Ashley Arundale understands the Personal Independence Payment better than most ministers at the DWP, it seems.
Not only has the multiple sclerosis sufferer delivered a letter to Downing Street demanding changes to the administration of PIP, but she has written an article explaining exactly what is wrong with it.
She describes the claim process as an “indignity I never expected”:
Firstly, the form itself is incredibly complex – not ideal for anyone with cognitive issues, experienced by up to 60 per cent of us living with MS. And you don’t really get advice on how to fill it in.
But an even bigger – and very common – worry is the lack of knowledge from assessors. My assessor did not seem to understand MS at all, and gave me no chance to explain it. In fact when I suggested it would be helpful for me to give some information about my condition, she seemed to get pretty annoyed.
The assessor’s total lack of knowledge was alarming.
Worse still is the fact that the assessment report that comes back is more likely to be a work of fiction than a medical record:
It was full of contradictions and inaccurate information. For example it claimed my condition could improve with specialist input – but treatment does not make MS better, it just tries to stop it getting worse.
The report also said I was observed walking with no difficulties and a normal gait. But the assessor never observed me walking, and I definitely don’t have a normal gait!
The DWP refuses to acknowledge fluctuating conditions, in which the symptoms are sometimes worse than normal, either. And what did it mean?
These informal observations were used to determine my financial future.
Anything that was inconvenient to the DWP’s version of me was either ignored or rewritten.
That’s the so-called “Atos [or Maximus] Miracle”, of course – the mythical ability of unqualified assessors to magically cure people of long-term, debilitating and progressive conditions, simply by pretending they don’t exist.
And, of course, such miracle cures can only cause harm in the end – often fatal harm, as we have seen in far too many cases.
At least one in four people with MS have had their PIP reduced or cut altogether – often incorrectly.
Figures from the MS Society revealed 83 per cent of people with MS who appealed their PIP decision after moving from the old benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA), won their case at tribunal.
We know this rings true too – and it suggests that people with MS have a better chance than those with other disabilities.
But the problem is getting people to appeal. Ms Arundale didn’t:
I thought about appealing but was afraid of making a fuss and losing the award altogether, which I know has happened to others. Right now I don’t feel supported by the system at all, just scared and exhausted.
The Tories have promised improvements – a minimum reassessment period and the scrapping of unnecessary reviews for pensioners and those with the highest needs. But there have been reports of difficulties.
And talk of the money that’s being spent isn’t encouraging. What’s the point of saying £84 million more is being spent on disability benefits, if it’s not going to the right people?
As Ms Arundale states:
For years the Government has been dragging its heels, with various politicians promising improvements to PIP, and that we will have a benefits process we can trust. But what’s taking them so long? Why are they leaving thousands of people like me struggling to get by?
Because they like it, of course. Because they want fewer disabled people using the public purse to live a decent life.
Because they want fewer disabled people.
I think they call it “culling the stock”.
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