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Disability Bitch in 'PIP Ahoy!'

10th December 2010

Oh, hello readers, or should I say, Pip Pip! There's a lot to talk about this week so sorry if I seem a little distracted. Sit down and make yourself a nice hot cuppa before you continue reading ... but think positive thoughts because it's now over to you.
Sign at the entrance to Her Majesty's Treasury in Whitehall
You might have to bear with me, I think I'm losing my memory. Just a few short weeks ago, when contemplating forthcoming cuts to welfare benefits commonly paid to disabled people, I comforted myself with the thought that senior ministers had acknowledged Disability Living Allowance was important, and promised they weren't going to cut the rate it's paid at.

It seems my memory may be malfunctional because, this week, Maria Miller, Minister for Disabled People, has announced proposals to radically reform the benefit I hold so dear. So while I took heart from previous positive statements about DLA - and a pre-election manifesto pledge by the Conservatives to protect it - the government now tells us that the current DLA expenditure is 'unsustainable'.

I'd been so hopeful. In the Chancellor's Emergency Budget speech in June this year, he announced he was going to introduce a compulsory medical assessment and change the DLA application process because: "that way we can continue to afford paying this important benefit to those with the greatest needs, while significantly improving incentives to work for others."
George Osborne with the Budget briefcase
Some thoughts ...

- Disability Living Allowance is a benefit that you can claim whether you work or not, so it was a surprise to see insentives to work being factored in.

- Government are putting emphasis on those with 'greatest' need now, meaning that those with moderate need (whatever that is) could be downgraded in some way.

- The spending review in October told us that DLA would no longer be paid to those funded by the state to live in residential care homes. Since then, a bit more detail has been revealed during debates in the House of Commons - here's a link to some of that.

I've been sitting at home twiddling my thumbs and waiting for more detail on reforms ever since.
James Naughtie looking serious
On Monday this week, my prayers were answered - in a manner of speaking - with the publication of a consultation document on the future of Disability Living Allowance. You may have missed the news that these important proposals had been published. It didn't seem to get much coverage in the national media. After all, there were other important events going on on Tuesday, like a couple of presenters accidentally swearing on Radio 4.

Ha! Hold the front page! Everyone did.

I know you're all more eager to read the proposed changes than you were to get your hands on the last Harry Potter novel, so here's a link to it in all its glory.

DLA reform proposals / consultation document

The first thing to say is they're proposing to overhaul the benefit completely and rename it Personal Independence Payment, or PIP. Well, I don't know about you, but I'm relieved they've come up with a name that won't be embarrassing to apply for - "Hello, is that the DWP? I'd like to apply for PIP, please!" - and in no way whatsoever recalls impoverished Dickensian orphans who travel to London to seek their fortunes.

I'm over the name already, you'll be happy to hear.

I'd love to summarise what they're proposing but the consultation document is 45 pages long for good reason. Nevertheless I will give it a go in a few bitesize chunks with my personal spin on it.

People don't understand DLA

The government thinks the current DLA system is too complex and the process of assessing people, deciding which category they fall into, and chucking the same arbitrary amount of money at them every month, is inefficient. That's me paraphrasing.

They think few people understand what DLA is for and many - including claimants - believe it to be a benefit for those who are out of work, which they will lose if they return to work. It's not and they won't.

However, the government believe DLA can in some cases be a barrier to work - i.e. make it harder for people to work - based on a study of claimants they carried out earlier this year.
A smiling Heather Mills
Basically they think no one understands it and many people claim it for the wrong reasons. Gulp. But if the government is into overhauling disability stuff that people don't quite get the point of, can I suggest an overhaul of The Paralympics, Heather Mills and Occupational Therapists? Thank you.

It's a much more accessible world now

DLA has been around since forever, and the government think the 2010s are a very different world to the 1992 world it was invented in.

We've had various forms of disability legislation since then, they say, all designed to put disabled people on a more equal footing. I will leave it to you to judge whether these laws have done that for you as an individual.

A bit of detail

The replacement benefit, PIP, will be divided into two components: Mobility, which will reflect your ability to get around, rather than simply your ability to walk and Daily Living, which will judge your ability to 'carry out other key activities necessary to participate in everyday life'. As yet, we don't know what those activities will be and presumably this will become clear after consulting with relevant groups.

There will no longer be any automatic entitlement to the benefit, except for people who are terminally ill.

Everyone else - including existing DLA claimants - will have to reapply for PIP and have an 'objective assessment of individual need' including advice from an 'independent' medical professional. Cynics might suggest that the government don't trust our own doctors to assess us thoroughly but you may be pleased to hear that evidence from your own doctors and professionals who work with you WILL be included in the overall assessment.

It also says you have to have been disabled for six months before applying, which is longer than the current qualifying period.

Equipment and technology bring independence

Also taken into account will be your use of aids and adaptations which make your little disabled life a touch easier. I think we can presume from the rhetoric that, if equipment and gizmos can lift your quality of life significantly, your benefit could be reduced to reflect this somehow.

The consultation does acknowledge that many people use their DLA to pay for those very aids and adaptations, plus motability cars, though it doesn't yet offer an alternative idea for funding these things should you be excluded from PIP, or if you end up receiving less money; nor does it say what you are supposed to do if your handy gizmos break or stop working optimally.

It does say that people will be 'signposted' towards services which might help them if the PIP assessment concludes they need it. And it seems to hint that, those who refuse to use these services, might be subject to penalties.

Well, good luck on pinning that complex set of circumstances down.
Ed Miliband looking rather baffled

So then...

The document rams home this idea that the DLA replacement benefit will be targeted at those with the 'greatest' need ... and those with moderate needs can presumably get the bus home, um, if they can get the bus home, if you know what I mean.

The government's expecting to start implementing these changes in 2013, beginning with DLA claimants of working age.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to work out what the Labour party think of these proposals. I've been googling all evening and if they do have an opinion, they're certainly not shouting it from the rooftops.

It's true that in the past, Ed Miliband has said he supported the government on DLA reform but that was before any actual reform was announced.

Ed? Are you there? Do you have an opinion? Please make it known. Will you be ideologically opposed to it as with the tuition fees Thursday?

Blimey, readers, is this the longest column I've ever written? And the one with the fewest jokes? Sorry. Since few people have reported these proposals, I thought you might like to know what they say. And I'd stress, readers, these are currently JUST proposals, at consultation stage, and the government is actively seeking responses from interested parties, especially disabled people.

If you have thoughts about them, you should also tell your local MP, because they can then raise questions in parliament.

The only reason I'm stressing that part, readers, is because every time something like this happens, loads of people get hot and bothered and email me to complain. I'm sorry to disappoint, but I can't do nuffink about it. Don't tell me what you think. Tell those who can do something.

Thanks. Goodbye. Toodle Pip.


Yes, readers, you read that right, I'm on Twitter. Follow me, I'm @DisabilityBitch. And you know I'm cool because I've already had a Twitter conversation with my second-favourite crippled Baroness, Tanni Grey Thompson, who I actually hate.

My favourite baroness is Jane Campbell, but I don't think she's on Twitter.

Next week, I might try and get mental health champion Stephen Fry to follow me. I hear he's King of Twitter.

Oh, and I'm still talking to Facebook who might, eventually, give me my page back. And then I'll have Facebook AND Twitter and I can spend all day messing around on social networking sites and living up to everyone's worst fears about disability benefit claimants.

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