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UK Government Threatens My Independence

In April, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that PIP (Personal Independence Payment) may be distributed as vouchers or one-off grants rather than money. PIP is paid to people with long term disabilities, mental or physical, regardless of their employment to allow them the dignity of financial and personal independence. The clue is in the name.  

The benefit is not means tested, and does not rely on a diagnosis from a doctor. However, a GP is able to write a letter to the Department for Work and Pensions, to confirm the applicant’s difficulties with daily tasks, such as needing a mobility aid to walk. Despite this, access to this money is highly prescriptive and hard to receive. Only 52% of claimants receive PIP. 

The maximum amount an applicant can get (after waiting three to eight months for acceptance or denial) is £180.40 a week, which is dependent on how you score across both the Daily Living and Mobility elements. I stress, this is the maximum. 

These daily tasks people struggle with range from washing yourself, following a known route unaided, cooking for and feeding yourself, and the ability to budget effectively. This last point is particularly important when thinking about if PIP is changed to vouchers or lump sums. If someone scores highly on the budgeting portion, and is therefore unable to budget effectively, surely the incentive is to help them budget by allocating specific amounts at specific times?

The government says that pip costs are “spiraling” as there are more than double the claimants there were prior to the Covid pandemic each month. Perhaps it would pay dividends to consider why so many are claiming, not to punish those who already receive PIP.

However, as a potential claimant, I’ve seen that the most significant problem with PIP right now is not false claims, it is that the people who assess PIP, are not current healthcare workers. Yes, according to you need at least a year’s experience in a clinical setting as a qualified healthcare professional. A physiotherapist is able to apply for the job as long as they, at any point in their life, received a legitimate qualification in physiotherapy.

I am autistic, I’ve never been to a physiotherapist, and never needed to. I have known my whole life that I struggle with self-care: brushing my teeth, socialising at length, and realising when I am hungry or thirsty. I can suffer from severe meltdowns, sometimes leaving me hospitalised due to stress and forms of self-harm like self induced head injuries. The change to vouchers or one-off payments punishes users and those who look to legitimately claim PIP. But, being assessed by someone who knows what they’re talking about is a lottery. 

How does an assessor know what I need, when the last time they were in a healthcare setting was 20 years ago. What if, as I have seen, they don’t understand that despite being able to communicate over the phone during my assessment, I am vulnerable enough that I have been in mental health and support services my whole life. Their knowledge is often severely limited and/or outdated. The success of your assessment is therefore down to the luck of the draw.

Frankly, a lot of the failures surrounding PIP are due to ignorance about disability. This is despite the fact it is the only marginalised group you can become part of at any time. Maybe you lose your vision, maybe you are in an accident, maybe you experience a mental health crisis. As a disabled person, I am not advocating for ‘rewarding’ people for being less disabled, I am advocating for people with disabilities being able to decide what they need most. Again, the clue is in the name. This is all about independence, that is all I want. 

Last year, the UK Government allocated a small amount of funds to people on Universal Credit during cold weather. The support provided, though minimal, allowed people to more easily live their lives as they themselves intend. The changes being made to PIP have nothing to do with making sure there are appropriate accommodations for those in need; this only acts to take agency away from disabled people, and convince the public that disabled people maybe do get too much government support. Would you rather people suffer and struggle? Our current political climate is already unkind enough to the disabled. 

The thing is, I didn’t choose to be autistic. Everyday I grieve a future I could have had but can’t due to my disability. I would much rather be able to work fulltime and build a so-called ‘normal’ life with my partner, but I can’t. Rishi Sunak, I already feel like a burden, don’t make it any worse. 

Image: Olgierd

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