Tory attempt to justify PIP ‘amendments’ should infuriate everybody – not just the mentally-ill

Damian Green in Parliament.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green was dragged into the House of Commons to answer an urgent question on why he is narrowing the assessment criteria for the Personal Independence Payment to avoid paying claimants the amounts demanded by the courts.

His responses – and the debate that followed, revealed the depths of depravity into which the Conservative Party has willingly dived in its quiet war of extermination against anybody who is not able-bodied.

“Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different from what was originally intended by the Coalition Government,” he started, as if that made his intention reasonable.

“We are therefore now making amendments to clarify the criteria used to decide how much benefit claimants receive in order to restore the original aim of the policy previously agreed by Parliament, which followed extensive consultation.” Meaning: “The original aim of the criteria was to deprive vulnerable claimants of the benefit. Because the courts have tried to protect those people, we have to revise those criteria in public – and it is embarrassing, so we are trying to justify it with an excuse.”

“It is not a policy change, and nor is it intended to make new savings.” Meaning: “The cuts savings, and the harm they caused were in the original criteria. Our policy has always been for these groups of disabled people to be harmed by the imposition of PIP.”
 “This will not result in any claimant seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions.” “But I damn well refuse to give anybody what they need, either.”
“Mental health conditions and physical disabilities that lead to higher costs will continue to be supported, as has always been the case.” No they won’t.
“The Government are committed to ensuring that our welfare system provides a strong safety net for those who need it.” No they aren’t.
“That is why we spend about £50 billion to support people with disabilities and health conditions, and we are investing more in mental health than ever before, spending a record £11.4 billion a year.” This is a fraction of the cost if we were to fund the benefit properly – but we’re not going to do that.
“Personal independence payments are part of that support, and they provide support towards the additional costs that disabled people face. At the core of PIP’s design is the principle that support should be made available according to need, rather than a certain condition, whether physical or non-physical.” Our need to save money and supply tax cuts to the rich.
“PIP is also designed to focus more support on those who are likely to have higher costs associated with their disability.” At least, that’s what we say.
“PIP works better than disability living allowance for those with mental health conditions.” No it doesn’t.
“For example, there are more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of PIP than there were under the old DLA system.” Because money is the only yardstick we Tories have, even though it is hypocritical to have attacked the UN for a money-based argument last year and then be using one now.
“This is about restoring the original intention of the benefit, which has been expanded by the legal judgments. It is entirely appropriate for the Government to act to restore clarity to the law, as Governments have done before and will no doubt continue to do in the future.” It isn’t appropriate for a government to show contempt for the courts, but that is what this government is doing.

For the Labour Party, Stephen Timms pointed out that the “cuts” to PIP were announced without warning in a written statement published last Thursday. Why so little notice, with no opportunity for Parliamentary scrutiny? Was it true that people with schizophrenia, learning disability, autism and dementia will be among those worst affected by the cuts? Did the intention to take away benefit money assigned by the courts to people whose mobility impairments are caused by “psychological distress” not contradict Theresa May’s commitment to treat mental health on a par with physical health?

Mr Green responded, rather predictably, with lies and distortions: “Nobody is losing money compared with what they were originally awarded by the DWP,” he said. But they are losing money that the courts ruled was due to them. The DWP made a “huge effort” to let people know that this was happening – by leaving messages with the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams and the chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, Frank Field. That was not what he had been asked, which was why there had been so little notice and no chance for discussion. And Mr Green said PIP is not awarded for conditions but for the difficulties arising from them – an arbitrary criterion meaning different assessors may deny benefit to some claimants, even though others with the same condition are in receipt.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams stepped in to point out that Mr Green was overturning two tribunal rulings that allow chronic “psychological distress” to be included in the PIP assessment. Why did he not use his legal powers to challenge those rulings in the courts?

She said he was not only undermining the judicial process, but also reducing eligibility for PIP support for more than 164,000 people with debilitating mental health conditions, including those who are unable to leave their own homes. What discussions had Mr Green had with disabled people’s organisations ahead of bringing forward these regulations? What is his assessment of the effects on the health and wellbeing of the people affected by the cuts? Given that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people as a result of the extra costs they face, how many disabled people will be driven into debt or face poverty as a result? What is the cumulative effect of these cuts along with the Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group cuts that are due to come into effect in April, which will affect 500,000 disabled people? And why is the Government contradicting its earlier argument that “psychological distress” should be included in PIP assessments? Why will the government not honour its commitment to parity of esteem for mental and physical health?

