Appeal of PIP Consultation Judicial Review Not Successful

This morning we received the final judgment in our appeal of the judicial review of the consultation for PIP. The appeal was not successful.

The full text of the judgment is linked below but I will quote here the key paragraphs that my solicitor pointed out.

  1. Once it was accepted, as it had to be on the evidence, that the Respondent approached the 2013 consultation with an open mind, it seems to me that the challenge to the process as a whole must fail. It is explained in the evidence that all options were open as to the “Moving around criteria”, even if that meant changing the criteria for “Planning and following journeys” or looking for funding elsewhere. The reality was that consultees such as Mr Sumpter had every opportunity to present to the Respondent the difficulties that the move from a 50 metre benchmark to a 20 metre one would cause to them. It is clear that such opportunity was taken. In reality, it would have gone nowhere to contend in the consultation that the physically disabled should continue to be favoured at the expense of those who suffered other disabilities. No doubt none would have wished to present such an unattractive argument. Given the Respondent’s overall policy to make PIP available to a wider category of the disabled, new beneficiaries obviously had to come into the equation and there would have been no point in contending that they should be excluded.
  1. …As I understand the law, consultation has to be fair; it does not have to be perfect. With the benefit of hindsight, it will no doubt often be possible to show that a consultation could have been carried out rather better, but that will not necessarily mean that it was unfair. That is what the judge said at paragraph 123 of his judgment and I agree with him.

I note that the judge did draw attention to the choice that the government made to frame continuing to help physically disabled people as unfairly withholding help from people with mental and cognitive difficulties. He did not, however, find it relevant that the consultation failed to admit the government decision to give new help at the expense of help previously available. The judge implied that people responding to the consultation only needed to talk about the difficulties we would face, not about the decision to take money away for use elsewhere.

It should be noted that the government had previously said while defending this case that they know they are removing DLA from “individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need” and “removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.” (This is a direct quote of words used by the government and quoted in the judgment in 2014 at paragraph 80.)

[PDF] Final judgment PIP judicial review appeal

For further information please contact solicitors for this case, Irwin Mitchell.

Previously on this subject:

PIP 20 metre rule consultation back in court

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Why I am suing the government

“Lots of folk can’t afford a car”

PIP 20 metre rule consultation back in court

This time last year we took the Department of Work and Pensions to a judicial review to decide if they properly consulted about cutting help for people who can only walk a few metres.

The original consultation did not make clear the plan to cut the qualifying maximum distance from 50 metres to 20.  In quite strong language for a judge, the court noted that the consultation was  “Mind-bogglingly opaque”, “At best ambivalent”, and “Convoluted, inherently unclear, ambiguous and confusing.  No construction allows for full coherence.”

Nevertheless, the court found – very narrowly – in favour of the government and said that the second consultation, started after this judicial review was in motion, was enough to make things right.

This week we are back in court to appeal that decision. We argue that the second consultation could never have changed the decision that had already been made. The hearing will take place in the Royal Courts of Justice in London from 10:30 on the 14th and 15th of July. The judgement will follow a few days later.

It is frustrating that this case is about whether the consultation on PIP was fair rather than about the cut itself, but the courts cannot decide on government policy. As part of their defence the DWP pointed out that they are fully aware of the impact of their policy, and are removing DLA from “individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need” and “removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.” The DWP did do a consultation on their policy though, and that consultation wasn’t fair, so that is what we are fighting.

 

Electric Wheelchair in the back of a car
My Motability car, which I stand to lose if denied the high rate mobility component of PIP

 

Background information

As part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 the government replaced Disability Allowance with Personal Independence Payments. Their main reason for the change was to introduce repeated frequent testing to see if claimants have miraculously healed. They also changed the maximum distance that you can walk and still qualify for help towards regaining your mobility. Under DLA the cutoff was recognised to be 50 metres. Under PIP it has been slashed to just 20 metres. This means that if someone can walk more than 20 but less than 50 metres (subject to a few caveats) then they will no longer get the highest amount for the mobility component of PIP. Assuming the person still qualifies for the lower rate of mobility, this is a cut of £35.65 per week. But worse than that, the higher rate mobility component is a gateway to all sorts of help including the right to lease a car or wheelchair through the Motability scheme. As a result of this cut more than a hundred people are losing their car every week, and many thousands more will follow when they are reassessed for PIP. Losing independent transport means losing independence and access to services.

