious since the brain haemorrhage. And the appeal makes it worse. Ironically that is what they claim I don’t have.”

Not alone

He is not alone in his battle, as many disabled people believe the new system is broken and accuse the government of being unwilling to help citizens in need.  

Allegations from other disabled people who have been assessed for their PIP accuse independent health professionals of lying and dishonestly reporting the results of physical examinations. A secretly filmed video shows assessors allegedly being monitored to ensure they don’t find excessive numbers of disabled people eligible for benefits.

Independent organisations too have begun complaining about a system that keeps failing its disabled citizens. Scope, a disability equality charity based in Wales and England, stated that disabled people rely on these financial lifelines to live independently and be part of their community.

Person walking with a walking frame
Scope believes that disabled people are being failed by a system that is not fit for purpose  

However, people are being stripped of their independence, of their basic human rights and being forced to go through painful and “dehumanising” assessments. Complaints about the PIP procedure rose by nearly 880%, according to the Department for Work and Pensions in 2016. The number of deaths of terminally ill people have skyrocketed, with 17,070 reported on January 2019. Others, like Rob, have been living close to poverty, who is usually three months away from him. The insecurity and the negativity are crawling closer. But hope needs to stay alive.