Mr Green’s response defied belief. “We are appealing the judgments, but because of the lack of clarity that would be caused by leaving the current regulations in limbo following the upper tribunal’s decisions, it is better to move quickly.” Meaning: No matter what the result of the appeal, the Tories will have changed the rules to make the court’s decision immaterial. “Over two-thirds of PIP recipients with a mental health condition get the enhanced rate daily living component, compared with just 22 per cent who used to receive the highest rate of DLA care.” But how many actually need the extra cash? And he reiterated his claim that he is not cutting benefit for claimants. He is – it’s still a cut, even if they haven’t received it.

Justin Tomlinson, the Parliamentary under-Secretary for Disabled People who allegedly misled Parliament over the number of mobility cars the government has taken from disabled people, claiming he did not know more than 14,000 had been taken away by February 25, even though the figure had been reported by the BBC on February 3 (Mr Tomlinson was quoted in the piece), spoke next.

He suggested that any increase in support for those with long-term health conditions and disabilities should be done in conjunction with charities and stakeholders, rather than on an ad hoc basis dictated by the courts. These are fine words from a man whose department does not appear to have consulted Motability before changing the criteria under which its cars are awarded to people with disabilities.

There was a chorus of dissent from the Opposition benches. Corrie Wilson pointed out that the changes send a “dangerous message” to the public that people with mental ill-health are “less worthy” of support.

Angela Eagle pointed out that people with long-term disabilities are being caused “massive amounts of distress” at having to wait “a very long time” for PIP assessments. “They feel utter despair at having to have anything to do with it,” she said – an indication that people in mental ill-health are endangered by the system imposed by Mr Green’s government.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh asked why people who are unable to leave their homes due to physical disabilities should be entitled to PIP, but not those who cannot leave their homes because of a mental disability. Mr Green responded by referring to the arbitrary conditions of each assessment – “They will both be entitled to PIP at the level that will be assessed”.

Tom Brake pointed out that the Liberal Democrats were trying to force a debate on the changes, with support from the Leader of the Opposition.

Madeleine Moon pointed out the the charity Mind says the changes could prevent people from getting to health or job appointments and from getting out to pay for fuel and heating, take their children to school or see friends and families—things essential for their daily lives and recovery.

Richard Burden said the disability benefits system has never been sufficiently sensitive or flexible, and the court ruling was a step towards making the system better. He said by rushing out new regulations, Mr Green would make people with mental health problems and illnesses more anxious and unfairly treated?

Nick Thomas-Symonds pointed out that many of his constituents had to go through the mandatory reconsideration process, and then to tribunal, to be awarded PIP at the correct level. To his shame, Mr Green defended the government by saying only six per cent of PIP judgements are appealed. This is because too many claimants become destitute before the mandatory reconsideration process concludes, a consequence intended by the Conservative Government when it introduced MR.

Alison Thewliss pointed out that PIP is not better for people with mental health conditions, raising the case of a constituent with bipolar disorder who needs continual supervision. The procedure is not recognised by PIP, so the constituent has lost not only that benefit but also working tax credit – and must now consider quitting work. Mr Green’s changes – and PIP in general – are no help to people in that situation and he had no answer.

Jeff Smith also mentioned an individual case – a man whose long-term mental health issues meant he simply could not get out to work, yet PIP was refused for him. He asked: “How can the Government possibly claim to want parity of esteem for mental health when they are trying to enshrine disparity as a result of this change?” No answer.

The whole discussion was a farce.

Mr Green had no health grounds on which to justify his changes – it was clear that the only reason for introducing them was financial.

Nor could he demonstrate any need for the haste with which they were being introduced or the lack of consultation – in fact, one of his fellow Conservatives undermined him by suggesting that changes to support for those with mental health conditions should be made in consultation with charities and stakeholders.

