Personal Independence 8th March 2017
I have received a number of campaign e-mails, from residents in Herne Bay and Thanet, about the “Proposed Changes to Personal Independence Payment” and the possible effects upon those suffering from mental health issues. It turns out that these identical communications, , whether sent with the consent of the `authors` or not, emanate from the charity MIND. No response e-mail addresses are provided and it is not, therefore, possible to answer individually the queries raised – hence this column.
It is entirely accepted by Government that “PIP helps to cover the extra costs that disabled people face in going about our daily lives” and that “people with mental health problems can be just as restricted in our independence as many people with physical mobility problems”. Indeed, while inevitably much Government time is at present taken up with “Brexit” the Prime Minister herself very recently expressed a personal desire to address the issues arising, specifically, from mental health.
It is being claimed that “the changes the Government wants to introduce create a deeply unfair distinction between mental and physical health”. That is simply not the case. This Government is currently spending, at a record £11.4 billion a year, more on mental health than ever before. Spending on disability benefits overall has risen in real terms by £3 billion since 2010 and will remain higher in each year through to 2020. That, at a time of austerity, is no mean achievement.
PIP, as the successor benefit to Disability Living Allowance, is a more modern provision designed to ensure that support is focussed more upon those who are likely to have a higher level of need and higher costs associated with their disability and that does not exclude those suffering from very real mental health problems. People are not awarded PIP because of their medical condition but because of the way that their impairment or health condition affects their ability to live as independent a life as possible. As a result here are more people with mental health conditions now receiving the higher rates of PIP than their previous DLA equivalents.
The Secretary of State, Damian Green, has personally assured those of who have raised these issues on behalf of our constituents that there has not been a policy change and that a refined approach while it is important that benefits are properly targeted to ensure that those who really do need support receive it will not result in any claimants seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by the Department of Work and Pensions.
Hard cases make bad law but I am always receptive to and will pursue individual concerns expressed by constituents who feel that they have been incorrectly assessed and, as a result, short-changed. It is clear to me, though, that much unnecessary alarm and anxiety has been propagated by those who, deliberately or otherwise, have sought to mis-represent the effects of what are necessary and proper evaluations designed to ensure that not just the taxpayer but the disabled community gets value for money.