A WOMAN from Wells has joined the MS Society to call for an overhaul of the disability payment Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
This year marks ten years since the introduction of PIP. But new figures from the MS Society show the PIP process is having a detrimental impact on the overall health of people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
For its new report PIP and MS: a decade of failure, the MS Society surveyed more than 3,500 people living with MS – its largest ever study into PIP.
Among the findings it showed were that almost two-thirds (65 per cent) said going through the process had a negative or very negative impact on their physical and mental health, while almost half (45 per cent) said they felt that they did not receive the correct award.
PIP is the main disability benefit people with MS claim in the UK, having replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2013. It is intended to support people with the extra costs of their condition – ranging from adapted vehicles to mobility aids – and helps them to live independently. But instead, the MS Society has found the PIP assessment process is costing people their time, their health, and their independence.
More than 130,000 people in the UK live MS, with 130 diagnosed each week. MS is a condition where the immune system attacks the coating which protects the nerves.
Bethen Thorpe, aged 47, lives in Wells and was diagnosed with relapsing MS in 2014. Her main symptoms include numbness, exhaustion, blurred vision and burning sensations. This means she struggles with household tasks and is rarely able to leave her home.
Bethen needs extra help to pay for travel. She has been through three PIP assessments since diagnosis and has had to appeal all three outcomes.
She said: “My first assessment was when I lived in London and I had to travel 40 miles to Chelmsford for the meeting. The report stated I could ‘carry a handbag’ so I wasn’t awarded anything. At my second assessment my dad was supporting me but the report stated there was nothing wrong with me so we had to appeal and go to tribunal again.
“Earlier this year I was told I’d have another assessment out of the blue. On the day I had all the paperwork and the legal files open in front of me so I could answer questions. But in doing so the assessor said I had ‘no problems with interpreting signs’. But I can barely see – everything is blurred.
“I could tell I was being judged because I speak articulately. For example, they marked me down because I was able to name the medication I’m on. I was awarded the standard amount where I was on the enhanced level before – around £100 a month difference. This additional money allows me to pay for escalating transport costs, including taxis to appointments and the cost of railcards. I appealed and thankfully the decision has been changed to the higher award for both elements of PIP – which covers daily living and mobility costs.
“I’ve had quite severe depression and my symptoms have worsened with the stress of PIP. I’ve been upset about it as you shouldn’t have to go to court two times. I try to be pragmatic and sensible. But the fact you have to keep being questioned isn’t fair. I’m getting older – my MS is progressing. I don’t know whether I can keep fighting it. But further down the line are they going to take even more away?”
The MS Society is asking the Government to review and overhaul the PIP process, ensuring it more accurately reflects how people are impacted by living with MS. It has started a petition calling on the UK Government to launch a full review into PIP at https://www.mssociety.org.uk/fix-pip
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman told Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Mumby: “We support millions of disabled people every year and in the vast majority of PIP cases we make the right decision.
“We aim to provide a compassionate service and, where an in-person assessment is required, any claimant is free to be accompanied to their appointment to reduce stress or anxiety. “All our disability assessors are qualified health professionals, and we are investing in their skills as we improve the experience of the benefits system for disabled people.”