But the government is still ploughing on with its intention to deprive the mentally-ill of money the courts had determined they needed in order to live.

Let us hope the Liberal Democrats and Labour are successful in killing the changes.

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17 thoughts on “Tory attempt to justify PIP ‘amendments’ should infuriate everybody – not just the mentally-ill

  1. Joan Edington

    “Let us hope the Liberal Democrats and Labour are successful in killing the changes”.
    Your bias is showing again Mike, by obvious omission.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Not so – the LDs and Labour were the parties that had indicated their opposition.

  2. Rupert Mitchell (@rupert_rrl)

    The Tories will continue to bulldoze their vile policies through parliament for the next thee years if we don’t find a way to stop them.

    I don’t advocate “sticks and stones” but certainly calling them names will never remove Tories; we need a better and more concrete action.

    With the destruction of decency for everyone and their obvious intent to privatise everything they can we cannot wait three years.

  3. Solitary Witch

    I’m scared. I’m 53 and suffer from multiple, long term, mental illnesses, (depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, social phobia, PTSD, panic attacks), I receive ESA and the low rate of mobility DLA – it was cut from the higher rate about three years ago – and I’m just about ‘hanging on’ as it is. The vulnerable in this country have been hit and hurt enough! Collect taxes from huge companies that aren’t paying anything; or ‘cut’ from the 1% in the UK that can afford it. If there is even a scrap of compassion within this govt., (although I am sure there is none at all), then they won’t cut from the vulnerable in society any more. I despair….

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      There are many organisations that can help you if you are worried about your future safety under this government. Black Triangle and DPAC would be good places to visit (just type them into your search engine), and there are good Facebook groups as well.

  4. gordon powrie

    Strange that the Liberal Democrats are having an attack of remorse at what’s going on, it seems. However, St Paul had his moment on the way to Damascus

  5. Julie sharkey

    Its against the law for the Tories or anybody to bring in there own laws,what the courts says,that what everybody goes by ,!the ppl who is refused will be taking there pip case to court of human rights,and they’ll win theyr case , and cost them millions of pounds ,!,

  6. inkdropk

    Of all the individuals the tories have assigned to this brief – From Mcvey through to Tomlinson, the criteria seems to have zip all to do with the needs of any claimant, more how many claimants the minister and his team can get off the system. This is a disgraceful state of affairs, in an environment where his mate at HM Treasury can give the richest in society a nice little back rub in the form of juicy tax cuts, the DWP team have (again) been given the role of Dr Nasty….Narrowing Criteria might save some cash in the short term – but if it stops a claimant getting his personal care , or stops a claimant getting to work…what then?

  7. John

    I just wished justice was done i myself suffer with spinal abbifita can’t hardly walk but pip just made fun of me and told lies saying i could do things and i can’t

  8. diabolicalme

    All the reports I keep reading about this whole issue, rarely if ever is there mention of the other big rushed through change to PIP entitlement – the removal from several higher scoring descriptors of the need for supervision, assistance, help or actual administering of drugs or various treatments for medical conditions e.g. in epilepsy, diabetes, narcolepsy, other unspecified blackouts or fits, and for mental health needs too etc. etc. Apparently this descriptor was only ever intended for serious medical therapy like dialysis. Right. I need a huge amount of monitoring, supervision, care, and actual treatment from others on a daily basis for both T1 diabetes monitoring, testing, treatment, AND for chronic mental ill health, including for travelling/mobilising (2 periods both very recently my carer has been on suicide watch over me…saved the public purse a lot of money instead of me being in hospital yet again, a place I avoid going to as much as possible, though I did have 3 stays in 2016 due suicide attempts, and yes I’m sorry Mike but they were all brown envelope related I’m just not strong enough to cope with the psychological battering of these frequent assessments any more). My PIP forms are waiting to be processed at this very moment and I feel even more pessimistic about being awarded anything now. Even if this evil ruling doesn’t affect those like me already in the PIP claim process, I am sure most awards given will be for 2 or 3 years, and so as sure as Tories have ice cold hearts, a PIP reassessment will come around quickly enough, by which time the qualifying criteria will have been even further pared down to the diseased, but not diseased enough, bone. Hey, bang goes my last bit of independence. Since my despair has resulted in a bad bad very bad escalation of my 40 years’ eating disorders, the diabetes (also 40+ years) is wonderfully out of control now; at least when I’ve lost a sufficient amount of sight due worsening of my Proliferative Retinopathy, and kidney failure seriously sets in (I do already have long standing significant diabetic complications), and maybe the odd foot ulcer or 2, perhaps even an amputation if I’m really really lucky – I may well AT LAST qualify for what will be left of PIP 🙂 hoorah!! Or be dead well before then.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      You clearly know my feelings about suicide so please don’t consider it.
      If you end up feeling that you have to do it, please leave a letter clarifying that you believe the government and its assessment system to be responsible – preferably with the press, family members and relevant care charities.
      There are several organisations in existence that help people like you get through the process. Are you aware of them?

