‘Staggering’ ESA suicide figures prompt calls for inquiry and prosecution of ministers

“Staggering” new figures show that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014.

The new analysis of NHS statistics, being published for the first time by Disability News Service (DNS), shows that in 2007 – a year before the introduction of the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) – 21 per cent of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants told researchers they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

The following year, IB began to be replaced by employment and support allowance (ESA), with eligibility tested by the WCA, under the New Labour government.

But by 2014, following four years of social security reforms under the new coalition government, and austerity-related cuts to disability benefits and services – and six years of the WCA – more than 43 per cent of claimants were saying they had attempted suicide.

One leading psychologist described the figures this week as showing “the greatest increase in suicide rates for any population that I can recall in the literature”.

Over the same period, adults questioned for the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) who were not claiming IB (in 2007) or ESA (in 2014) remained statistically stable (6.0 per cent in 2007 against 6.7 per cent in 2014).

The figures therefore strongly suggest that government cuts and reforms, and particularly the introduction of the WCA, have had a serious, detrimental – and sometimes fatal – effect on the mental health of a generation of claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

Disabled peer quits equality watchdog over ‘shameful downgrading of disability’

Two weeks ago, DNS reported on figures from the 2014 APMS which showed that 43.2 per cent of ESA claimants – and as high as 47.1 per cent of female ESA claimants – had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with 6.7 per cent of the general adult population.

Disabled campaigners said then that they feared the 2014 figures demonstrated the impact of years of austerity-related cuts to the NHS, social care and social security budgets, the demonisation of ESA claimants, and the increased use of benefit sanctions.

They also suggested that the figures showed the impact of the WCA, which since its introduction in 2008 has increasingly been associated with relapses, anxiety and distress among those with long-term health conditions, including mental health conditions, and the loss of many lives.

But it was impossible to see how those figures compared with the previous survey, seven years earlier, because the relevant analysis was not carried out for the report on the 2007 figures.

DNS therefore asked Sally McManus, who leads research on the survey* – on behalf of NHS Digital – for the independent social research institute NatCen, to calculate the figures on attempted suicides for those IB claimants who were surveyed in 2007.

Her calculations show a dramatic rise, from 20.9 per cent of IB claimants in 2007 to 43.2 per cent of ESA claimants in 2014.

McManus said that, although the figures did not demonstrate what had caused the rates of attempted suicides to rise so dramatically over the seven years for those on IB/ESA, they did show that the “rates of attempted suicide have clearly increased among people of working age in receipt of a disability-related benefit”.

The age-standardised figures are calculated from data collected through the APMS, which is carried out every seven years for NHS Digital by NatCen and the University of Leicester.

DNS also reports this week (see separate story) that, despite being aware of the startling figures from the 2014 survey, which were published in September 2016, the government has refused to explain why it made no attempt to prioritise ESA claimants as a high-risk group for suicide in its latest suicide prevention strategy, which was published in January 2017.

Department of Health silence over failure to highlight ESA suicide risk

The strongest evidence until now that there was a link between the WCA and an increase in mental distress came in November 2015, when public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford showed in a study that, for every 10,000 IB claimants in England who were reassessed for ESA between 2010 and 2013, there were an additional six suicides, 2,700 cases of self-reported mental health problems, and an increase of more than 7,000 in the number of anti-depressants prescribed.

In all, across England as a whole, the reassessment process from 2010 to 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides, 279,000 additional cases of self-reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of a further 725,000 anti-depressants.

Disabled activists, who have spent years highlighting serious concerns about the impact of the WCA, have told DNS this week that ministers must now be held accountable for the damage they have caused and for repeatedly covering up links between the WCA and suicides.

Denise McKenna, a co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the figures were “shocking, but they certainly do not come as any surprise”.

She said: “At MHRN, we are frequently having to talk people out of taking their own lives and trying to give people reasons to live.

“We understand these benefit changes are causing people to be suicidal because many of us in the MHRN are themselves feeling suicidal.

“It is all about the WCA. People are terrified of being put in the [ESA] work-related activity group because they are terrified of being pressured into work when they are not ready.”

And because of the increasing focus on employment in mental health services, she said, “the harassment also exists within the Department of Health”.

People with mental health problems, she said, are “bullied, harassed and generally terrorised”.

She added: “That this is happening in 21st century Britain is totally appalling. It will be remembered as a shameful time in British history. And we will not forget it.”

