What is a PIP assessment?
Previously, the UK government provided a Disability Living Allowance benefit to help with the costs of a long-term illness or disability. Since 2014, the government has been phasing out DLA and replacing it with PIP. Only children under 16 years old can still apply for and receive DLA. For those who are 16 to 64, they will be asked to apply for the Personal Independence Payment instead. This offers between £22.45 and £145.35 each week, depending on how the condition affects the claimant’s day-to-day life. Before they can receive PIP, the claimant must undergo an assessment. The process includes submitting a 40-page application form and attending a face-to-face appointment where they’ll have to answer further questions on their condition. The assessment results in a score out of 12 according to whether or not they can complete 10 daily living activities and 2 mobility activities. PIP requires a minimum score of 8 to be eligible for the benefit. The process and criteria are different to DLA.
How are PIP assessments unfair to people with autism?
Over the last year especially, claimants with autism and their family members and support workers have been calling out the problems that people with autism face when it comes to applying for PIP. The scoring system for the assessment does not take aspects of autism into account. Filling out all the forms, travelling to the appointment, and answering the questions to try to “prove” their autism is difficult for autistic people. Anxiety is a large part of autism, and the assessment process can be damaging for self-esteem. The questions they are asked are very black and white, ignoring the complexities of autism as well as any learning difficulties. For example, an autistic person might answer “yes” to “Can you cook for yourself?” because they can switch on their microwave or put cheese on bread. The assessment would consider the “yes” to mean that they are self-sufficient in this regard and do not need the help of PIP, when they actually do. Regardless of any official medical evidence, scoring too low at the assessment will result in the payments being cut completely. The process is demeaning and often hostile, which is also true for claimants who have physical disabilities or mental illness.
How are PIP assessments unfair to people with physical disabilities?
Criticisms of the PIP assessment process have stated that they are much more in favour of people with physical disabilities. Understanding the forms, their outcomes, and how to challenge decisions requires certain intellectual capacities. This discriminates unfairly against people who might not understand which of the boxes to tick and why. However, just because they are more mentally capable, doesn’t mean that those with physical disabilities won’t face barriers with PIP. Several claimants had their benefits cut after failing to attend their assessment. This was in spite of the reason being that the venue was not accessible. Those with wheelchairs or mobility scooters, or people who have sight or hearing impairments, face difficulties with this. Even if they do make it to the assessment, how they are that day could affect their score. One better mobility day isn’t representative of how much help they usually need.
How are PIP assessments unfair to people with poor mental health?
Claimants with mental illness also struggle with the PIP assessment process. Similarly, the scoring system does not take the variations in ability into account. Just because someone has the physical capability to walk without aid or prepare a meal doesn’t mean that they are mentally able to do so. Those with severe anxiety and depression, for example, may be unable to leave their house, go to work, speak to strangers, or do anything alone. On some days, people with mental illness may not even be able to get themselves out of bed. Being able to attend an assessment and say “yes” to the question “can you cook for yourself?” doesn’t reflect this. It is humiliating for people to have to try to prove that they cannot do things that most other people can do to function in day-to-day living. A High Court ruling in 2017 even recognized that PIP assessments were discriminatory for excluding the effects of mental illness on mobility.
What is the government doing to change the PIP assessment process?
Around a quarter of PIP assessments result in the loss of the benefit. This does not include those whose payments are reduced. It can cause severe financial hardship, emotional and psychological distress, and physical health problems for the claimants who lose out. The very point of PIP is to enhance the personal independence of eligible claimants. Yet, when they use the payments to do this and have to attend an assessment for review, they could lose their benefits due to being “too independent” to need them. After losing the benefit, the claimants then become far less independent and their original conditions worsen. They can appeal against the assessment decision, but it can take months to even get a hearing scheduled. The UK government has received harsh criticism over all of this for years now. Even the United Nations has reported on the UK government’s failings in this area. The government has said that they are constantly reviewing the process and want to improve it. The DWP is reviewing all 1.6 million PIP claims to make sure the assessments were accurate. They are also launching an online service to make things easier and faster for those who are appealing against benefit assessment decisions. The DWP has also decided that people with the most severe and life-long health conditions will no longer have to undergo reviews to keep receiving PIP. Further changes may be coming to adjust the criteria.