The PIP 20 metre rule remains intact

Article by Jane Young:

Despite hundreds of consultation responses explaining the devastating impact on people with significant walking difficulties of using 20 metres as the benchmark distance for eligibility for the enhanced mobility component of PIP* and therefore the Motability scheme, the Government has decided, as we suspected they would, to keep the assessment criteria the same. Whilst this is obviously a disappointment, there are several interesting features of the Government’s response to the consultation worth highlighting (although it’s impossible to unpack the whole document in one article).

Representation of respondents’ predictions of the impact of the 20 metre rule

I find it quite striking that the Government’s response goes to great lengths (paragraphs 3.4-3.26) to describe what individuals and organisations predict will be the negative impacts on disabled people of using a 20-metre benchmark distance (as opposed to the 50-metre distance more commonly used to determine significant mobility difficulty). For example, many respondents, including those likely to be affected by the tighter criteria, expressed serious concern that the loss of a Motability vehicle or money to run a private car will cause many disabled people to be more isolated, and/or find it harder to attend medical appointments, to the detriment of their physical and mental health.

The Government’s response also lists in detail (paragraphs 3.27-3.29) the impact respondents predict the 20-metre distance will have on the demand for other public services. For example, many pointed out there are likely to be greater demands on hospital transport if disabled people can’t use their Motability vehicle or their higher rate benefit to make the journey independently. Of course, it’s reported that cross-Government discussions have not predicted significant impacts on other budgets or departments, but I’m not convinced how realistic this assessment has been. In particular, and consistently with its position on other aspects of welfare reform, the Government has virtually no understanding of the financial difficulties faced by the vast majority of DLA claimants, which will significantly limit their ability to find other ways to remain independent. The Government does not appear to understand that claimants can’t just use other money for necessary journeys, because what little other money they have is committed for essentials, such as food, clothing, heating, council tax and that part of their rent not covered by housing benefit.

The Government’s response is also helpfully explicit about how many respondents to the consultation supported the Government position and how many didn’t:

3.2 Out of 1142 respondents, 914 [more than 80%] indicated a clear preference for changing the Moving around criteria. Of these, 122 responses were on behalf of organisations and 792 from individuals. Many of these respondents were in favour of extending the qualifying distance for the enhanced rate of the Mobility component from 20 metres to 50 metres.

3.3 Five individual respondents were supportive of retaining the current criteria. Two organisations responded positively on the criteria being more objective and easier to apply consistently but did not express a view on the distances used. 221 respondents commented without expressing a firm view on the Moving around activity. Many of these addressed other aspects of the PIP assessment criteria or other elements of PIP.

Note: emphasis and insertion of percentage are mine; no organisations are reported as being in favour of the Government’s position.

We can’t be sure of the reason the Government has decided to give so much detail about the vast majority of responses that disagree with their position, but in this respect the tone and content of the document seems quite different from other consultation responses they’ve published – especially, for example, their response to the original consultation on DLA reform. I firmly believe that research and analysis published by campaigners, including the Spartacus report – Responsible Reform, which analysed the 500+ organisational responses to the initial consultation on DLA reform, along with the statistical and factual background, has demonstrated that it is just not acceptable for the Government to totally dismiss, or effectively misrepresent, the views of the majority of respondents to a consultation.

Measures to be taken in recognition of the consultation responses

The response explains the measures the Government plans to take in recognition of the concern expressed by respondents a benchmark distance of only 20 metres for enhanced rate mobility PIP under the Moving Around activity. It accepts how important it is that the PIP assessment takes account of whether a claimant can undertake an activity reliably, ie “safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and within an acceptable time period”, as enshrined in the PIP amendment regulations. The Government therefore makes a commitment to take further steps to ensure the assessment process, including the assessments by Atos and Capita, takes proper account of these factors (paragraphs 5.2-5.3). Indeed, the Government even goes so far as to point out that the 20 metre distance is not the only factor that determines eligibility for the enhanced mobility component solely on the basis of the Moving Around activity:

4.14 It must be remembered that the 20 metres distance is not the only factor considered when applying a descriptor for the Moving around activity. A key factor when considering the operation of the Mobility criteria is the impact of taking reliability into account. Specific legislation recognises that determining the distance an individual can stand and then move is rarely cut and dried and that individuals are unlikely to only be able to walk a certain distance every time. The reliability criteria ensure that decisions taken on benefit are based on what individuals can actually achieve on a regular, reliable basis, not on what they can do when at their best but are not able to repeat. This means that the enhanced rate of the Mobility component will be awarded to those people who cannot walk beyond 20 metres and those who can walk beyond 20 metres but cannot do so reliably.

The response also restates its commitment to undertake two independent reviews of PIP in operation, with the report on the first review being published by the end of 2014, but I’m not aware that this constitutes any change to the existing plans.

Transitional support from Motability

The Government’s response also makes a rather strange statement about the transitional provisions Motability has decided to implement for its own customers:

5.4 The Government recognises that some Motability Scheme users will no longer be able to access this support as a result of reassessment for PIP. We recognise that this transition may be challenging for these individuals. The Government has therefore worked with Motability to put in place a financial package of support that will be made available to Motability users who no longer have access to the Scheme through PIP, to allow them to put in place alternative arrangements.

This statement is misleading and disingenuous, as it implies that DWP has contributed in some way to the transitional support package Motability has put in place for its own customers, when the reality is rather different. Motability is implementing the package independently and funding it out of its own reserves, having consulted with many organisations and individuals, including both DWP and myself as well as, for example, Disabled Motoring UK and several impairment-specific charities. Full details of Motability’s transitional provision are explained in Lord Sterling’s statement published in September 2013 and the accompanying FAQ’s, and a Motability spokesman made it clear in a report by the Disability News Service that the package will be funded from Motability’s capital reserves.

