“Independent Pissing or Pounds? Choose”

I’ve just been to the toilet.

To be able to do this safely I need a number of aids. Some of these are permanent and stay in the bathroom, like the grab rail and the emergency alarm. Others are things I need to replace regularly – for example the kneepads that protect me when I move onto the floor to pull up my knickers – or the leggings I wear so I don’t have to worry about fastenings – or the panty liners to help when I don’t make it to the toilet in time.

And then there’s my support worker, waiting outside the unlocked door, ready to help if my tics intensify and I have a ‘ticcing fit’.

I’m not in the habit of laying out in minute detail the day-to-day reality of what going to the toilet entails for me. As an independent adult woman, publicly acknowledging the extra washing I have to do every day because my underwear gets soaked in urine isn’t something I do willingly or lightly.

But I feel forced to share this highly personal aspect of my life because in Wednesday’s budget the Chancellor laid out plans to cut by £4.5 billion the funds available for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) scheme – while at the same time cutting the amount of tax paid by the highest earners.

PIP is slowly replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which was abolished in 2013. Like the DLA, PIP is broken down into two components: mobility, and care. Mobility relates to the level of help someone needs to move about, and care relates to the support they need to undertake basic aspects of daily life like eating, washing and going to the loo. There are ten tasks that are assessed as part of the process of applying for PIP, and people are awarded points based on the level of help they need to undertake each of them. The total number of points then defines the level of PIP awarded.

The changes the Chancellor wants to impose would reduce the points awarded to people who use aids to go to the toilet or to get dressed. Their rationale for doing this is that these aids are usually one-off purchases that don’t warrant a regular weekly allowance. This is flawed in two key ways:

• Firstly, while some of these aids are permanent fixtures, they’re usually expensive to buy and install
• Secondly, most disabled people incur many extra costs that relate to their toileting needs, like medication, extra laundry costs, support worker expenses, gloves, or additional cleaning costs

Since its introduction in 2013, PIP has been the vehicle through which the Government has consistently cut spending on disability. It’s been done by adjusting the criteria so as to reduce the number of people eligible for support. An example of this is the change to qualifying walking distances for the mobility component. The Government estimates that these changes will mean that 428,000 people will have had their entitlement to the mobility component of their PIP removed or cut by 2018.

Already more than 14,000 disabled people have lost their Motability vehicles, severely impacting on their ability to live and work. These latest proposals are yet another example of how altered criteria would cut vital support for many, many people.

The Government endlessly repeats its wish for disability benefits to go to the people that need them most. This sounds laudable but in reality it’s laughable. The people affected by these latest cuts would be those whose impairments mean they’re dependent on the support of aids every time they go to the toilet.

But this isn’t a case of the Government making a mistake by not thinking through the implications of their proposals. In evidence given in court in relation to previous cuts the Department of Work and Pensions said they were fully aware they were removing PIP from, ‘individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need’ and that ‘removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives’.

I believe most people are fundamentally decent and caring. I don’t for a second think that the majority of higher-rate tax payers (people who earn more than £45,000) when faced with the question:

What’s more important, a bit extra in your pocket or supporting disabled people to go to the toilet?’ would choose the money. As a taxpayer myself I know I wouldn’t.

And today it seems I’m not alone in thinking these cuts are unjustifiable. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has just resigned over this issue. In his resignation letter he says:

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.”

He ends by saying: “I hope as the Government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in this together”.

I never thought I’d agree with Iain Duncan Smith on anything, but like him I don’t believe these cuts are defensible or necessary.

The Treasury now seems to be backing away from the cuts: let’s hope Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation will force the Government to scrap them altogether.

Whatever the outcome, this isn’t a time for complacency. There are numerous examples of policies being withdrawn or delayed due to public pressure only to be quietly passed a few months or years down the line.

If you believe in equality, justice, and the right of disabled people to be supported so they can live safe, independent lives, please tell your MP that it’s essential that these cuts are scrapped for good and that the relentless pressure being applied to disabled people will not be tolerated.

The proposed cuts to PIP really are piss-poor.

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