Welfare Warfare - How Tory Benefits Policy is Destroying Lives

As the Chancellor’s Cost of Living response is set to exclude carers, disabled people and elderly people, Elliot Sloman outlines the flaws in the current PIP system, through his personal experience as a young carer.

Reports suggest that people claiming carers allowance as well as disabled and elderly people on Personal Independence Payments (PIP) won’t automatically qualify for Rishi Sunak’s £650 definitely-not-a-loan cost of living “relief”. I want to evaluate the actual impact that will be had on disabled people, the elderly and carers of disabled people, as well as the detrimental impact that PIP has had on those groups in general, from the perspective of a youth carer to a Parkinson’s patient.

Firstly, what is PIP and how did it come about? At the 2010 General election, when the Lib-Dems sold out entirely and gave us 5 years of oppressive Tory rule, David Cameron appointed the veteran Thatcherite and failed tory ex-leader Iain Duncan-Smith to the position of Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions. Cameron and Duncan-Smith promised extensive welfare reform in their 2010 manifesto.

The previous system (Disability Living Allowance) was introduced by the Major government in 1992. The system worked relatively well, so the decision to change the system has had incredibly profound impacts on millions of people. The new system (PIP) is a regularly assessed, non-means-tested dual benefit for people with long-term disabilities over the age of 16. Claimants are given finances on a standard or enhanced weekly rate if they qualify for one or both categories: The mobility component (difficulty with movement) and the Daily living component (difficulty with everyday tasks).

There are 3 main problems with the system: the weekly rates/amounts paid out, the lack of means tests and the regular assessments.

Firstly the weekly rates. The government website says that the minimum wage for an adult working 8-hour shifts per annum is £18,727, using the weekly rates for PIP also provided on the government’s website:

Mobility component:  Daily living component:

£61.85 - standard      £24.45 - standard

£92.40 - enhanced    £64.50 - enhanced

The highest one person could receive per annum on PIP is £8,158.80, and the lowest is £1,271.40. Now I am no mathematician, but neither of those numbers come anywhere close to the absolute minimum wage for working adults. This means that people claiming PIP are forced to rely on either: other benefits (universal credit, housing benefits etc) or if they’re lucky enough to have a spouse or partner who makes significantly more than the minimum wage to make up the deficit by which PIP is harrowingly far from the minimum wage. This means that, unless a PIP claimant has an extensive and abundant network of support around them, they are essentially forced to live on a wage far below what the average working adult does.

Having a non-means tested benefit is actually a very good and fairly progressive thing, however, being who they are, the Conservatives have managed to flip such a good thing on its head. As it is not means-tested, many Conservatives use the system as a means to vilify and accuse benefit-claimants of being ‘spongers’ and many other horrible misconceptions to discredit and demonise those less fortunate than the majority. It is an incredibly evil marketing strategy used often by the Conservatives, for them to be able to say “The [government department] is broken, elect us again and we will fix it for you” even if they have been in charge of it for well over a decade. Removing means-tests for disability benefits is a wholly good thing but the Conservatives have managed to make it out to be something it isn’t, fraudulent.

Now, the regular assessments, people are assessed on a basis which is specific to them, for my dad it is now every three years. So every three years my Father, and thousands of others, go through an in-depth, intrusive assessment to evaluate whether or not they should be allowed to keep what little the state is willing to cough up for them. 

These assessments are done in a way which completely disregards the actual needs and condition of the person who is being assessed. Assessments are done by a private company (Capita) employing individuals who often have zero training or experience in dealing with disability and are reportedly paid, as an organisation, almost 20 grand per month to fail as many people as possible. This was revealed in an undercover investigation in 2016, and while it hit the headlines, it never enraged to the degree that it should have. There were tens of thousands of cases involving people with terminal illness, blindness, deafness, multiple-amputees, degenerative disabilities, and incurable disabilities having their PIP removed. Many of whom died before they could regain their benefits.

A lack of communication and support during such a rigorous process, often then leading to the removal of PIP by a mandatory reconsideration notice (think the 2020 GCSE/A-levels algorithm failure but with disabled people’s livelihoods). But worry not everyone! There is an appeals service with the HM courts and tribunal, often lasting 6 months or longer, leaving individuals without benefits for upwards of half a year, the appeals very often lead to an overturning of the DWP’s decision, showing that the rest of the government doesn’t even agree with the DWP’s decision to starve disabled people.

My Dad has Parkinson’s which is a degenerative and permanent neurological condition, which for long periods in the day prevents his ability to move, walk, talk, eat and function. Therefore, he too was subject to an assessment where he had his benefits taken from him. There was no justification for their decision and we had to wait 5 months for the appeal date. The doctor, who was a part of the appeals board, became so upset because of the state it had left him and our family in, that he came to apologise for the process after the board meeting outside of the tribunal. The process, 6 years on, still has gross impacts on him which is the same story for tens of thousands of individuals and families across the country. 

I want to make it abundantly clear that this is no sob story, this should make you angry for the thousands who are missing out on a decent quality of life. No one, especially not disabled people, will ever be able to live their lives on well under the bare minimum. Rishi Sunak’s decision, propped up by the DWP, to not automatically qualify PIP claimants for the full cost of living crisis “relief”, cements the fact that they never have and never will take the lives of disabled people into account, and tens, if not hundreds of thousands will continue to suffer as a result. 

Their blood is on your hands, Rishi.

Elliot Sloman is a Young Carer to his disabled father with Parkinson’s disease. Living in South East London and currently studying his A-levels, Elliot has high ambitions of progressing the lives of disabled people in a meaningful way, through aid reform and adequate education to shift the culture around disability in society. He tweets at @elliot.slmn.

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