In this column, I have previously addressed the shambolic Universal Credit roll-out (writes Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya). However, this is not the only questionable welfare reform the government is dedicated to pushing ahead with.
Questions have been raised by my constituents over the Personal Independent Payment (PIP), and whether it’s succeeding in providing support for disabled people up and down the country.
Having spoken in debates on this topic in Parliament, I can speak with authority when I say that many disabled people are completely aghast at their dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions. The amount of stories retold by MPs about the struggles of disabled constituents is utterly reprehensible.
It was revealed in January that all 1.6 million PIP claims are to be reviewed after a court ruling declared that the current system was unfair to people with mental health conditions. How can our disabled constituents have faith in a system that is discriminatory against them? Which begs the question, how can our government have faith in it either?
The assessment process which a claimant has to go through to receive PIP has been described as humiliating, brutal and gruelling. Not only that, but assessments are often wrongly denying people money that they are entitled to. The entire process seems like more of a cost-cutting exercise rather than one of care and compassion towards the disabled. A shocking 69% of decisions that go to appeal are overturned. Surely, there is a significant flaw in the assessment system if that many original decisions are being reversed.
Moreover, Disability Rights UK has noted that 40% of PIP claimants feel that an appeal would be too stressful for them – so opt to simply accept these harsh, punitive welfare reforms. The term ‘hostile environment’ is usually reserved for the government’s immigration policy, but I would argue that this can be applied to welfare policy too. The most vulnerable members of our society are being forced to navigate a draconian system that regularly penalises and underpays them.
The government’s war on welfare has not gone unnoticed. Over the last eight years, the government now, and the coalition government at the time, tried to cut and centralise the benefits system as part of their austerity agenda, but this is a false economy.
If they are so interested in saving money, then why on earth are the private contractors hired to carry out these callous PIP assessments being paid a record amount?
These punitive, privatised assessments are the cause of great distress to disabled people up and down the country. If the government really cared, then why are they sitting on their hands and refusing to do anything about it? We need a welfare system that supports claimants and lifts them up instead of demonising them and kicking them while they’re down.
It saddens me that the government is so ignorant of the pain that they’re causing, but I will continue to fight tooth and nail for my disabled constituents who deserve so much better.