Changes to UK Disability Benefit Payments Set to Reduce Independence

January 29, 2014

If you use a specialist wheelchair, mobility scooter or adapted car, these items of equipment are vital to allow you to maintain your independence and fully participate in the community, particularly when public transport is not always accessible. However, for people living in the UK who rely on these mobility aids, benefit changes mean that soon they could face losing their lifeline.

Its therefore no surprise that groups supporting disabled people have voiced their concern about the adverse consequences that benefit reforms could bring for someone living with impaired mobility.

In short, changes to mobility payments will reverse the progress made with regards to the rights for independent living.

Changing mobility payments

Until April 2013 everyone in the UK eligible for financial assistance to help meet the additional costs of living with a disability or long-term health problem received a payment known as Disability Living Allowance. However, since that time all new claimants have moved over to a benefit termed Personal Independence Payment, and this new payment is now being rolled out to those in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.

While people are being encouraged not to panic about the changes and to remain positive, as the new payments still include a care and mobility component and are paid according to actual need rather than someones financial situation, looking at the changes in more detail their concerns are understandable.

The higher rate payments have not been lowered, but using the new assessment criteria it is harder to achieve the threshold to receive the enhanced payment. This means many people with a disability that affects their mobility face missing out on the enhanced component of £55.25 each week, instead receiving the standard weekly payment of £21; it is estimated that more than 400,000 people with a disability in the UK will no longer be entitled to the enhanced rate.

Losing the higher rate payment is a particular blow for anyone who uses this benefit to qualify for the Motability scheme, which allows a car, an electric scooter or a powered wheelchair to be leased.

It is those people who are able to mobilise a short distance on their feet who are most likely to lose out, as despite opposition to the new mobility assessment for Personal Independence Payment, the Government do not plan to make any adjustments.

When eligibility for Disability Living Allowance was assessed, anyone unable to stand and mobilise for 50m was entitled to the higher rate payment, but now the distance has been more than halved to 20m. This isnt the only change though, as someone who can walk 50 metres may lose all their disability payments and entitlement to take part in the Motability scheme.

Not only is there no evidence supporting the fact that individuals able to walk more than 20m have lower costs associated with their mobility than someone able to walk a little less than this, but the implications of losing mobility aids are huge.

Loss of independence

With reduced or no financial assistance and the loss of an adapted car or powered mobility aid, its easy to appreciate how you would quickly lose your independence. You would become more reliant on others to help you with everyday tasks such as the grocery shop or going to the bank; with this increased reliance it would feel as if you had lost some of your dignity and that you were no longer in control, as you couldnt necessarily choose when or where you went out.

If you were in employment, without easy access to transport you may not be able to get to your place of work. However, if your mobility assessment indicates that you are now fit to work, this is ironic, as without the means to get to the job centre, to interviews or to where your work is based, how can you ever feasibly work?
Similarly, without your own transport, its not so easy to attend health appointments and your health may suffer as a result if you have to cancel check-ups or you put off seeing a doctor.

Its not just practical matters that suffer. No longer is it so easy to visit family or friends, or to take part in social activities within the community, so you would soon become isolated. Feeling isolated can quickly have an adverse affect on your mental well-being, which itself can impact on your physical health. However, with reduced opportunities to get out and about, activity as a whole is reduced, which also contributes to a decline in physical well-being.

The impact is most likely to be felt by people living in more rural areas, as with even fewer opportunities for public transport or taxis that are accessible, they are most vulnerable. The assessment of peoples mobility for Personal Independence Payment was meant to take a holistic approach when deciding upon eligibility, but as this demonstrates, it doesnt take into account someones circumstances such as where they live. This is in contrast to Disability Living Allowance, which took a more qualitative approach to the assessment and as a result allowed individual needs to be better catered for.

Financial implications

Beyond trying to finance their own adapted car or electric wheelchair, the loss of disability benefits will bring other financial implications. For instance, adaptations to the home to accommodate a wheelchair bring their own costs, which the mobility payment may otherwise have been put towards.

In the UK funding is available separately to allow home modifications to accommodate wheelchair users, but this is not always available and certain restrictions are in place. This is on top of the fact that with another benefit change, often referred to as the bedroom tax, where someone receiving housing benefit who has one or more spare bedrooms in their home even if this was the only suitable accommodation available – will receive a cut in their benefits.

Unfortunately no exemption has been made for disabled people with regards to this benefit cut.

While anyone who will no longer be entitled to a mobility aid through the Motability scheme will receive some temporary help to make the transition, none will be offered for anyone losing their mobility benefit payment.

Considering that people with a disability who lose their independence are more likely to rely more heavily upon Government funded services, this makes little financial sense and will have a devastating impact on the quality of life of the disable people affected by the changes across the UK.