Justin Tomlinson gets questioned on PIP assessments
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Universal Credit and PIP can be paid alongside each other but currently, they are separate benefits. PIP payments also won’t impact how much is awarded through Universal Credit but yesterday, the DWP confirmed these rules may be upended in the future.
This week, Dr Coffey confirmed the merging of Universal Credit and PIP remained “on the table” as the Government plans social security reforms. In responding to a question from the Disability News Service (DNS), Ms Coffey reportedly twice refused to rule out the possibility of bringing the two together.
The DNS raised the option in light of a benefits green paper which was released in late July. This paper suggested the merging of additional benefits could simplify the application and assessment processes faced by claimants.
When questioned on the potential merger between means-tested universal credit and non-means-tested PIP, Dr Coffey confirmed: “Everything is on the table is the best way of saying it, because the green paper is quite broad and we want to get some focus on genuine innovative thinking.
“Are these benefits actually working? That’s the question I often say past my officials. Are they having the intended desire? And if not, what are we going to do about that?
“Or is there something that we can have [that is] better… in that regard.”
When pushed by the DNS on if she would confirm the ruling out of folding PIP into the universal credit system, she declined to do so.
PIP and Universal Credit eligibility
PIP and Universal Credit currently have two differing eligibility and assessment processes. For PIP, claimants may be able to get support if they’re aged between 16 and state pension age.
Additionally, they must have a long-term physical or mental health condition or disability, have difficulty doing certain everyday tasks or getting around and expect these difficulties to last for at least 12 months from when they started.
Where claimants are eligible for PIP, they’ll receive a payment made up of two elements, a daily living and mobility part.
Daily living payments will be either £60 or £89.60 per week. Mobility payments will pay out either £23.70 or £62.55.
To be eligible for Universal Credit, a claimant must:
- Be on a low income or out of work entirely
- Be aged between 18 and state pension age
- Have less than £16,000 in savings
- Be living in the UK when they apply
Eligible claimants of Universal Credit will get a standard allowance which is dependent on their age and relationship status but on top of this, extra amounts will be awarded for certain living costs like childcare and rent.
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Changes are coming
The Government confirmed in recent months it plans to overhaul PIP and disability benefits more broadly over the coming months. In early August, the DWP issued a “rallying call for disabled people to have their say on shaping the future of benefits system” by responding to a health and disability open consultation. This consultation aims to explore how the welfare system can better meet the needs of disabled people and people with health conditions now and in the future.
The consultation closes on October 11 and Justin Tomlinson, the Minister for Disabled, urged the public to help inform changes that will improve people’s lives.
“I am truly grateful to all those who have already had their say and urge anyone who hasn’t, please do get involved,” he said.
“Responses from the Green Paper consultation will help us create a fairer benefits system that better serves the needs of disabled people and those with health conditions, now and in the future.
“We have identified key areas for change and with your input, we can make these a reality that have a lasting and meaningful impact on people’s lives.”
More recently, Mr Tomlinson also confirmed PIP assessment rules will also face an overhaul. In September, the DWP was questioned on the assessment process for PIP by the Work and Pensions Committee.
During this hearing Steve McCabe the Labour MP for Birmingham, Selly Oak, raised concerns on the assessment processes facing disabled claimants.
“I was struck by a sentence in the National Strategy,” he said.
“I don’t know if you’re responsible for this, but it says, what you’re doing is reducing the need for repeated assessments for the individual’s needs [while they] remain the same.
“Why shouldn’t you apply that same principle to people on PIP and Work Capability Assessments (WCA)? I dealt with a blind constituent of mine who’s constantly called up to the office on the other side of town for his PIP assessment. Well his sight is not going to come back. If we’ve got the principle for this, why don’t we apply it to other benefits?”
Mr Tomlinson responded: “We couldn’t agree more.
“It’s a key part of the green paper, we have a firm commitment to remove unnecessary assessments and reassessments. That’s not a completely new concept, we’d already brought into WCA a severe disability criteria.”
Universal Credit “disaster” looms
Universal Credit claimants are facing more immediate changes. On October 6, the Government removed a £20 uplift which was offered in the face of the pandemic.
Claimants will begin to feel the effects of this in the weeks ahead but recent research from Citizens Advice showed difficult times may lie ahead. Research from the charity warned:
- More than a third of people on Universal Credit (38 percent) would be in debt after paying just their essential bills if their benefits drop by £20 a week.
- 1.5 million working people on Universal Credit could be pushed into hardship this winter if the cut goes ahead. This includes falling behind on bills and needing to borrow from friends and family to get by.
- Around one in four working claimants – equivalent to 600,000 people – are worried they might not be able to afford food or other basic necessities like toiletries.
- Almost half (45 percent) of people earning less than £21,000 per year are worried they’ll struggle to pay their energy bills this winter.
- The combined impact of a cut to Universal Credit, rising inflation and the loss of the Warm Home Discount when someone’s supplier fails could leave low income families £37.40-a-week worse off this winter.
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, concluded: “Cutting Universal Credit as we head into a very tough winter is a recipe for disaster. With household budgets already being squeezed from all sides, families on the lowest incomes simply cannot afford to lose £20 a week.
“If the Government is serious about ‘levelling up’ it must change course. Otherwise our frontline advisers could see many more facing desperate choices between heating and eating in the months ahead.”
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