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Spartacus report unmasks PIP hidden agenda

As the Government's migration of disabled people from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIP) picks up pace, Ruth Patrick talks to members of the network which is determined to reveal Department for Work and Pensions' hidden intentions.

Replacing DLA to PIP was always about saving money. While it has been presented as a way of creating a less 'passive' benefit, and one that better identifies and supports those in greatest need, the target of reducing overall expenditure on the benefit by 20% has consistently seemed to dominate. It's not surprising, therefore, that the recent review of how PIP treats the use of aids and appliances in assessing eligibility for the benefit has given many very real cause for concern.

The Government argues that the review is required to make PIP 'financially sustainable' and to ensure that people's use of specialised aids, appliances and everyday items does not lead to their receiving the benefit despite facing limited additional disability-related costs. In a consultation released just before Christmas, the Department for Work and Pensions asked for feedback on five proposed options; all of which variously reduced and in some cases removed eligibility for PIP linked to an individual's reliance on aids and adaptations.

The consultation was incredibly quick; published on 10 December, with a closing date for submissions of 29 January this year. Many of us will have been so busy stuffing turkeys, panic Christmas shopping and attempting dry Januarys that we will have missed the consultation entirely.

Not so for the Spartacus Network of sick and disabled researchers, who organised their own survey of chronically sick and disabled people and managed to write a report of their findings, aptly titled Crippling Choices, all within the seven-week consultation period.

Explaining why they decided to conduct the survey and write their report, one of the authors Stef Benstead said, "At Spartacus we always try to involve the views of as many people as possible, rather than presenting the opinions of a few individuals. That's why we did the survey. The rest of the report was because we have found that the Government has a tendency to interpret the absence of criticism as support. We are critical of both the design and intentions behind PIP and very critical of the way this consultation was run. It was appallingly complicated, with far too little time to respond. Furthermore, the very reasoning underpinning the consultation shows a massive lack of understanding by the Government about disability issues."

Certainly, the resulting report is a damning critique of the Government's consultation process as well as the various proposals for changes to how PIP assesses the use of aids and appliances. What Spartacus's survey highlights very clearly is the ways in which the use of aids and appliances is evidence of an underlying functional limitation, and one which will almost inevitably entail additional costs and needs. The Government's approach seems to be intent on ignoring this or trying to underplay it within a rubric of cost-cutting and rationalisation of benefits provision.

The overwhelming majority of the 61 survey respondents resoundingly rejected all five of the options which the Government proposes for changes to the current system, which encompass reducing the weight given to the use of aids and appliances in the assessment process as well as replacing access to PIP with a lump sum payment.

Commenting on the possible options proposed by the Government, another of the report's authors, Caroline Richardson, paints a bleak picture of the thinking behind and likely consequences of any of the Government's suggested changes being implemented:

"Many people on enhanced rate daily living would be affected by the proposed changes, as a reduction in points awarded for aids would reduce the total. Only those who have all their points for assistance would be unaffected. But I feel that the way PIP is constructed they have made attempts to prove that assistance can be replaced by aids. So instead of assistance you use aids, and because you then only need aids you are 'clearly' not disabled enough to need financial help… and so you don't need disability premiums. This is how they plan to eliminate disability needs and hence disability support."

Challenging this policy approach and overarching narratives is vital, and we should all be thankful to the Spartacus Network researchers for their work in doing exactly that.

Read the full Spartacus Network report