Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Hurting the vulnerable

Personal independence payment (PIP) was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales in 2013, replacing disability living allowance (DLA). The benefit is supposed to cover some of the additional costs of having a long-term health condition, and is available to people in or out of work. It is worth up to £87.65 a week to meet daily living needs, plus up to £61.20 a week for the mobility element, depending on assessment.

But since PIP was introduced, 65% of claims from people with epilepsy who did not have DLA were rejected, while 54% of those in receipt of DLA were turned down for PIP, the second-highest refusal rate of all health conditions and double the national average. Of those who challenged the decision 78% won on appeal.

According to Epilepsy Scotland, which obtained the figures, the benefit assessment system is flawed because it fails to take account of fluctuating conditions like epilepsy. Claims assessors focus too heavily on the type and number of seizures a person has, while ignoring other symptoms like memory impairment, confusion, anxiety and depression.

Frances Brown, Epilepsy Scotland’s welfare rights officer, says: “About 70% of my work is PIP-related. Since 2017 we have had to double our workforce to cope with demand and have recovered £1m in unpaid benefits, including PIP.” Being denied PIP brings financial hardship but also damages mental health. “We’ve had numerous people tell us that they don’t want to be here any more – that they have had enough,” says Brown. “It’s that feeling of not being believed – of not being listened to.”

Epilepsy charities in England and Wales are also reporting soaring demand for help. Daniel Jennings, senior policy and campaigns officer at Epilepsy Action, says the number of people contacting their helpline about PIP rocketed by 123% between 2016 and 2017. “Many people use that benefit to travel to work on public transport, as a lot of people with epilepsy can’t drive. If people lose that money, they lose the one thing that might give them their one bit of independence,” he says.

An early-day motion, signed by 34 MPs, expresses “serious concern” at the number of people with epilepsy being denied PIP, and “alarm” at rejection rates.

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