A prominent example of this came just last month when Teenage Paralympian Kayleigh Haggo was denied the higher rate for mobility and lost her car. Kayleigh got her car back after the decision was overturned a few weeks later but this illustrates the problem that we are facing.

UPDATE
The hearing took place and seemed quite positive however the judgement will follow at a later date, probably October.

Previously on this blog:

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Why I am suing the government

“Lots of folk can’t afford a car”

Blue Badge Blues

I’d like to show you some tweets. I’ve provided a screenshot as they have now been deleted.

Tweets boasting about stealing disabled parking bays

The text of these tweets reads

“The dirty looks you get for parking in a disabled bay 😀 :D”

“Like there’s not 1000 empty disabled bats and only 1 normal space the other end of the car park “

After a few people noticed these tweets and tweeted their objections (Six replies) she then tweeted

“The spam I just got in my feed about parking in a disabled bay is too jokes 😀 😀 😀 :D”

“These people are protective over their bays loool”

The tweets were then deleted an hour later.

This isn’t a rare occurrence. An awful lot of people think that they should have the right to park in parking bays reserved for disabled people. People like George Osborne, Nigel Farage and Worcester police. Often people think it’s OK to park in a disabled parking bay late at night as though disabled people aren’t allowed out at night, or they think it’s OK because they’re “only going to be a minute” or because “they’ll move if anyone needs it”. Some people just don’t care, and in fact feel so entitled to park where they like that they issue death threats.

It’s not OK though. Those bays exist for very good reasons. They are for people who struggle to walk and need to park close to the shop because otherwise they may be in pain as a result of walking, or maybe they can’t get that far at all. They are for people with chronic illnesses who will be exhausted after that short walk. They are for people who use wheelchairs and need the marked space around the bay to open their doors enough to get the wheelchair out. They are for people whose joints don’t bend much and who can’t contort themselves to fit through a door that only opens as far as the next car in a standard space. And don’t think that someone in a wheelchair will have no problem with going further – plenty of people cannot self-propel in a wheelchair any further than they can walk because of pain or being prone to dislocations or fractures.

Disabled people need those reserved parking spaces to help them overcome the barriers between them and a normal, equal life. You may be able to walk from the other end of the car park, even if it’s a bit far, a bit tiring, and maybe your legs hurt because you’re not used to exercise. For people who qualify for a blue badge, walking from the other end of the car park is a distant dream. If the choice is between park at the other end or not go into the shop, they probably can’t go into the shop.

“I’ll only be a minute”

This is probably the most common excuse. It’s not an excuse though. Don’t do it. In that “minute” which will probably actually be five or ten minutes, a disabled person may have arrived, been unable to park, had no idea how long you would be and then turned around and gone home. They might not have been able to stop and wait because of traffic. They may well not have the energy or be in too much pain to return very quickly.  Or maybe they parked in a standard space much further away, then hurt themselves by trying to walk that much further.

“I’ll move if someone needs it”

This seems like a reasonable excuse, especially if waiting in the car. Again, it’s not an excuse for a number of reasons. First of all, the person that needs the space might not see you waiting in the car to ask. If the driver is not with the car then the disabled person won’t know that they would move it, and they probably can’t park to go and find the driver to ask them. Sometimes they could send a bystander to ask them, but that has variable results.

There’s also the strong possibility of getting verbally or physically attacked just for asking someone to move. This happens, and it happens a lot. How is someone to know whether you will turn out to be nasty or nice?

“There’s loads of spaces”

This excuse tends to happen most at night and it’s possibly the least-bad. It is often true that there are lots of spaces at supermarkets. But take a look at how far those spaces are from the door. The distance from shop to space might be twenty metres for the closes one, but it could be a hundred metres or more for the farthest space. Unfortunately the people who use this excuse tend to park in the closest space to the shop and at my local Tesco it’s not uncommon for the first ten spaces to be filled with cars with no blue badge on display if I go there at 10pm. (Which I do a lot because my illness messes up my sleeping pattern.) The person using this excuse also has no idea how many people might need to park before they return. If lots turn up, they’ll be parking much further away.

Then there’s the unthinking shops that leave stuff in the disabled parking bays.

Or even put more permanent things in those bays.

This video explains why people need disabled parking bays.

“Residential training” for disabled people to be extended

I’ve just come across this government document “Residential Training Provision – Independent Advisory Panel Report” [PDF] and I’m freaking out a bit. I may be wrong – I’m too exhausted to get through the whole document – but it’s full of scary statements.

