Disability Living Allowance has been widely defended – I’ve signed a petition myself – but there are problems with it, and those problems seem set to continue into the reformed PIP.
The first problem is comprehensibility. The DWP’s evidence on claims suggests that people don’t understand the criteria, that they have a go at claiming benefits regardless, and that for many people it’s simply seen as an add-on to Incapacity Benefit/ESA.
The second problem is fairness. Older people don’t get DLA, and that means they don’t get the element in DLA for mobility. That’s been the case since the 1970s; older people were excluded, simply enough, because most people with mobility problems in the UK are elderly, and it would have cost a lot. However, older people who become entitled before the age of 65 can get an extension of DLA – which means that two people who have had strokes, one at age 63 and the other at age 67, will be treated differently – and the older person will not get the benefit if if that person’s condition is more serious.
The third problem is testing. Disabilities don’t always come in neat, predictable packages. People have good times and bad times. Their capacity varies. PIP is supposed to take fluctuating conditions into account, but frankly there’s little hope it can do it effectively. There is also the problem that people who make the best of things will be penalised for doing it. The most practical way of dealing with this is to have different types of qualifying condition. In the same way that we don’t test someone with no feet – that exception is made in the current system – we should be able to rely on a diagnosis of blindness, or paraplegia, or terminal illness, or brittle bones, and so on. The more conditions we can identify in these terms, the less the scope for testing. If that means that some people will qualify who might not otherwise get the benefit, so be it.
Attendance Allowance and DLA are not carefully designed benefits catering for identifiable needs; if they were, older people wouldn’t be cut out. They’re benefits for severe disability, and the tests and the components are a complex way of separating out people with more severe disabilities. Currently, nearly 5 million people get the benefits – 3 million on DLA, 1.9 million on AA. About a million DLA claimants are over working age, so it’s true that most claimants of both benefits are older, but when that’s set against the population of people with disabilities, older people are probably still under-represented. Let’s imagine that we want a benefit to cover five million people with varying degrees of disability. What should it look like? We should be aiming to create a system that is comprehensible, to respond globally to specific conditions, and to support people reliably into older age. The ideal is probably something like the ‘Disablement Allowance’ long advocated by the Disability Alliance. It wouldn’t look much like DLA, or PIP.