I have to say that as someone who has worked closely with Motability as it has developed its transitional support, I have a problem with the way in which the wording of this part of the response implies the Government has been in some way instrumental in putting together the transitional package and/or has contributed to its funding. Indeed, if this were the case, one would have to wonder why the Government only deemed it necessary to provide transitional protection to those claimants who have chosen to use the Motability scheme, rather than those who currently use their higher rate mobility component to fund their independent mobility in other ways, such as by private car or taxis! Neither the truth nor the document’s spin allow the Government to claim that such transitional protection constitutes its own provision to mitigate the difficulties faced by those who lose their higher level mobility benefit when they’re reassessed for PIP. The transitional support DWP is offering is to pay DLA for 4 weeks following a decision on PIP entitlement (regardless of which rate or component of DLA the claimant currently receives).

Government’s justification for retaining the 20 metre rule

The Government appears to use two main justifications for failing to capitulate in face of the vast majority of responses saying that the 20-metre distance should be replaced by a distance of at least 50 metres (paragraphs 4.1-4.3), although both justifications are based on the standard political mantra that “there is no money”. The first justification is clearly in keeping with previous pronouncements in relation to DLA reform, that limited resources need to be spent on those with the greatest difficulties or barriers to participation. But are they really saying that as the seventh richest country in the world, Britain is unable to ensure dignity and participation for disabled people with such significant mobility difficulties that they are unable to walk more than 50 metres?

The Government’s other main justification for refusing to increase the 20-metre benchmark to a more practical distance is to argue that PIP as a whole is designed to be more equitable for people who have difficulties planning and following a journey, who were disadvantaged under DLA compared with those with physical difficulty moving around:

4.3 When developing the Mobility criteria, we were aware that although DLA includes deeming provisions which award the higher rate Mobility component to claimants who are deafblind, severely visually impaired and severely mentally impaired, the higher rate Mobility component is predominantly awarded to claimants with physical mobility difficulties only. The DLA lower rate Mobility component has been awarded to those individuals who require guidance or supervision outdoors. This means that many claimants with mental, intellectual and cognitive impairments do not receive DLA higher rate Mobility, despite facing significant barriers to mobility and therefore to independent living. The PIP Mobility component has been designed to reflect the impact of impairments on an individual’s ability to get around, regardless of whether it has a physical or non-physical root cause. The Government was aware that this approach would mean a reprioritisation of finite resources and those individuals with a physical health condition or impairment would be more likely to see a reduction in the mobility support they receive relative to those with non-physical impairments requiring support for moving around.

Using this arguable drawback of DLA as a justification for taking away support from physically disabled people with significant walking difficulties represents a strange approach to “equality” – more of a “race to the bottom” – and again reflects the Government’s constant insistence that there must be losers among claimants who are genuinely eligible for DLA because we can’t afford to support everyone who needs significant support to live independently.

Delayed reassessment

Whilst this is not explicitly mentioned in the Government’s response to the latest PIP consultation, regulations were laid today which provide for the natural reassessment of current DLA claimants to proceed more slowly than previously planned. However, there are no details yet of exactly how the delay will play out. I know, from a letter from a senior DWP official, that one reason for this delay is that the PIP claim process is taking longer than expected. This fits with what advisers and others have been reporting back, that it is taking a very long time for DWP to send out the PIP2 form after the first stage of the claim has been completed by phone. It also appears to be taking a long time for the assessment providers, Atos and Capita, to undertake face to face assessments after the earlier stages of the claim process have been completed. It is worrying to see such long delays in a process which is currently only dealing with new claims, before any reassessments of existing DLA claimants have even started, and does not inspire confidence in the progressive roll-out of the PIP programme.

Closing thoughts

There are several issues raised in the Government’s response on the Moving Around consultation that I have been unable to explore here; I may revise this article in due course as the dust settles. However, I should just say that at this stage the lawyers involved in the application for judicial review of the 20 metre benchmark distance are still considering how to advise their client on the next steps.

Looking back over the last few days, and specifically the weekend, it was nauseating in the extreme to see the Daily Mail’s interview with Mike Penning, the new Minister for Disabled People. As is standard for the Mail, the article was based on half-truths and partial facts at best. For those brave enough to read the article, I should direct you to up to date DLA statistics, which are quoted partially and out of context in the article:  From this document, it can be seen that only 10% of claims are decided on the DLA form alone (which may well have been completed by a social care practitioner or similar professional anyway, on behalf of the claimant), 40% are decided on a GP report, 45% on evidence from another source (could be a social worker/care manager, support worker, physiotherapist, for example) and, as the Daily Mail is at pains to point out, 6% on a medical examination requested by DWP. Call me simplistic, but that sounds fairly robust for a benefit that was deliberately designed in 1992 to put the emphasis on self-assessment by the claimant, given that the claimant is best placed to know how their impairment or health condition affects them. If DWP wanted to request more independent assessments, or make shorter awards with more frequent reviews, it could have done so. There is no-one else particularly worthy of criticism for the way DLA has been operated.

There are other aspects of the Daily Mail article which are inaccurate, misleading and depressing, but Mike Penning has given other interviews, including to the Disability News Service. The headline of this article is, to my mind, uncontroversial – the Government has said all along that fewer claimants will receive PIP – but Mike Penning’s admission that he’s “passionate” about disability but that he hasn’t heard of the social model – the model developed by disabled people several decades ago and used extensively in policy-making by central Government, local Government, other public bodies and charities etc – was utterly depressing. Please, quick, someone give Mr Penning some disability equality training – it’s urgent! If you put me in touch, I’ll do it myself – after all, I used to deliver such training as part of my jobs in both voluntary and statutory sector.

*Personal Independence Payment, which is replacing Disability Living Allowance for working age disabled people

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