      1. diabolicalme

        Yes, luckily I’ve had help from a legal and welfare rights’ agency and my CMHT, who had both requested in strong language that I not be put thru a face to face assessment. Got a letter last week with a date for a home visit f2f, had mini-breakdown (so far…), CMHT got them to reconsider making the decision on paper and from my consultants and supporting evidence..but hey ho, another Atos letter arrived today saying they still need a f2f. Think I’m doomed to having a fake assessment with a fake assessor paid to fail people.

        Bad news #2 last week – my beautiful friend in her 40s, with severe diabetic complications, died suddenly on Thurs, probably heart attack. Her last email to me a week prior to her death said how she was going seriously loopy with worry, losing her mind, over the outcome of her PIP assessment she’d had a few weeks’ ago. Correlation? Oh yeah, DWP would say no concrete PROOF of causation, therefore they can’t possibly be linked. I’ve been howling with despair at the loss of my friend, as well as the fact she went to her grave worrying about losing her lifeline benefits which paid for her daily carers and cabs to go anywhere as she couldn’t walk or drive. She’d texted me after the assessment to say it was a gruelling 2 hours’ long. She had so many seriously disabling diabetic complications, why the hell was she ever put thru’ a face to face assessment in her last few weeks of life? And she’d spent the Xmas period filling out her form 🙁 What a sad sad last few weeks of life, in addition to all the pain, suffering and incapacity in every area of her life.

        (My GP also spent Xmas filling out a PIP form for her severely autistic daughter who cannot communicate verbally at all. DWP said they’d still need to visit the daughter in person despite her inability to communicate..?? Presumably they don’t believe her severe needs for support – she’s in supported accommodation etc. – nor her GP mother!!)

        As for the commentor below – who are we to EVER judge others lives? None of us have ANY idea what constitutes other peoples’ full state of health, illness, disability AND how it affects them. Without full knowledge of someone else’s private life – every single aspect of it – how can we possibly judge or decide whether someone is deserving or not of state help? Divide and rule, just what this sick evil govt wants.

  9. Darren

    What we have to remember with the Tories is that they use words that have come to have specific meanings in the press and MSM. You say, Mike, that what they are proposing via their unmoderated change to the PIP rules is still a cut. Under the Tories’ “words and what they mean” practice it’s not, because “cut” is an acceptable alternative word that can mean “reduction” and can even be legally defined as “trimming.” A reduction is therefore not the same, by Tory definition, as a confiscation or removal.

    I once asked my local MP, Maria Miller (lucky me!) (*snort*) which of the Tories’ letters editors had convinced her that “incentivise” was an acceptable substitute word for “coerce” when it comes to their claims of “helping people (back) into work.” I still await a reply, and it seems that once their muddlespeak is challenged with correct vocabulary they have no means to defend the crap that they come out with.

