It is hard to make a judgment on anything until you have experienced it firsthand. That is why I was so keen to visit a local Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment centre recently. PIP is a means tested benefit which can help with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability. Importantly the rate depends on how the condition affects an individual, not the condition itself.
I regularly meet with constituents who have been through PIP assessments, often hearing that the level of service is inadequate. I pledged to visit the assessment centre with a constituent who had come to me because the centre is not equipped for the needs of her or many of its visitors. We visited together to ask questions and make sure that any required changes are made.
In the past I have ruffled a few feathers by raising concerns about disability benefits assessments. One concern that I have held for a long time is that those living with chronic illness, with no prospect of improvement, have been required to attend six-monthly meetings – an entirely ‘tick-box’ exercise – in order to continue receiving their payment. If someone has a disease which can only get worse it does not make sense to ask them to turn up for repeated appointments. If their condition is not going to improve, it is not right to ask them to be tested time after time.
There was an important announcement last week that chronically sick benefit claimants will no longer be required to prove they are still ill every six months. The employment support allowance for those who have lifelong, severe health conditions with no prospect of improvement will now continue automatically. Constant reassessment is pointless and only serves to increase their stress and anxiety levels. I have dealt with constituency casework cases exactly like this and the reforms will help end the unnecessary stress and bureaucracy which can lead to anxiety and financial insecurity that these claimants may have felt. This seems to be to be a victory for common sense.
On Monday, Parliament returned to Westminster and I have had a busy week. In the Chamber I have raised concerns about the Government’s approach to diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease and for the eighth time I raised the importance of Design and Technology in education. I have also spoken up for local charities who will benefit from proposed changes to GiftAid, met with business and charity groups and presented a petition signed by over 1600 local people in support of the WASPI pension campaign.
On Sunday I will be a guest on BBC One’s Sunday Politics from 11am where I will be discussing some of my latest campaigns for Wiltshire. To hear regular updates you can sign up to receive my e-news by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Use the same email, or call 01249 704465 to book an appointment at one of my regular surgeries.