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Benefits test based on medical model of disability, warn MPs

Disabled people risk losing out because government benefit reforms are overly based on the medical model of disability, MPs have warned in a report.

Parliament’s work and pensions select committee said that the proposed assessment for personal independence payment (PIP) did not take sufficient account of the social barriers to living faced by disabled people. PIP is due to replace disability living allowance from 2013 for people of working-age.

“The PIP assessment criteria, as drafted, tend towards the medical model of disability,” the report on the proposed reform said. “[The mobility criteria] concentrate heavily on ability to move a fixed distance and do not include barriers to accessing public transport, or the difficulties of some locations for individuals where routes to shops, public transport etc are particularly hilly or stepped," it added. 

The government hopes it will save 20% of the amount spent on DLA by 2015-16 through the introduction of PIP, with 500,000 people due to lose out on support as a result of tighter criteria.

But the committee’s report raised a series of concerns, including doubts that the savings would be as large as the Department for Work and Pensions envisages.

The MPs called for a more detailed assessment of the impact of the reform on the health and social care system, on the basis that the loss of DLA income for a claimant could shunt costs on to social services and the NHS, contrary to the government's view. DLA currently helped people manage their conditions and the extra costs of disability, reducing the burden on social care and the NHS, it said.

The committee also raised concerns that PIP claimants would generally undergo face-to-face assessments to determine eligibility. It noted how this may not be suitable for some claimants, including those with autism, and recommended that the advice of medical professionals with expertise in specific conditions is given more attention when making assessments.

It also noted that many claimants, including those eligible, would find the face-to-face assessments stressful and a source of anxiety, as has been the case with the work capability assessment used to determine eligibility for employment and support allowance.

“The assessment for PIP needs to be empathetic and avoid the mechanistic, box-ticking approach initially used in the work capability assessment," said committee chair Anne Begg.

Source: Community Care