McKenna said there should be a public inquiry into the links between the WCA and suicides, and the associated cover-up of those links, with criminal prosecutions of the government ministers responsible.

She said: “I believe these ministers are personally responsible for these suicidal thoughts and for the actual suicides and there should be charges, there should be legal action against them.”

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The figures show how harmful the WCA is, how it ramps up a claimant’s distress, anxiety and depression.”

She also called for an inquiry into the links between the WCA and suicides, and for a criminal prosecution of ministers – as well as senior civil servants – responsible for ignoring and even covering-up evidence of the links.

She said: “We will not rest until we see them brought to justice and we bring the truth out to the wider public.”

Peters attempted to take her own life in 2011, and was hospitalised for three months, because of “overwhelming distress, fear and anxiety over the WCA”.

She said: “It has definitely had a detrimental impact on my mental health and it has caused my physical health to deteriorate because of the continual stress of the WCA and the continual reassessments.

“You just live with the DWP hanging over you like a big, black cloud, and you live in perpetual fear of them, you’re petrified of them, living in fear of those brown envelopes.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “These latest figures irrefutably confirm what Black Triangle has argued since the inception of our campaign in June 2010, following the death of our friend Paul Reekie who took his own life following a DWP work capability assessment.

“The WCA assessment regime discriminates against sick and/or disabled people and violates their fundamental human rights – up to and including the very right to life itself.

“The prime minister and the secretary of state can no longer stand at the dispatch box at Westminster and deny the truth of this statement. The evidence can no longer be dismissed.”

He said the government had “implemented policies and systems that have led to the avoidable deaths of disabled people.

“It has done this intentionally and with reckless abandon. It has resisted all calls from every quarter of civil society to implement reforms that would prevent substantial harm and death.

“It is guilty of grave and systematic violations of our fundamental human rights. It is guilty of creating – and maintaining – a human catastrophe for disabled people.”

Dr Jay Watts, a consultant clinical psychologist and member of the campaigning Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, who first brought the 2014 figures to the attention of DNS, said: “The change in suicide rates these figures show is just staggering.

“It is the greatest increase in suicide rates for any population that I can recall in the literature, and can I emphasise this is from the largest, most reliable data set on the mental health of the nation out there.

“It is simply inexcusable to treat people like second-class citizens, to deny them the means to live, and to punish them, for example via sanctions, for not being able to comply with the neoliberal dream of working.

“The shame, guilt and anxiety, as well as material deprivation, caused by the current benefits regime is killing disabled people.

“These figures must be a wake-up call to government – benefits reform is the simplest, most useful thing we can do to reduce deaths by suicide.

“We need reform now before more people die. We need this to be the number one issue people turn to when thinking about improving the mental health of the nation.

“How dare we think of ourselves as having a decent, progressive society when we treat people so badly?”

Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, said: “On the face of it, these figures are a truly damning indictment of the government’s social security policies, and show they are unfit for purpose.

“The government need to wake up and act fast. It is unacceptable that disabled people are made to suffer like this.

“Labour would scrap the WCA, end the punitive sanctions regime and change the culture of the social security system, from one that demonises people not in work to one that is supportive and enabling.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman refused to say if the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, agreed that the WCA and the government’s austerity-related ESA policies had had a significant negative impact on the mental health of ESA claimants, or whether she would launch an inquiry into the links.

But she said in a statement that suicide was “a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to anyone’s benefit claim” and that the government’s welfare reforms were “restoring fairness” and “supporting people into work”.

She added: “We have made significant improvements to the WCA since its introduction in 2008.

“This includes implementing changes to address issues raised through five independent reviews and strong quality and customer experience improvements in partnership with our WCA provider.

“We remain committed to further improving the WCA, which is why on 29 September 2017 we stopped reassessments for those with the most severe conditions.

“There still needs to be a gateway in place for disability benefits to provide support to those who need it most.

“It’s very important that we get the assessment reform right, which is why we will use this parliament to build our evidence base for what works and we will continue to work with stakeholders to do that.”

*McManus said the survey was the government’s “primary source of information about the extent of mental illness in the population, and whether it’s going up or down over time” and is the “longest-standing mental health survey in the world to use consistent methods over time”. Every seven years since the early 1990s, a large random sample of the general population is invited to take part. In the latest survey, about 7,500 people were interviewed in their own homes, with each interview taking about an hour and a half to complete. Questions include whether they have ever thought about suicide, made a suicide attempt, or self-harmed in some other way.

