Committee of welfare experts also warns of ‘unintended operational and legal consequences’ for people with mental health problems and learning disabilities, urging Government to review the criteria and test the proposed changes with healthcare professionals.
The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), an independent panel of experts formally responsible for scrutinising welfare legislation, have written to the Minister for Disabled People, Penny Mordaunt MP, to express their concerns over changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
PIP is awarded to cover the extra costs that disabled people face, and is gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance. Recently the Upper Tribunal ruled that people who need support to make journeys because of overwhelming psychological distress should be eligible for the higher rate of PIP to cover the costs of that support. Last month, the Government announced that they want to change the law so that they don’t have to follow the court’s ruling.
There has been widespread criticism of the emergency legislation, which will come into effect tomorrow (16 March). Critics claim that the legislation discriminates against people with mental health problems and may affect up to 160,000 people with, for example, severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.
In its letter to the Minister, the SSAC highlighted a lack of clarity over the original intention of PIP and confusion over whether these changes are consistent with it. They also published minutes from their meeting on Wednesday 8 March, which show that they questioned Government officials over the reasons behind the change. When asked why the Government had previously stated to the courts that people who experience psychological distress should be eligible for the higher rate, officials responded by saying that the concession had been a mistake.
The SSAC also raised concerns that the changes could lead to ‘unintended consequences’ for people with multiple conditions, and that the Government hadn’t sufficiently understood the impact these changes would have on people already claiming PIP.
In response, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind said:
“We share the SSAC’s concerns. We are very worried about these changes and we are doing everything we can to try to get them dropped.
“People who find it difficult to leave the house because of anxiety, panic attacks, and other mental health problems are as restricted in their independence as many people with physical mobility problems, and face just as many higher costs in their daily lives as other disabled people do. The Government’s changes to PIP could affect over 160,000 people with mental health problems - both in and out of work - who have extra costs related to their disability.
“The changes undermine the Government’s commitment to look at disabled people as individuals, rather than labelling them by their condition, and completely goes against the Government’s commitment to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health. It also undermines a specific commitment the Government made in 2012, when introducing PIP, that people with mental health problems who struggle to plan or follow journeys would be treated the same as other disabled people. For people with mental health problems, getting the right benefits can mean the difference between whether someone can get to work or appointments, whether they can see friends and family – the same problems that would affect any other disabled person confined to their house.
“In a speech in January, the Prime Minister talked of putting an end to the ‘burning injustices’ that people with mental health problems face every day. This is one such burning injustice. We urge the Government to drop these changes and respect the ruling of the Upper Tribunal.”