Campaigners have raised concerns about crucial sections of a new government consultation on controversial changes that have tightened eligibility for the new mobility benefit.
The Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, was forced to launch the consultation after facing a judicial review over her decision to tighten the walking distance criteria from 50 to 20 metres.
The consultation is now looking again at the “moving around” assessment criteria for the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
McVey claimed the government was “carrying out the consultation with an open mind and will not decide if changes are necessary until we have fully considered the responses to this new consultation”.
But members of the We Are Spartacus online network of disabled campaigners have raised concerns about the consultation, which closes on 5 August.
The network is currently analysing the document in depth.
But Jane Young, an independent consultant and coordinator of the network, said Spartacus already had “concerns” over “worrying” elements of the document, which “just makes us a little nervous”.
She said the consultation essentially consists of “just one, very open-ended” question, which asks whether “you think we need to make any changes” to the criteria, or should “assess physical mobility in a different way altogether”.
She believes this is such a “generalised” question that it could allow DWP to draw any conclusions it likes from the public responses.
Young said she was also concerned at the document’s mention of comparing those who can only move around their homes with “those who have some, albeit limited, mobility”.
She said the government had previously removed any mention of indoor mobility as a relevant factor, in response to concerns that it would use this to deny the enhanced rate to those who could move around outside.
And Young said a reference to the “potential impact of any changes on PIP and overall welfare expenditure and whether this is affordable and sustainable”, suggests DWP will reach its conclusions based on cost, rather than on need.
She called on disabled people to respond to the consultation, but to wait until We Are Spartacus had published a briefing document on its website next week.
The network also plans to produce a survey to collect people’s views on the consultation, so that We Are Spartacus can submit a “community response”, as well as encouraging individuals to send in their own responses.
The government began to roll out PIP across the country earlier this month for new claimants, and these new claims will continue to be processed under the current rules “until the outcomes of the consultation are decided”.
Young believes reducing the distance to 20 metres will leave many disabled people “unable to make essential journeys” to work, see their GP, attend hospital appointments, or enjoy social activities, so leaving them effectively “isolated in their own homes”.
Under DLA, a person is entitled to the higher rate if they are “unable or virtually unable to walk”.
Claimants are usually considered to be “virtually unable to walk” if they cannot walk more than around 50 metres, but the alterations to the regulations – which were suddenly announced in December without any consultation – saw the key PIP mobility criteria reduced from 50 to 20 metres.
The regulations state that claimants who can move more than 20 metres can still receive the higher rate, if they cannot do so “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period”.
Meanwhile, the government has released its first estimate of the number of existing claimants of DLA who will be tested in the first year of the PIP reassessment programme.
Only those DLA claimants who report a change in their care or mobility needs, or whose fixed-term award is about to expire, or who are reaching the age of 16, will be reassessed for PIP from October 2013.
Most DLA recipients will instead be asked to claim PIP from October 2015, six months after the next general election.
But the new figures show that in the first year of the reassessment programme, from October 2013 to September 2014, 37 per cent of fixed-term DLA claimants will be “invited” to claim PIP.
The latest figures, from November 2012, show there were an estimated 544,000 fixed-term claimants, so this could mean more than 200,000 DLA claimants being reassessed for PIP over the year from October 2013.
News provided by John Pring at http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com