Attention Everybody with a Body

I’ve written about the Government’s poorly conceived and callous Welfare Reform Bill many times in the last two years, often saying how scared these policies make me feel. Leftwing Idiot doesn’t like it when I say this – understandably he prefers me to focus on what can be done to challenge these destructive changes.

But I’ve decided I’m going to write with, and about, fear in this post because I’ve just read about how the mobility component of the new Personal Independent Payment (PIP) will be assessed. The more I’ve read, the more frightened I’ve become.

My independence, and that of hundreds of thousands of other disabled people, is in jeopardy. If you’re reading this and you’re not disabled, I’m fearful for you as well. Everybody has bones that break and genes that could turn out to be faulty. Disability can affect anyone, at any time.

Disability benefits are there to ensure people who find themselves disabled can meet the extra costs that go hand in hand with managing that disability.

For the last twenty years Disability Living Allowance (DLA) has been there to help disabled people who have personal care needs or mobility difficulties. There are two broad parts to the Allowance, the Care Component and the Mobility Component, each of which is paid at different rates, depending on a person’s level of need: The Care Component – low, middle and high. The Mobility Component – low and high.

At present, disabled people can get either or both components worked out in different ways to reflect the varying levels and types of need they have. I’ve described the role DLA plays in keeping me safe, working, and actively involved in my community. But from April this year, DLA is being replaced by PIP. And by ‘replaced’ I mean ‘cut’.

The new scheme will still have two components – Daily Living Component, and Mobility Component – but each will have just two rates, Standard and Enhanced. The other big change is to the eligibility criteria, and that’s what I find the most worrying. Here’s how mobility is assessed under the two systems:

• You receive higher rate mobility if you are ‘unable to walk’ or ‘virtually unable to walk’ 50 metres
• You receive the lower rate mobility if you need guidance or supervision with walking on unfamiliar routes because of disability

• You receive enhanced rate mobility if you cannot ‘stand or move’ at all or if you can ‘stand and then move’ no more than 20 metres, either aided or unaided.
• You receive the standard rate mobility if you ‘can stand and then move’ no more than 50 metres (This includes using an aid or appliance such as a walking frame or stick)

Anyone who can ‘stand and move’ more than 50 metres will no longer be eligible for the Mobility Component. What this assessment effectively means is that the mobility component of PIP will only be awarded to people who’d have received the higher rate of DLA, but that many will get less because they’ll be put on the standard rate of PIP. It’s confusing, and appears to be this way by design, like a cheap sleight of hand magic trick.

Anyone who could get out of their wheelchair and walk with a walking frame for 21 metres (but then be so exhausted they’d need to collapse back into their chair), would no longer qualify for the higher rate.

By shifting the goal posts like this, hundreds of thousands of disabled people would be left without the resources they need to ensure that their basic needs can be met. The PIP lower rate is just £21 a week. I’ve just looked up London taxi rates and £21 would only pay for a single three-mile journey. What would that let you do in seven days if you had no other way to get around?

Changing eligibility criteria is a simple way of appearing to provide the same level of support, but what they’re really doing is saving money by providing support for fewer people – leaving many vulnerable people permanently at risk. This strategy is echoed in several other areas of social care with the same results.

The government frequently claims to be targeting resources at the most severely disabled people. This might sound good, but it’s a con and a false economy. Disabled people who currently get the lower rate of DLA Care or Mobility Component all have substantial disabilities that significantly impact their lives, even if the rate they qualify for is not the highest. Not supporting this group adequately through the PIP will undoubtedly lead to increased spending in other areas, such as health care. And it will inevitably increase the isolation and hardship that disabled people face.

As an example of what this could all mean, here’s how the changes could affect me:

I’m able to stand and move but I do so in a very chaotic and unreliable way. Tics in my legs mean that my ankles and feet move unpredictably. Whenever I walk I drop frequently to the floor. I can move about my flat supporting myself using a grab rail or strategically placed furniture but I can only do this because it’s a familiar and relatively safe environment. A circuit of the whole of the castle is probably about 20 metres.

When I go outside I can walk short distances with the support of another person, otherwise I use a wheelchair. It’s possible that the changes in the test may mean that because I can stand and move more than 20 metres I would not be awarded the enhanced rate. I can’t find any definition of what level of ‘wobbly’ would be assessed as being safe. I wonder if anyone else has?

I can’t stress enough the importance of adequate support for mobility. One of my biggest areas of expenditure relating to my disability is transport. Despite improvements made for the Paralympics last year, London’s public transport system is still largely inaccessible and cabs are the only reliable way I can get about. Without the mobility component of DLA I won’t be able to travel further than my support worker can push me.

Additionally, at the moment, the higher-rate DLA acts as a passport to other support like the blue badge scheme that gives disabled people parking concessions so they can park nearer to their destinations and minimise walking. So if I did persuade a friend to take me out by car we wouldn’t be able to use the disabled parking bays because I’d no longer qualify for a blue badge. It may even be that this would affect my eligibility for access to work, and without this support I wouldn’t be able to work which, among other things, would mean I’d stop paying any tax.

Here’s the bit Leftwing Idiot and hopefully many more of you have been waiting for – what we do:

• Write to your MPs or use this template to ask them to speak out against these injustices during the debate on PIP
• Sign the WOW petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform, and a new deal for sick and disabled people
• Read up on the PIP emergency, arm yourself with knowledge and share it with others
• Share this post and information about the PIP emergency on Facebook and Twitter
• Read the Where’s The Benefit? blogs and get different perspectives on the government’s war on disabled people
• Look out for information on demonstrations on Disabled People Against Cuts website and go on any we can

While some of these things might feel small, they’re still important. The changes are being voted on in Parliament in the first few months of this year so it’s important that everybody with a body and a conscience acts now.

My disability makes getting out and about a constant challenge. The support I currently receive enables me to go shopping for food, attend hospital appointments, and see my friends and family. Without it, the castle would be more like a prison than a home.

While I hope I’ve written this post without dwelling on fear, every word I’ve written is underpinned by a terror that this government’s destructive policies are going to ruin the lives and opportunities of disabled people for generations to come. We all need to stand up for ourselves, even if we can’t actually stand up for ourselves.

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