Liz Gumbley’s experience is shocking – and all-too-common.
She suffers from a lifelong progressive illness – multiple sclerosis, which is well-known to be increasingly debilitating.
Unfortunately, her assessment for Personal Independence Payment in 2015 was carried out by a physiotherapist who had no specialist knowledge of the condition.
The interview resulted in her losing the higher daily living rate of the benefit, despite having received it for the previous 17 years under the legacy benefit, Disability Living Allowance.
Apparently the reason she no longer deserved it was that she had been seen lifting a medium-sized handbag in order to retrieve a purse.
From this, the assessor – who had no experience of MS, remember – deduced that she was able to prepare and cook a meal, and disqualified her from receiving the extra cash on the higher daily living rate of PIP.
In fact, as supporting evidence from her own physiotherapist, her MS nurse and her husband demonstrated, Ms Gumbley was at high risk of burning or cutting herself due to cognition problems which meant she had not prepared a meal in five years at the time of the assessment.
Apparently the fact she was well-nourished, well-dressed, clean and of good appearance also counted against her.
She decided not to appeal, in fear that a tribunal would cut her benefit award even further.
The cut she did endure meant she had to cut back on exercise sessions that helped her keep her mobility, and her cognition and sensory problems have also worsened.
The Tory PIP assessment process actually contributes to the worsening of the claimant’s illness.
And the statistics show that Ms Gumbley is not alone in her experience: In a survey of nearly 900 people living with MS in the UK, two thirds (65 per cent) of respondents struggled to complete the PIP application form.
More than half (55 per cent) who had a face-to-face assessment don’t believe their assessor had a good understanding of MS.
And of the respondents who saw a copy of their assessment report, six in 10 (61 per cent) don’t believe it gave an accurate reflection of how MS affects them.
Ms Gumbley is appealing for supporters to sign an open letter to whoever forms the next government, calling for common-sense changes to the PIP assessment process.
She says people need a system they can trust, and should be able to rely on support without being in constant fear of having it taken away.
The MS Society’s open letter to the next UK Government, calling on it to make common sense changes to the PIP assessment process, can be found here.
In conclusion, Ms Gumbley made this cutting observation: “Calling it Personal Independence Payment is ridiculous. They’re not helping you to be independent.
“If you go to your assessment showing you’re ‘independent’ it goes against you.”
That has to change.
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