The estimated number of people affected by the climbdown on PIP assessments is even higher than originally thought
Even more people could be due higher disability payments than originally believed, Tory Esther McVey admitted today. In a humiliating climbdown, ministers last week agreed to pay vast numbers of people with mental health issues more Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
The original figure affected was originally estimated at 164,000 – but the Work and Pensions Secretary today revealed it could be as high as 220,000. And she admitted the government had spent £181,000 fighting the court case before dropping it last week.
Ministers were accused of “duplicity and disarray” after sneaking out the news in a written statement after Parliament finished sitting for the week.
Answering an urgent question in the House of Commons, Ms Mcvey said: “It could affect up to 220,000 people, and that’s why we’re taking this process very seriously and we as a department will be reaching out to those people once we know exactly what we are doing.”
She added: “I was asked a question about the legal costs in these cases, and it was £181,000.
“As a department as big as the Department for Work and Pensions, we would expect court cases to be as high as that, and it’s got to compare it with other departments doing similar judicial reviews.” The humiliating climbdown, a victory for charities, campaigners and Labour, was slipped out last Friday night after a year of campaigning.
It finally brings the government in line with a tribunal in November 2016, which said people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone should qualify more easily for PIP. Fearing the £3.7billion cost, ministers rewrote the law to avoid obeying the tribunal.
But after an outcry by mental health charities, who said it was penalising the mentally ill, the High Court ruled the government’s behaviour was “blatantly discriminatory”. The DWP is writing to everyone who is affected to identify those who are entitled to higher benefits. All payments will be backdated to 28 November 2016.
The original tribunal, known as MH, ruled the people affected should qualify more easily for the ‘mobility’ element of PIP.
Government documents last February predicted the change would hand new money to 143,000 people who previously received nothing for mobility. Half would receive the enhanced rate of £57.45 a week, and the other half the standard rate of £21.80. A further 21,000 people would move from the standard to the enhanced rate, topping up their benefits by £35.65 a week.
The government said implementing the change would cost taxpayers £3.7billion extra in five years – £550m for 2017/18, £640m for 2018/19, £750m for 2019/20, £820m for 2020/21 and £900m for 2021/22. WHAT THEY DIDN’T SAY WAS HOW MUCH IT COSTS IN APPEALS, BECAUSE OVER 60% WIN THEIR APPEAL!
She added: “This sorry debacle should serve as a warning to this Government of the dangers of seeking to undermine and subvert both the decisions of our independent judiciary and this House of Commons.”
Tory Heidi Allen said: “I’m so pleased the new Secretary of State has decided to accept this court ruling and I personally would like to say thank you very much indeed.
“As I, and other colleagues said last year, we should have listened to the message the courts were giving us. Accepting their ruling will be a significant step forward in achieving parity of esteem for mental and physical health.”
Disability charity Scope said the government must now set out the timescale for how it will identify and pay back the 220,000 people.
Meanwhile Ms McVey gave fresh hope to tens of thousands of disabled people denied benefits under the DWP’s internal appeals system.
Just 17% of people who apply for a ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ (MR) get PIP – compared to almost two-thirds of those who go to an independent tribunal.
Yet all claimants are forced to go through the MR process before they can reach a tribunal.
Labour MP Neil Coyle, who has branded MRs a “complete fraud”, claims they have wrongly denied benefits to around 83,000 people on PIP and sickness benefit ESA.
He asked Ms McVey: “When will the DWP be contacting the 83,000 disabled people also potentially wrongly denied help under this equally dodgy practice?”
Instead of ruling out help, Ms McVey explicitly promised to contact anybody affected by a single wrong decision. YEAH RIGHT!!!
She told Mr Coyle: “We will do everything systematically and coherently and anybody who is affected by any incorrect decision we will get to as soon as possible.”