As an admin exercise it looks like the nightmare Winston Smith faced in George Orwell’s classic 1984 when Oceania suddenly decided it was at War with Eastasia not Eurasia during Hate Week, necessitating the updating of every news report and official document in the fictional totalitarian state.
Some 1.6m Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims are set to be reviewed by Smith’s real life equivalents in the civil service to decide if they are still “goodthinkful” under new criteria.
The problem was created not by shifting geopolitical alliances but by a court decision that the treatment of mental illness, and its disabling effects, for the purposes of assessing eligibility for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) was illegal.
In point of fact, judges used the term “blatantly discriminatory” to describe the way it has been handled. I could kiss the judge that drafted the ruling. That term serves as a rather good summation of the Government’s treatment of disabled people generally. But it’s also a wonderfully useful bomb to drop during discussions about the PIP with its people.
As a result of the decision, an admin exercise that Smith would be familiar with has been created. Unlike him we’re still just about free enough to ask questions about it. The Brexit Thought Police aren’t much interested in disability benefit claims – at least not yet.
Trouble is, there are so many of those questions it’s hard to know quite where to begin. For a start, while Smith and his put upon colleagues got the thing done in weeks, this is going to potentially take years, because in modern Britain people have to be paid. How many years we don’t yet know.
Disability organisations have long viewed the introduction of the PIP as a replacement for Disability Living Allowance as a thinly veiled exercise in cost cutting, one executed with a brutal callousness. The phrase “false economy” comes to mind when you consider the admin costs it has thrown up.
That’s before you even consider the unnecessary pain and distress it has put often vulnerable people through.
We are told the review will be a paper exercise: no more being dragged to assessments. It would presumably be more easily accomplished if the DWP would just consider those claims where mental health was an issue. But apparently that’s not possible. They all of them have to be looked at to ensure the Government gets it right. Commendable in one respect, but it could also easily be seen as another example of just how flawed the system is.
“As previously said, we will be working with Mind—experts in the field—doing things as sympathetically and effectively as possible,” said Minister for Disabled People Sarah Newton.
Sympathy is something that has been utterly absent from the process to date. The involvement of Mind, a mental health charity, ought to be a thoroughly good thing, given that the people there clearly know what they are talking about. But as Disability Rights UK notes: “The whole history of PIP has shown that the DWP listens to what disabled people say and then disregards it.”
It also listens to what the medical people involved in disabled people’s care say too, and then disregards that in favour of the views of assessors hired by profit driven outsourcing companies. That goes some way towards explaining why the rate of successful appeals has been so high.
Another question, raised by Disability Rights UK, shows where it starts to really get fun. “If the DWP were to review everyone who had claimed PIP since it was introduced in April 2013 then it would need to review over 3 million cases rather than just 1.6 million,” they say.
That doesn’t apply if the DWP treats the judgement is a “test case”. Then it could legally pay arrears only from the date of the court filing: November 2016, with the review covering only PIP claims in payment and PIP claims made and refused since then. Unless of course, someone were to challenge that in court?
For once, it’s the Government, rather than Britain’s disabled community, that could find itself in an Orwellian nightmare and there is a certain schadenfreude in seeing the shoe on the other foot for a change.
A forthcoming report by Frank Field’s Work and Pensions Committee could add to the fun. Except that there’s nothing really joyful about any of this. The introduction of PIP has too often been an exercise in the infliction of pain on people who are, as often as not, already in it.
The Government has it in its power to change that, but there is still scant sign that it has any real interest in doing that.
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