The Personal Independence Payment , which is being introduced to replace Disability Living Allowance, is supposed to refocus the assessment on people’s capacities. It’s not clear that it does that. What it does do is to make the whole thing much more of a tick-box affair, similar to the assessment of ESA, and like ESA tending to disregard supplementary evidence from professionals who know what’s happening. Some of the welfare rights officers I was listening to this week, at CPAG Scotland’s welfare rights conference, didn’t mind too much; standardisation makes the whole thing more predictable, even if it doesn’t exactly do what the government thought it should, personalising benefits more sensitively.
In a court case reported ten days ago, the delays in the delivery of PIP were roundly condemned. The two claimants had been waiting for ten and thirteen months. The DWP is suggesting that the delays are now down to seven weeks on average, but that figure might not cover the length of the whole process, and there may still be very long delays in particular circumstances. I understand that there are more likely to be problems when home visits and needed, and so in remote and rural areas. Welfare rights workers were saying that it could help to rearrange assessments at distant centres – which is useful to know for claimants in difficulty, but it’s hardly a triumph.
The delays, could, and should, have been avoided. The fundamental problem with PIP is that it relies on individual reassessment, based on the model used in ESA. The plan is to have something like three and half million assessments by 2018. In principle, there was some allowance to excuse some claimants, possibly up to a quarter; but in practice, according to last year’s National Audit Office report, there are face to face assessments for 97-98% of claimants. They needed to go in the opposite direction. The main way to do that is to reduce the number of face to face assessments, and there is an easy and fair way to do that without compromising the principle of individual assessment – start accepting medical evidence.