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

SOURCE

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Vigil as court hears that PIP rules are ‘unfair and discriminatory’

Campaigners have taken part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice, as the high court was hearing claims by a disabled woman that new benefit rules are “unfair and discriminatory”.

Regulations that came into force in March mean that people who are unable to plan or undertake a journey due to overwhelming psychological distress now receive fewer qualifying points when assessed for personal independence payment (PIP).

The new rules mean that many PIP claimants are entitled to a lower level of financial support for their mobility, and in many cases no mobility support at all.

The legal challenge against work and pensions secretary David Gauke is being brought by RF, who believes that the changes to PIP will have a “significant negative impact” on her life and on the lives of many others who experience significant mental distress.

Both the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the mental health charity Mind have submitted written evidence supporting RF’s case.

Sara Lomri, RF’s solicitor and deputy legal director of the Public Law Project, said: “[RF] has told me that losing enhanced PIP mobility means she will not be able to get the support she needs to travel.

“This will have a huge impact on her ability to participate in society and her independence.”

The court’s ruling is expected before Christmas.

Among those who took part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the first day of the two-day hearing was Rose*, who said the new regulations could easily affect her level of support.

She currently receives the higher rate care component of disability living allowance and the lower rate mobility component, and she said she was “constantly living in dread of being called up for my [PIP] assessment”.

She said: “My psychological distress does affect my mobility. I have severe dissociation which causes me to wander around without any knowledge of danger.

“I think it’s time for justice for us because we have been discriminated against and there is such a lack of understanding of psychological distress.”

She added: “It is criminal the way we are being treated. It is just not right. I had other plans for my life, not to live on benefits, but unfortunately I have to because of my mental health problems.

“I am shocked about how we are made to feel bad for being unwell.”

Paula Peters (pictured, front), a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, is still waiting to be assessed for PIP, as a long-term claimant of disability living allowance, and currently receives mobility support because of the psychological distress caused by travelling.

She said the case was “fundamentally important” to her and the many thousands of others who also need the support to travel.

Without that mobility support from DLA, or PIP, she would not have a Freedom Pass, which allows her free travel across the capital, so she can attend GP and hospital appointments, and take part in campaigning.

Without the support from PIP, many people with mental distress would be excluded from society and imprisoned at home, she said.

Peters said: “We get the mobility component of PIP for deep psychological distress because it is so vital for our mental wellbeing and being able to get to appointments, to interact with friends and family and just take part in everyday life.

“That exclusion ramps up anxiety and causes people’s depression to worsen and in my case ramps up my agoraphobia.”

Asked how much she trusted DWP on mental health issues, she said: “I don’t. I don’t trust DWP on anything.

“They are targeting mental health claimants on PIP, on ESA, on universal credit, on the Work and Health Programme.

“They are about ramping up the mental distress and causing a claimant’s mental health to deteriorate to the point where they want to give up and take their own life, and in many cases already have done, and we remember those who are not with us today.

“I think DWP are trivialising mental health. What they can’t see, they don’t believe exists.”

Denise McKenna (pictured, back right), co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, who also took part in the vigil, said: “For a lot of people with severe mental health problems they cannot travel by public transport, they are having to use taxis for part of their journey, sometimes for all of their journey.

“It is very important that people should not become isolated. Isolation is a key precipitate of suicide and relapse. There could be fatal consequences.”

She said people with mental health problems were “being targeted by the government from all directions”, through cuts to out-of-work benefits and PIP, and the withdrawal of mental health services and the focus on employment in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

She said: “People with mental health problems are being targeted to get back into the workplace and [the PIP changes are]an additional barrier to getting to work.

“It is part of a huge assault on people with mental health problems. One of the things they are doing is denying the existence of mental distress. They are negating it.”

She added: “I wanted to be here today, because having been involved in a judicial review I know what an emotional roller-coaster [it can be].

“I think it’s important for people taking the judicial review to know how much it means to other people and to get support from as many people as possible.

“We recognise it is in all of our interests.”

Claire Glasman (pictured, left), from the campaigning organisation WinVisible – which supports disabled women, including those who are traumatised, such as rape and sexual abuse survivors, and refugee survivors of genocide – said the government was “discriminating against people with mental distress”.