“Although the primary focus of the panel’s work has been to review the provision of what is often referred to as specialist disability employment training as delivered by Residential Training providers, the panel has been mindful of other DWP programmes such as Work Choice and Work Programme and note the disappointing statistics published recently.”

The document is a review of residential training for disabled people. It makes plenty of reference to “markets”, to “cost/benefit analysis” and to how the programme is great because it is “intensive”. It doesn’t make any mention of the potential health impact of an intensive course on a sick or disabled person, or the practicalities of being away from home with familiarity, provisions for medicines and care, or the impact of upheaval and stress of being forced to go away. In my opinion the most scary statement is this one:

“In the vast majority of cases, the type and severity of a person’s impairment/health condition has little bearing on their ability to secure and sustain employment”

It seems that plans are already in place to send a lot more people on such residential training.

“If the provision continues following this review it will be subjected to an open competition to tender for contracts for provision post August 31st 2014.”

There are plans for non-disabled people too.

The panel considers that the provision can be improved in the following ways:
1) Increase numbers that use the residential element including reaching out to nondisabled people who are long term unemployed and would specifically benefit from the provision e.g. they would benefit from a holistic and intense approach. It could be more cost effective to increase numbers of RT trainees, as the unit cost of provision would then be driven down.

Read the full document – Residential Training Provision – Independent Advisory Panel Report” [PDF]

UPDATE

This isn’t what I thought it was on first impressions, however I still have serious reservations about it. As is pointed out in the comments below:

“This is talking about residential colleges that currently exist that are primarily for adults with severe learning difficulties and/or multiple complex needs. When people in that group reach 19 it often their fervent wish to go to one of these residential places and they often don’t get the chance.”

So, I can see that this can be a positive thing in some circumstances and I was wrong to call it a work camp. However, the attitude of the review bothers me a lot. To claim that impairments and health conditions don’t keep people out of work is just plain wrong. Overcoming barriers in society can only get someone so far; sometimes an impairment just will not let a person work. The suggestion to roll this scheme out to long-term unemployed people shows there is a view that this “holistic intensive approach” is to be used elsewhere, and my fear is that it will be applied to people who are significantly sick or disabled but unlucky enough to be in the work related activity group for ESA. Combined with the DWP’s penchant for sanctions this could be a very bad thing. Also not addressed is how sick and disabled people will function away from their support structures at home.

No wheelchair for you!

My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken powerchair

I wrote back in March about the death of the power wheelchair that I had been given and my quest to obtain a new one.  It was old but it served its purpose in letting me go further from home and use public transport without requiring another person to push my wheelchair. Since my ability to walk is fairly limited I do need a wheelchair when I am out of the house. There are four ways that I know of to obtain a manual or powered wheelchair.

  1. The NHS
  2. Lease one from Motability using the mobility component of DLA
  3. Buy one
  4. Get a charity to buy one

It should be obvious that buying one is not really an option for most people living on sickness and disability benefits. Many people who need a high end power wheelchair do lease one from the Motability scheme however that option is not available to those who already use their DLA to lease a car through the scheme, or who do not receive DLA at all. In some circumstances a charity might be willing to foot some or all of the bill for a power wheelchair. Specialist charities for certain diseases or impairments might do this although in practice most do not have this option either. In my case there is a charity that helps people in the area that I live in who might be able to pay for part of the cost of a power wheelchair for me but since charity funds must be carefully looked after they require me to need a wheelchair but be unable to get one from the NHS before they will help. That leads me to the main option, to ask for a wheelchair from the NHS.

Soon after my power wheelchair broke an occupational therapist referred me to Worcestershire Wheelchair Services and I was told that I would get an assessment but that I would have to wait a long time. In the meantime I bought a manual wheelchair using my credit card. I have a bankruptcy in my past because of my illness so that credit is at an interest rate of 34% APR.

I knew when I was referred for a wheelchair assessment that I would not qualify for a power wheelchair because I only need a wheelchair when out of the house but that was OK because once I had an assessment I could turn to my local charity. As I understood then from other doctors and therapists I should qualify for a manual wheelchair, although probably one with small wheels that required an attendant to push it because self-propelling a wheelchair soon hurts my arms as much as walking hurts my legs. (This is why I purchased a self-propel chair, since I would like to be able to turn myself around even if I mostly have someone pushing.)

Then, today, I received this letter from Wheelchair Services. (Click to enlarge.)

