By Jon Stone
The Department for Work and Pensions has told its disability benefits assessors to discriminate against people with mental health conditions compared to those with physical problems.
New guidelines from the department to assessors for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit appears to explicitly single out those with mental health conditions who suffer identical impacts as those with physical conditions.
Assessors have been told that people whose mobility is limited due to mental health conditions should not be entitled to receive the mobility component of PIP even if their mobility is limited to the same extent as someone with a physical impairment.
The new guidance issued by the Department says that mobility impairments caused by psychological issues are “not relevant”.
Mental health charity Mind accused the Government “labelling” claimants by their condition and of perpetuating a “burning injustice” of the kind Theresa May has said she wanted to end with regards to mental health.
The DWP insists that mental health is “given the same recognition” as physical health despite the new guidance. It claims that the legislation merely clarifies the original intention of PIP.
The new guidance comes after the upper tribunal ruled that people who need mobility help due to psychological issues should be entitled to the same help as people with physical issues under PIP. The Government is enacting emergency legislation to reverse this decision.
Last month Downing Street policy chief and Tory MP George Freeman was accused of denigrating mental health issues after he said the changes were simply “tweaks”, aimed at “people who take pills at home who suffer from anxiety.”
He argued that the exclusion of mental health conditions would “get the money to the really disabled people who need it”.
A case study included in the guidance to assesors says: “Sukhi suffers from severe anxiety and claims she needs someone with her for reassurance when going out at all times as otherwise she suffers from very severe panic attacks, sweating and breathlessness.
“Sukhi has sought an award under mobility descriptor 1f as she cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person. However, the [decision maker] determines that because of the wording of mobility descriptor 1f (“for reasons other than psychological distress, cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid”), any problems following the route due to psychological distress are not relevant.
“Consequently the [decision maker] awards 4 points under mobility descriptor 1b ‘needs prompting to be able to undertake any journey to avoid overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant’.”
Responding to the updated guidance, Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said PIP payments should be based on the impact of an illness on a person’s lives rather than what their specific medical condition was.
“The purpose of PIP is to cover the extra costs people incur because of a disability – decisions makers shouldn’t discriminate between disabilities on the basis of their cause, but decisions should be based on the impact of the disability,” he said.
“People who struggle to leave the house without support may face the same costs whether their difficulties arise from, for example, a sensory disability or severe anxiety or other mental health problems.
“Yet those making decisions about the level of support someone will receive will now be explicitly told to disregard those barriers if they are a result of someone’s mental health problem.”
He continued: “This move undermines the Government’s commitment to look at disabled people as individuals, rather than labelling them by their condition, and completely goes against the Government’s commitment to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health.
“It also undermines a specific commitment the Government made in 2012, when introducing PIP, that people with mental health problems who struggle to plan or follow journeys would be treated the same as other disabled people.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions denied that people with mental health conditions were singled out by the advice.
“At the core of PIP’s design is the principle that mental health conditions should be given the same recognition as physical ones.
“In fact, there are more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than the DLA equivalents.
“This Government is also investing more in mental health than ever before – spending more than £11bn this year.”
Last weekend The Independent reported the findings of a study that found that the Government’s fit-to-work tests for another disability benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, are causing permanent damage to some claimants mental health.