She said that disabled women needed PIP mobility support “to be able to get out of the house and to do things in the community, see friends and get involved in groups”.

Glasman said: “It just shows they don’t care, they don’t care if people have all the benefits that they need to be able to live our lives and get out of the house.

“Theresa May makes all these announcements about mental health being a priority but we know the NHS is being cut, and women’s services are struggling through lack of funding.”

Lisa Longstaff, a spokeswoman for Women Against Rape, another campaigner at the vigil, said she was there because so many of the women her organisation worked with – including traumatised women who had been raped – had had their benefits cut unfairly.

She said: “I am here because this case is an example of many of the other cuts we have been fighting together.”

RF argues that the new PIP regulations violate article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits unjustifiable discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of disability.

She argues that people with overwhelming psychological distress are treated less favourably than those with other conditions, when assessed on their need for mobility support.

DWP has told RF’s lawyers that the new rules can be justified.

RF also argues that DWP should have carried out a consultation on the new regulations before they were introduced, whereas DWP has said that it had always been its intention to exclude psychological distress from certain questions in the PIP eligibility test, and so there was no need to carry out a fresh consultation in 2017.

But RF’s lawyers say that if those organisations involved in the original PIP consultation had been told this, they would have challenged it at the time by campaigning and lobbying politicians.

A DWP spokeswoman said the department could not comment on an ongoing legal case.

But she pointed to a statement made earlier this year by the minister for disabled people, explaining the reasons for the new regulations, and a departmental statement issued on the same day in February.

In the statement, DWP said that “people who cannot carry out a journey because of a visual or cognitive impairment are likely to need more support than someone who experiences psychological distress when they undertake a journey, for example as a result of social phobia or anxiety”.

The department added: “Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different to what was originally intended.

“The government is now making amendments to clarify the criteria, to restore the original aim of the policy and ensure support goes to those most in need.”

*Not her real name

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‘Flawed’ Work Capability Assessment requires urgent review

‘Flawed’ Tory welfare test requires urgent review, warns SNP MP

David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, is seeking urgent action
David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, is seeking urgent action

THE UK Government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) system is “failing the most vulnerable in society”, according to an SNP MP.

David Linden, Member of Parliament for Glasgow East, yesterday used his speech in Westminster Hall to highlight the system’s shortcomings, calling on the Government to act urgently.

His speech led the debate into the issue and came as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) select committee launched an inquiry into the controversial Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) assessments.

The WCA is used by the DWP to access claimants of ESA but has faced criticism for its practicalities and for leaving vulnerable people in precarious situations. This includes what is known as mandatory consideration periods, which leave applicants with no other option but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance while they wait.

The DWP said it is continually reviewing the system and has introduced a number of changes since its initial roll out in 2008.

Linden pointed out that he “seldom had a surgery” in his constituency that did not raise at least one case study related to the “flawed” WCAs, adding that “time will not permit me to share every testimony”.

He called for a thorough examination of the process which “all too often plunges people into chaos”.

“We need a full, root-and-branch review of the WCA process and I want to see an assessment that is underpinned with professionalism, knowledge, dignity and – above all – respect,” said Linden.

“We need action now – not words from the Tories.

“As it stands, the current system is failing the most vulnerable in our society and all too often plunges people into chaos, depression and – in some cases – to the brink of suicide. Throughout my short time as Glasgow East’s MP, I have very seldom had a surgery in which a constituent hasn’t come to me having been the subject of a flawed WCA.”

Linden continued by highlighting the difficulties faced by certain groups, in particular people with mental health conditions or learning disabilities. These include a lack of information about outcomes for individuals following fit for work determinations, and concerns about the risk of poverty and destitution as a result of incorrect decisions.

treat
The DWP obviously made the right decision here!

“We all hear about difficulties experienced by claimants seeking to challenge fit for work decisions,” continued Linden, “including the fact that ESA is not payable pending a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ – meaning that the only option in the meantime is to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, potentially exposing the individual to inappropriate conditionality and the impact of assessments, frequent reassessments, and poor decision making on the physical and mental health of claimants.

“It is abundantly clear to me that the UK Government’s Work Capability Assessment is not fit for purpose and requires a full review to ensure that it treats people with dignity and respect.

The DWP said that they were constantly reviewing the application process, and that the new system was implemented to address failings of the past and to provide support missing in years gone by. a

“WCAs ensure that people get the level of support they need, rather than just writing them off as happened in the past,” said a DWP spokesperson.

