Yesterday members of our Cancer Support Team including myself attended a meeting organised by a Select Committee of MPs to listen to concerns of the community about the proposed changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in Port Talbot. This was filmed by ITV and BBC so is certainly in the public interest. It is proposed by government that DLA will become the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which is unfortunately not just a new name; it is an entirely new benefit with new rules and new implications. Arguably the current system discriminates against the specific needs of cancer patients anyway - so just when you thought you knew the benefit system, things change again and it is not just the new cute name. PIP is entirely a cost cutting exercise which in my opinion will only serve to cause problems and ultimately create costs. As an advisor, I wanted to share my take on the proposed changes.
Yesterday we all tried to put our concerns forward to the committee in the hope that these issues will be taken on board and changes can be made to the proposals before they becomes law. Yesterday was a listening exercise for the MPs and I think the proud Welsh public put their point across. Some using some very strong words not fit for use in this blog.
In particular we raised concerns about the following points which the MPs have taken back to Westminster. For me the following are the main issues to highlight:
1.An extension of the waiting time for to claim for benefit being extended from 3 months to 6 months. This could mean that in the time where cancer patients need the help most the payment will be precluded. A person would also have to show that their needs would continue for a further 6 months. This in total creates a 12 month qualifying period where a person has to show mobility and/or care needs. This concern was raised and noted by the committee. We and other organisations highlighted the need for an automatic temporary award of benefit for cancer patients undergoing treatment due to the speed at which treatment starts and the often unique cancer journey of patients.
2.The virtual removal of lower rate care component. At the moment the lower rate of the care component of DLA is reserved for people who cannot prepare a main meal or people who have part-time day care needs. It looks as though this is due to be removed. This would be a significant loss to cancer patients throughout the UK who having gone through the rigours of treatment and recovery, emerge with some lower level longer term disabilities (e.g. arm restrictions after breast cancer surgery, anxiety and depression from the emotional trauma of the previous months and living with ongoing uncertainty). For many ‘Lower Care’ is an appropriate rate for much needed lower level additional financial support and is invaluable for those making the transition back into work.
3.The new descriptor/ points system. Anyone who is familiar with the current Employment and Support Allowance system will know how much of a nightmare this can be for claimants. The purported advantages of objectivity and consistency mask considerable variation and subjectivity in choice of descriptors and points, especially when it comes to issues such as fatigue and repeatability of tasks, variability or mental health effects. It is likely the ‘points system’ will be used by a health care professional at a medical and that person will merely consider the disability against a list of tasks to decide whether the person is entitled. Sometimes there are issues that are not easy to capture in the snapshot assessment of a one off examination, and are probably much better evidenced from professionals with day to day contact with the person, carers and even the claimant themselves – on the basis of current case law principles .
This review of the benefit system was an opportunity for the Government to really listen to the concerns of disabled people, to listen to the concerns of cancer patients and to provide help to those than need it now. In the age where our newspapers are filled with stories about dishonest people claiming benefits they are not entitled to isn’t it now time to spend money tightening anti fraud measures instead of penalising those who need the help the most. Of course those willing to commit fraud in the first place will continue to commit fraud and the only savings will be made from those with genuine needs who will no longer be able to afford to look after themselves and will no longer be able to manage day to day life.
For those that know the benefit system in a little bit of detail it is also essential to note that the removal of an award of DLA care component at any rate can have an effect on other entitlements including Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. Now the changes to these benefits requires a completely separate rant as housing is another issue of fundamental importance to people without much money in society
If you normally received Disability Living Allowance at the Lower Rate Care Component prior to proposed changes your Housing and Council Tax Benefit would be unaffected from people living with you. However if that entitlement was lost then just having a person living with you as a non- dependant would potentially reduce entitlement to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit by almost £15p/w, perhaps even more depending on the income of the non-dependant. For example if you were on DLA as you could not prepare a main meal, you had someone living with you to help out with this as and when needed. Not only would £19.55p/w be lost in DLA but also potential housing money could be hit as suddenly that person is a non-dependant living with you. If that person is working in between their caring duties, it could be by a lot more than the £15p/w mentioned above.
I do not wish to panic people about these changes but merely inform people about potential risks. This system is not due for implementation until 2015/2016 so there is still time to voice concerns. Every situation is different and whether the cooking test or all the elements of lower rate care component are completely removed remains to be seen. This is however my personal reaction to the proposals in relation to the needs of cancer patients.
I know that every cancer charity from the four corners of the UK have opposed these changes to DLA and it is important that everyone helps with this initiative. I would encourage you to contact your MP and oppose these changes as much as you can. The existing system has its flaws but the new one has the potential to drive a gaping big hole between those vulnerable individuals who have little and those more fortunate to have their health and wealth.
The changes are difficult to understand and I agree to fully understand you may require some working knowledge of the current benefit system. Even my little blog may be presuming a prior knowledge of the benefit system for which I apologise. This however may be why these changes appear to have slipped the net, this may be why it is always item nine or ten on the news and this may be why some people are happy to let this pass. We hear a lot about students, we hear a lot about the NHS and we hear a lot about fraudsters. However none of us know when we may have to access the benefit system and help in general. The longer we squeeze the purse of the disabled person, the longer we leave large proportions of the country in poverty and in need of help. Furthermore if we ‘save’ from penalising the disabled, then more money will be spent on appealing decisions associated with the removal of benefit and more money will be spent on an already clogged Tribunal Service.
So as it stands, you can see I am less than pleased at the proposals. I would love to hear your views on this matter. At the moment however I am off to complete some DLA claims.
If you need advice please contact our free phone Support Line on 0800 808 1010.