  10. Carole Ladygenie

    The Tories are already reducing the PIP payments via the assessments.
    I’m disabled with spinal osteoarthritis and also have degenerative disc disease, L5 disc is impinged on the sciatica nerve.
    I have 3 different areas which cause me pain, one which is sciatica pain 24/7, I also have all the medical evidence which supports all this.
    I can only walk as far as 4metres and then I need my wheelchair, I also have a stair chair lift and a bath swivel chair which is supplied to me by social services after being assessed by an OT assessor.
    I need help around the home and some help with personal care.
    I tire very easily, every day I feel exhausted, whether it’s because of having to cope with pain every day or it’s my medication or because I have regular disturbed sleep and only sleep about 5hrs most nights.
    I had a PIPs assessment before xmas last year, the assessor asked me some questions and then gave me some physical tasks to do, he told me to stay in my wheelchair, one of the tasks was for me to lean forward and hold each knee alternately and lift my legs, I knew this would cause me some pain and told the assessor so, he just looked at me so I did the task and boy did it cause me pain in my lower back, he saw this and immediately told me to stop, then he told me to place my hands to each side of my head, I did it and he said ok that’s fine.
    I have said that I cannot tolerate feeling crowded, I become anxious in crowds and neither can I hold a conversation for long with a lot of people in the same room because I lose my concentration and get very irritated if I’m trying to say something and someone is talking over me, one to one conversations I can manage fine.
    My daughter is my carer but to me, she’s my rock and she’s with me when I have to go somewhere and she’s with me if I have a visitor, she gives me reassurance if I become anxious.
    She was with me when I had my assessment.
    The decision maker sent me the outcome of my assessment, I was still to receive my enhanced rate of
    the mobility component but my daily living component
    was reduced from the enhanced rate to the standard rate which meant that I lost £108 a month and the reason being was….I can raise my arms and place my hands on my head and therefore I can wash my hair.
    I wrote back and said that at no time have I said that I cannot use my arms and hands but it’s not the actual action of the task but the duration of how long my arms are raised up to wash and dry my hair which does cause my lower back to ache because of sitting in one position for so long plus I begin to get like a burning pain that goes across the top of my shoulders and my neck.
    Anyway the laughable part is….we have a friend who lives 5mins away who also suffers with severe back pain which is the outcome of a serious car accident, he’s now on morphine to keep his pain under control.
    He had a PIPs assessment done about a couple of months before me, he was failed on the same task as me, placing his hands on either side of his head, we also had the same assessor lol and his daily living allowance was also reduced, quite a coincedence!
    It really annoys me that we are made out to look like liars and we’re not, I’ve worked most of my life, paid my taxes etc like everyone else and when the day came and I was told that I could’nt work anymore, I was heartbroken and in tears, I worked as a home carer for many years and also earned qualifications relating to health and social care and I was lucky because I loved my job and having to leave was harder for me to accept than accepting that I am now disabled, every time I get involved in a conversation with a nurse or Dr, I begin to cry because I miss my job so much and it really hurts when assessors and decision makers for PIPs make you feel belittled, a liar and useless.
    Sorry this is so long but I’m sure that there are many of you who can relate to all of this, it’s unfair.
    Anyway, 3 days after xmas I ended up at the Drs with pain from my shoulder that was going to my collarbone, I woke up with it on xmas day and the pain got worse over the following days, the Dr examined me said it’s arthritis and the tendons were irritated, she said if the pain does’nt go or comes back, she’ll order some tests to be done, well if that does happen, guess who will be sending copies of medical evidence with the words “Now try insinuating I’m a liar!” lol.

  11. Her Royal Highness Ring Amcrest

    What makes the general public laugh so much is the fact how these so called disabled people take the right piss out of the system, whilst a genuine disabled person has to fight damned hard to even be accepted, for instance I have two friends with severe issues one should have died 30 years ago if it wasn’t for modern medicine, who try really hard in preventing hospital treatment, house bound and without further treatment knowing the system will support them, thus allowing them to use their allowances on private treatment.
    Then when watching a family of neighbours who claim same washing their car on a weekly basis, using tooth brush to fine clean their wheels and polishing, building patios for themselves and their neighbours, being seen in shopping centres for hour on hours per day having a ball of a time with three cars and walking 50 times further than the required length, doing online business receive everything without questions, these are the folks that need scrutinisation without doubt.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Those of us writing about benefits used to receive lots of comments like this. They started out by simply claiming that there are loads of people scamming the system; now they say there are loads of people scamming the system who make it impossible for genuine claimants to get anywhere.
      Do you know the full details of these people’s lives? No.
      You are simply making assumptions because they don’t look ill.
      Looks can be deceptive.
      Do you get the picture now?

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