“A decision on whether someone is able to work is taken following a thorough independent assessment, and after consideration of all the information provided, including supporting evidence from a GP or medical specialist.

“We continually review the WCA, and have already introduced a number of changes to strengthen the service.”

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Claiming disability benefit? Don’t ever dare shake hands

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‘If you’re disabled and meeting your DWP assessor for the first time – or any time – DON’T SHAKE THEIR HAND! They ain’t your friend!

Do you shake hands? I do – with people I’m meeting for the first time, and often meeting up with people I already know really well. But the classic handshake is now not the single accepted greeting, and even with strangers you must awkwardly negotiate the possibility of the kiss on one or both cheeks, or bro shake with optional shoulder bump.

But I’ve been trained to think of the unhesitating handshake as simple good manners. The same, I suspect, is true of former pub landlady Bethen Thorpe from north London, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October 2014. She had to apply for disability benefit, filled in a 35-page application form, and then travelled to Chelmsford, Essex, for an assessment meeting. She was turned down because she shook the DWP assessor’s hand, which was taken as evidence of her fitness for work.

The handshake, that historic gesture of good faith, was turned against her. Since then, Thorpe has had the handshake-dismissal overturned on appeal. But what lessons are to be drawn? Only this. If you’re disabled and meeting your DWP assessor for the first time – or any time – just offer up your cheek for a delicate, feather-light kiss.

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Mentally-ill woman waits for ruling after High Court benefits fight

A woman with mental health difficulties is waiting to hear whether she has won a High Court fight after questioning the fairness of a state benefit designed to help disabled people maintain independence.

The woman says regulations governing personal independence payments – a benefit designed to cover some of the extra costs run up by people who need help with everyday tasks or with getting around – are discriminatory.

She claims that people who suffer from “overwhelming psychological distress” are treated less favourably than people with other conditions when their ability to make journeys is assessed.

Woman takes legal action against Work and Pensions ministers over "discriminatory" benefits for disabled people (John Stillwell/PA)

Woman takes legal action against Work and Pensions ministers over “discriminatory” benefits for disabled people (John Stillwell/PA)

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke is disputing her claims.

A judge finished analysing evidence at a hearing in the High Court in London on Wednesday.

Mr Justice Mostyn said he would publish a ruling in the near future.

He says the woman, referred to in court as RF, cannot be named in media reports.

The woman is being advised by legal charity the Public Law Project.

A spokesman for the project said the regulations at the centre of the case came into force in March and personal independence payments had replaced disability living allowance.

“RF is an individual who has significant mental health impairments and is affected by the change in regulations,” said the spokesman.

“RF is bringing the case on public interest grounds as it will affect lots of benefits claimants.”

He added: “(She) argues that the regulations are discriminatory because people who suffer from overwhelming psychological distress are treated less favourably when assessed on their mobility than people with other conditions.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman disagreed.

“Personal independence payment looks specifically at how someone’s life is affected by their disability or health conditions, including mental health conditions, unlike the old system which did not sufficiently recognise mental health problems,” she said.

“In fact, there are now more people with a mental health condition receiving the higher rates of personal independence than there were under disability living allowance.”

Members of a number of campaign groups staged a demonstration in support of the woman prior to the start of the hearing on Tuesday.

“The Government is discriminating against people with serious mental health conditions who are unable to plan or undertake a journey because of overwhelming psychological distress,” said a spokeswoman for one group, Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities.

“You can’t score enough points to get full mobility benefit unless you also have physical mobility problems.”

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Victory for claimants as Government agrees to reform PIP & ESA process

I seriously doubt that much will change because PIP/ESA isn’t about disability/sickness it’s about getting as much money off the disabled that they can – Govt Newspeak

In response to pressure from the Work and Pensions Select Committee the Department for Work and Pensions has announced that its target for upholding original PIP and ESA decisions at the first stage of appeal, known as Mandatory Reconsideration (MR), will be dropped.

On 28 November the Committee wrote to DWP with concerns about MRs, which had come up in the Committee’s current inquiry into the medical assessments carried out by ATOS, Maximus and Capita to inform DWP’s decisions on awards of  disability benefits PIP and ESA.

