Thousands of people with rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and other conditions will be retested this year to decide whether they are still eligible for personal independence payments (PIP) because of their disabilities.
But MPs and patient charities argue that repeated testing makes little sense for people with incurable diseases that are known to get progressively worse. According to the most recent figures from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), 3,500 people with progressive conditions were reassessed for PIP between April and October last year.
Carol Monaghan, the MP for Glasgow North West, said she was challenging four cases where patients with multiple sclerosis had been called in for reassessment despite their illness getting worse. “MS is a progressive condition. They’re never going to be any better than they are at the moment, so they should never be asked to go for a reassessment,” she said.
“Some of these people are still able to walk to a certain extent, so they get themselves in, just about, and then they’re being told, ‘You look fine,’” she added.
The number of people called in for reassessments was obtained by Madeleine Moon, the MP for Bridgend, in a written parliamentary question. The DWP figures reveal that the number of people reassessed for PIP rose sharply from 200 in 2014–15 to 2,400 in 2015–16.
The DWP say the reviews ensure that patients receive benefits in line with their disabilities. “PIP is an interactive benefit, designed to ensure any changes in a claimant’s functional ability can be identified and that they receive the right support at the right time,” a spokesperson said. More than a quarter of claimants are receiving the highest level of support, he added.
But Phil Reynolds at Parkinson’s UK said around a quarter of people living with Parkinson’s in Britain had lost some or all of their support following benefit reassessments, only to have the payments reinstated on appeal. “It’s absolutely crucial that the DWP looks again at the broken PIP assessment to ensure people with long-term conditions get the support they so desperately need, rather than rigging the system against them,” he said.
Nearly half of people with multiple sclerosis who claim PIP must be reassessed within two years, according to MS Society. “We’re concerned about the number of people with MS being inappropriately reassessed, especially when we know assessments can cause stress and anxiety, and in some cases exacerbate MS symptoms,” said Laura Wetherly from MS Society.
“With more than 100,000 people living with MS in the UK, the PIP system needs to accurately reflect the realities of living with a fluctuating and progressive condition. Having a disability like MS is hard enough. People should be able to rely on support without fear of having it taken away,” she added.