The changeover from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence payment (PIP) began recently, with the concerns of many claimants with learning disabilities still unresolved.
After all the talking, PIP became a reality earlier this month – at least for potential new claimants living in certain areas in the north of England – and we will soon see how it works in practice.
The change from DLA to PIP has been controversial ever since it was first announced, and fears about the new system – especially the prospect of claimants losing benefit – have been there since those days too.
The Government has done little to allay those fears. Their references to the number of people who won’t be eligible for the new benefit – 500,000, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – have caused real worries that those who receive DLA, especially those who have relatively mild learning disabilities, will fail to qualify for PIP.
Their fear is that losing this money, which is designed to help people cope with the extra cost of having a disability, will also mean losing their independence, if they can, for example, no longer afford to run an adapted car, or pay for carers to come in for an hour a day. These arrangements can be vital for people with learning disabilities in maintaining their independence and, in some cases, holding down a job.
However, when talking about PIP, DWP ministers stick to the line that the new benefit will support those who most need it. Surely that is a given? Who would seriously expect any disability benefit to fail in its support for people with complex physical and/or learning disabilities or health concerns?
But, by extension, it makes you think those that don’t need it most – which could include those at the milder end of the learning disability spectrum – will lose out. There seems to be an inference that those people do not need the additional help that DLA/PIP provides.
There are other fears. Scope recently highlighted its concerns about the assessment process for PIP, which is being conducted by two private firms, Atos – which carries out the work capability assessment (WCA) for employment and support allowance – and Capita.
The charity worries that the PIP process will be run like the WCA, which has been criticised for the high levels of successful appeals and stories of people inappropriately found fit to work.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said that the PIP assessment: “doesn’t take into account all the barriers that disabled people face in daily life. This means the support won’t be targeted to those that really need it.”
Another worry is that Atos and Capita are planning to go about the assessment process in different ways. For instance, Capita will try to ensure applicants with certain conditions will be matched with assessors who have specific expertise in that area, whereas Atos will randomly assign assessors, according to the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC). The DBC believes Capita’s method will lead to fairer outcomes.
In my view, this threatened disparity in assessment approaches could lead to a postcode lottery for PIP awards – something that should be avoided at all costs.
Now that PIP is starting to be rolled out, we will begin to find out how many of these fears – if any –are justified. But for existing DLA claimants, whatever happens in the coming months, it is probable their fears will stay with them until 2015 when most of them will be reassessed.