Pressure to turn out numbers

The Committee had heard of “pressure to turn out numbers” in relation to both the original decision and at MR stage, and that MRs simply “rubber stamp” the original decision. The DWP revealed in an FOI request  in May 2017 that one of the performance indicators for MRCs was that 80% of the original decisions are to be upheld. The Committee queried how a target for upholding original decisions could be compatible with ensuring that questionable reports are thoroughly investigated, and erroneous decisions identified and corrected. MR should be an important extra safeguard, but instead appears to be creating another “hurdle” in a process that is already arduous and stressful for many claimants, as the Committee has heard directly in nearly 4,000 individual accounts submitted to it.

The Department’s response  “categorically state(s) that  there has never been a Mandatory Reconsideration target for upholding original decisions”, and that the 80% target, “an internal measurement only used to indicate areas” where there were problems with the original decisions being made, will be dropped.

Victory for PIP and ESA claimants

Commenting on the response, Rt Hon Frank Field MP Chair of the Committee, said

“It is great news that the target has been dropped and we congratulate the Department on this response. This is a great victory for the thousands of PIP and ESA claimants who have responded to our inquiry, and for anyone going through this process, who can now go to the first stage of appealing a benefits decision with more confidence that the reconsideration will be fair and impartial.”

Further information

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  1. Work capability assessment ‘failing the most vulnerable in society’
  2. Thousands of benefit claimants with Multiple Sclerosis told they are ‘not disabled enough’
  3. Disabled people should be seen as individuals, not as a drain on the taxpayer

ANOTHER DWP ATROCITY: Motability car loss ‘left me suicidal’

Motability car loss ‘left me suicidal’ says disabled man

Charlie Evans
Charlie Evans said his car “was his independence”

A disabled man was left feeling “suicidal” after he had his adapted car taken away following changes to disability benefits.

Charlie Evans, from Carmarthen, has relied on the Motability scheme since 1992 after being paralysed down one side following brain damage.

The scheme entitles disabled people to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair using part of their benefit.

He said: “Without a car I couldn’t go anywhere. It left me suicidal.”

Mr Evans, 58, told BBC Wales: “It was my independence.

“I was so depressed. I didn’t want to see anybody or talk to anyone for weeks. It’s like taking away a member of my family.

“I couldn’t go out shopping, I couldn’t go anywhere.”

After being unable to get a taxi or public transport to Cardiff, Mr Evans said he had had to buy his car for £10,000, and needed help from his partner.

Asked if it had been expensive to buy with only benefits as income, he said: “It is, but I used up what savings I had.

“It was taking my life away. My car is my life.”

Mr Evans, who suffered brain damage as a young man and struggles to express himself, appealed against the decision and had it overturned, so will be able to sell his car and return to the Motability scheme.

But Disability Wales said up to 100 disabled people a week are having to return their adapted vehicles since the changes to disability benefits.

The organisation said people who were no longer eligible were losing their independence.

Changes in 2013 to disability benefits by the UK government scrapped the Disability Living Allowance and replaced it with a new working age benefit for disabled people, Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

Those who qualify for the higher level of PIP support can lease a car, scooter or powered wheelchair in exchange for their mobility allowance.

It also includes free insurance, servicing and maintenance, breakdown cover and replacement tyres.

Miranda Evans
Image captionMiranda Evans has had to return her own vehicle

Miranda Evans, director of Disability Wales, said: “Public transport is often inaccessible to disabled people.

“A vehicle is a must; without that they lose their independence.”

Motability does offer support packages of up to £2,000 for long-standing scheme members to buy their own cars back, and help towards the cost of fitting new adaptations.

But the costs are still considerable for those on a low income.

George Lockett, 63, from Nantlle, near Penygroes in Gwynedd, said the reassessments were “destroying people’s lives”.

He used three credit cards to buy his own vehicle back at a cost of £6,500, and says he has spent an additional £1,000 in servicing costs since he had to leave the scheme.

Mr Lockett has been waiting 18 months to have his second appeal heard.

“I’m pretty certain it’s costing the UK government more with all the appeals and all the stress that it causes,” he added.

Appeals against PIP payments now make up the largest number of social security tribunal cases dealt with by the Ministry of Justice.

In 2016-17 there were 79,943 cases heard and 65% of those decisions found in favour of the claimant.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “PIP is a better benefit which takes a much wider look at the way an individual’s disability or health condition impacts them on a daily basis.

“Under PIP, 29% of claimants receive the highest rate of support compared to 15% under DLA.” What comfort is that to the disabled that have their benefits removed!

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