Letter from wheelchair services

The letter informed me that I would not receive any wheelchair from the NHS because in Worcestershire they are

“Currently only able to supply wheelchairs to people who meet higher level needs i.e. to those clients who have a permanent mobility problem, who are unable to walk and who require a wheelchair within their own home.”

So, because I can walk or stagger around at home, I will not receive any kind of wheelchair to help outside where I cannot walk more than a few metres or stand up for more than a few seconds – not even a manual wheelchair. They won’t even visit to assess me. There are also many people who need a power wheelchair but are unable to get one from the NHS because they, like me can walk to some extent around their own home. In a lot of these cases they would use a wheelchair inside if only they could fit one in their home, but because they cannot they too are denied any help from wheelchair services. I know of several people who are currently trying to raise funds through donations to purchase their own power wheelchair because of this.

I’m not too worried about this in my own case because I have the manual wheelchair that I bought, and I have my wife to push it much of the time, and I still hope to get help from a local charity. I am far more worried about all the other people who haven’t been so fortunate and have no chance to buy a wheelchair, no charity help, no car and no one to offer lifts. I struggle to understand the justification for the NHS in Worcestershire not giving a wheelchair to people who need one but only when outside. If applied nationally, this policy would trap tens or hundreds of thousands of people in their own homes, unable to go out to medical appointments, to buy food or to visit family and friends. I don’t know how long this policy has been in place in Worcestershire but I hope that it is the only area doing this.

Worcestershire Wheelchair Service informed me that their qualifying criteria have been this way for a number of years due to low funding. Worcestershire is not looking like a good place for a chronically sick or disabled person to live right now; Worcestershire council are planning to remove funding for care at home for a large number of people and send them to live in care homes instead. This is a huge backwards step, a removal of freedom for a lot of people and reverts to the old method of locking those with disabilities away from society. This policy on wheelchairs will ensure that more people are trapped at home and so require care from the local authority, which in turn may put them into a care home.

Are we as a country really so short of money that this is the route we want to take?

Thoughts on my first long powerchair trip

I went on my first long powerchair trip on Friday night. It was a 5 mile round-trip from Badsey to Evesham and back. On reflection, this was never going to be an easy journey. There are two routes that can be taken on foot. Unfortunately due to roadworks, one of those was not an option and so my wife and I were forced to take the other route, along the main road into town. This involved about a mile along a rural road with a 60mph limit, and hedges on both sides. Before leaving I checked through that stretch of road using Google Streetview to make sure that there was a path all of the way along. All seemed OK, so we set off.

Here are my thoughts on that journey.

  • My powerchair goes faster than 4mph. I think it probably manages 8mph. Excellent!
  • It doesn’t go as far as it should. The battery light was blinking after about six miles of use, not 24. Maybe a few charge / discharge cycles will fix that.
  • Using a powerchair requires planning to make sure that route and transport are accessible.
  • According to my wife, I operate a powerchair like I play Mario Kart. I’m choosing to take that as a compliment.
  • You can’t operate a powerchair like you play Mario Kart. It likes to stop before making the next move.

And some more problematic thoughts.

  • Getting to a junction and finding no dropped kerbs and therefore no way to leave the pavement and cross is frustrating.
  • Having to backtrack to the last dropped kerb is also frustrating.
  • Having no matching dropped kerb on the other side and having to take the chair along the road is dangerous.
  • Curved dropped kerbs that go round the corner are a pain. Wheelchairs are supposed to take the kerb at 90 degrees to avoid toppling. Having to turn 45 degrees to do that is irritating, AND the pavement is at odd angles that push the chair to one side.
  • A dropped kerb that crosses the pavement all the way to someone’s driveway makes the chair go down then up again. Having these repeatedly all the way along the street makes the chair go up and down continuously. They can also make the chair swerve into the road unless paying perfect attention and deploying light-speed reflexes.
  • A dropped kerb is supposed to be dropped. That means going down to road level. Not two or three inches above it. When a chair goes over that, it lurches wildly back and forth.
  • When a too-high kerb is combined with a round-the-corner curved dropped kerb that simultaneously goes up a hill on one road and down a hill on the other road, the combined angles plus speed necessary to climb the kerb mean that the chair will topple.
  • Flailing wildly when going over will wrench muscles, twist the back, neck and shoulders, and cause extreme pain and swearing.
  • Finding no way to get from pavement to road to pavement so that you can cross is bloody annoying. Did I already do that one? Well I’m doing it again because it’s BLOODY ANNOYING.
  • Tree roots growing under the path and tearing it up can lift one side of a chair, causing it to tip disturbingly to one side.
  • Cars parked on the pavement deserve to be scratched as I go past.
  • Pavements full of pot holes, cracks, patches and worn away surface are not just a minor irritant, they make the journey a hell full of dragging, rattling, lurching, bumping and worse.
  • A path is supposed to be wide enough to use. Six inches of goat trail with smashed up tarmac surrounded by tall grass and weeds right at the edges on both sides is not acceptable. Grass to within six inches of the road edge is definitely not acceptable.
  • Paths so old that their height varies by several inches NEED FIXING. You can’t leave that.
  • I got stuck on patches of broken pavement so bad that one wheel went in a hole. Not once, but twice. I couldn’t avoid the hole because the grass verge had covered the pavement.
  • I had to negotiate places where the broken, narrow path went through potholes, gravel and old stones at the edge, merged with driveways, with grass covering it at 45 degree angles. I lurched wildly. I nearly went over. And this happened in at least three places.

