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Congress backs call for review of disability benefits

Nurses spoke of the hardships faced by their patients since the disability living allowance was replaced with the PIP system.
Mary Quirke

Nurses have spoken about the hardships faced by their patients since the overhaul of disability benefits.

RCN neuroscience forum member Mary Quirke told RCN congress that individuals had faced a bleak landscape since the disability living allowance was replaced with personal independence payments (PIP) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2013.

Already in poverty, they now face losing their dignity too, she said.

Stricter criteria

Disability living allowance was commonly based on self-assessment, whereas eligibility for PIP includes a test carried out on behalf of the government out by external agencies who appoint paid assessors.

Money is allocated according to a points system with a far stricter criteria. For example, previously patients were considered virtually unable to walk, and therefore eligible, if they could

Nurses have spoken about the hardships faced by their patients since the overhaul of disability benefits.


Mary Quirke told congress the PIP system meant patients ‘face losing their dignity’. Picture: John Houlihan

RCN neuroscience forum member Mary Quirke told RCN congress that individuals had faced ‘a bleak landscape’ since the disability living allowance was replaced with personal independence payments (PIP) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2013.

‘Already in poverty, they now face losing their dignity too,’ she said.

Stricter criteria

Disability living allowance was commonly based on self-assessment, whereas eligibility for PIP includes a test carried out on behalf of the government out by external agencies who appoint paid assessors.

Money is allocated according to a points system with a far stricter criteria. For example, previously patients were considered ‘virtually unable to walk’, and therefore eligible, if they could only walk up to 50 metres. Under PIP, they are required to show they can only walk up to 20 metres.

There are two components – daily living and mobility – and eligibility is based on ability to carry out 12 activities, including eating and drinking, washing, going to the toilet, communicating and getting around. The more severe someone’s needs, the more they will receive, up to a maximum of £139.75 a week.

Highlighting reports of cancelled appointments, lost applications and complaints about the conduct of assessors, Ms Quirke said nurses were increasingly being required to provide evidence to support patients.

Many have to give up vital time from caring duties to meet these requests, she said.

Added to the workload

North-east London sickle cell specialist nurse Carey Johnson said: ‘PIP has added to my already demanding workload as I support clients through the process.’

Mental health nurse specialising in eating disorders Lisa Crooks said she had ‘lost count of the number of patients who’ve relapsed due to the stress of PIP’.

Mental health nurse Theresa Connor added that she sees ‘the daily impact’ of assessments on her patients and called PIP ‘a tick-box exercise which is absolutely deplorable’.

Sarah Waters, from south Birmingham RCN branch, requires a wheelchair following a car accident 20 years ago and has to undergo assessment for PIP. She added: ‘The fault lies with the broken PIP system, not the nurses trying to support it.’

A resolution calling on RCN council to lobby the government to review PIP was passed overwhelmingly.


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