I went with a friend to his PIP assessment the other week.
“PIP” stands for Personal Independence Payment. It is what has replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as the means by which the government – namely you and I, the taxpayer – supports disabled people in our community, allowing them to live free and independent lives.
My friend has epilepsy. He is on a lot of medication. The medication slows him down both mentally and physically. It has also caused him to put on weight.
He has a number of seizures every year, despite the medication. His last seizure was in November. When he has a seizure it’s as if someone has switched him off at the mains. He drops to the floor and will often injure himself.
My friend is also relatively immobile. This comes in spurts. It’s worse in the winter than it is in the summer. When it’s wet and cold, his joints swell up and he’s unable to get around. He is subject to arthritic attacks and can’t walk more that 200 metres without severe pain.
At other times he is OK. He can walk, he can shop, he can go out.
On the day of his assessment he and I walked to the PIP assessment centre. It was a lovely spring morning. When I saw him more recently, however, he was almost completely immobile. All his joints were swollen and he had great difficulty getting out of his chair.
He told the assessor all of this. He also spoke about his anxiety and his depression and about his tinnitus.
I heard everything he said. I was there. I also saw the assessor tapping furiously on her computer as he answered her questions.
But it was as if she didn’t listen to a single word he said. He’s just got his assessment back. This is what it says:
“You were observed to have no physical restriction and you were able to walk at a moderate pace unaided and rise from and sit in a chair without difficulty. There was no evidence of low mood or anxiety. You were able to hear and answer questions despite background noise.”
Pardon? How does the assessor know if there was low mood or anxiety? Are there physical signs? In fact I know my friend was anxious because I could see it. As for walking “at a moderate pace unaided”, she asked him to walk from his seat to the examination couch.
How is it possible in the space of barely an hour to assess a disabled person’s complex needs for the rest of his life? It’s an insult. My friend has been on DLA for very nearly a quarter of a century. And he’s not the only one. A number of my friends with disabilities have lost their entitlement to DLA in the last year.
It’s almost as if the change over to PIP is a money saving device, a way to reduce benefits, as if the assessors have targets which they are obliged to meet regardless of the circumstances. The assessments are done by private contractors who take a profit for their work. A Commons Select Committee report earlier this year said that 6% of assessments are seriously inaccurate and that contractors “universally missed” performance targets.
One person with Downs Syndrome was asked when he caught the illness.
My friend is about to lose considerably more than a third of his already restricted income. He’s disabled. He’s isolated. Anxiety brings on his seizures. But none of that matters, of course, as long as the rich get their tax cuts. Such is life in austerity Britain.
From The Whitstable Gazette 31/05/18
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