I’m going to stop there. There are more things, but I have complained enough for people to get the idea. OK, so most of the time I won’t be trying to travel from my village to the town, but I should be able to. It should not be a challenge, it should be a nice smooth ride along tarmac or paving slabs. Not a wild lurch along broken, grass-covered ancient pathway.

Oh, and I did manage to get to town and back, but not before the shops had closed, rendering my trip to buy cheesecake completely meaningless. I enjoyed a coffee at my sister’s house instead.

Embarrassed to be me

Sometimes I have to use a walking stick. I walk with a stick because sometimes the pain is too much to put weight on my legs, or my muscles are too weak to hold me up, or I am too dizzy and lack the balance to remain upright. I especially need the stick when I am standing still as without it I can fall over due to all of the above.

I hate my walking stick.

I hate it because it is awkward to use.

I hate it because it prevents me carrying anything with that hand.

I hate it because it stops me holding hands with my wife.

I hate it because it is noisy on the pavement.

I hate it because it allows me to walk further when I should stop and rest.

I hate it because it transfers the pain from my legs to my hands and arms and back.

But most of all, I hate my walking stick because it is a symbol of my weakness. It is a sign to anyone that sees it that I am sick. Weak. I feel self-conscious when I use it, because people look at the stick and judge me. Many of them see a thirty-something man with no visible problems using a walking stick and decide that I don’t need it. Some of them assume that I use a stick in order to look sick to get benefits. (Even when I wasn’t on benefits.) Some of them actually question my use of it, and in the worst case, verbally attack me, even swearing at me.

So I leave my stick at home. That doesn’t work out so well, because what happens is that I walk all the way to the doctor, the pharmacy or the shops without too much of a problem apart from stopping to lean on a wall every so often. Then comes the problem. I get tired. I get pain. I am out, ten minutes walk from home, rapidly losing the ability to stay upright, and I don’t have a walking stick. Having to ask for a chair and stop for a fifteen minute rest in a shop is even more embarrassing than using a walking stick in the first place.

I have got around the problem of not having my walking stick when I need it by using a folding stick which can fit in the (large) pocket of my trenchcoat or in my bag. It’s still a pain to carry around so I don’t always take it, but it’s better than never taking it. I can also surprise people by pulling the stick out of my pocket suddenly and having it click together in a most satisfying way!

Given my embarrassment at using the stick, you can imagine what I think about using a wheelchair. I’ve never used one but the thought fills me with fear. Fear of what people will think, especially if I get out of it occasionally when I have no need to be in it. People do not understand that health problems are variable and that it is possible to need a stick or a chair on some occasions and not others. Or that I could use a wheelchair for a journey but walk around inside the building at the end of it.

I was thinking about all of this again because I have been offered an electric wheelchair that used to belong to a family member. My immediate response is NO NO NO but actually that is stupid of me. There are many times when it would be useful to have one, and there are plenty of occasions when I could actually use it to get around the house. There are times at the moment where I cannot get from the bed to the bathroom or the kitchen, and so I go without food and drink until someone can arrive and help me. I will soon be living several miles from my nearest helper rather than next door, but with an electric wheelchair I could get food and drink several hours earlier than I would otherwise. I might even get more hours in the day because I would start to feel better earlier.

I have to learn not to be embarrassed to be me.