Some of the region’s MPs challenge Chancellor over personal independence payments cut
06:30 19 March 2016
Former health minister Dan Poulter has joined a chorus of Conservative voices raising concerns about cuts to disability benefits.
“Spend a day in my shoes”
A Suffolk disabled woman has told MPs ahead of the proposed disability cuts – “spend a day in my shoes and see what it is really like”.
Kathy Bole, 55, vice-chairman of the Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People, has received around £150 a week in personal independence payment (PIP) benefits for the last two years.
It is the only disability benefit she receives after living with deteriorating fibromyalgia and hypermobility syndrome conditions, as well as chronic fatigue and chronic pain, since her mid-20s.
Mrs Bole, of east Ipswich, a part-time Ipswich Borough Council employee and a Suffolk county councillor, has been using a wheelchair for the last 10 years.
She is concerned a PIP cut would threaten her ability to fund her assistance dog, including food, insurance and vet costs, her customised Grand Voyager car which requires premium petrol, her wheelchair, including any repairs, and her rent. She said: “I would love the MPs to spend a day in my shoes and see what it is really like to be vilified for needing support for a condition I did not ask to have. I do everything that I possibly can to stay in work.
“When I ran for a county councillor, I wanted to show other disabled people what’s possible, and there’s a huge amount of disabled people who are suffering. Just because they’re quiet, doesn’t mean they are accepting.
“I really think they are alienating the disability community by taking away the choices that they are. There are even finance experts saying that this particular cut is a step too far.
“In some media, we are portrayed as people who are scrounging for benefits; that we don’t want to work. We are grouped in with that ‘Benefit Britain’ type of crowd. We are tarred with the same brush.”
The Suffolk MP - who works part-time as a doctor - said he would be raising the issue with government ministers.
Dr Poulter has spoken out as ministers faced pressure from Tory backbenchers to perform a u-turn on the plans.
The increasing number of Conservative voices of concern led Prime Minister David Cameron to announce the Government would consult with disability charities over controversial plans “to make sure we get this right”.
But Downing Street indicated the Government is committed to pushing ahead with the controversial £1.3billion cut.
Dr Poulter said: “As both a doctor and as an MP I have serious concerns over these proposals and their potential impact on a vulnerable group of people. I shall be raising my concerns directly with government ministers.”
Colchester MP Will Quince, who only joined the House of Commons last year, said he would not be voting for the proposed changes to Personal Independence Payments
“There is an issue with how aids and appliances are being counted towards entitlement to Personal Independence Payments in light of the recent court rulings which said that chairs and beds counted as walking aids.
“My concern is that this isn’t just tackling the problems arising from the court rulings – it is affecting every applicant. The Government should look again at these proposals,” he said.
It comes after a petition calling for Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill to be “snubbed” by a head injury charity was launched after she was one of the majority of Conservative MPs who voted for a £30million a week cut to new claimants of Employment Support Allowance for disabled people capable of minimal “work-like activity”.
Harwich and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said: “I am looking into this issue. There has to be some change here. The problem [with the Personal Independence Payment] is that recent rulings of the courts have helped to triple the number of people who are claiming, just be re-defining “aids and appliances” to include things like a bed or a sofa. This was never the intention when Parliament approved this new benefit.
“In view of the widespread concern, I want to understand much more about how the budget changes affect disabled people before the voting on them.”
Labour will force a Commons vote on proposals for a £1.3billion-a-year cut in disability benefits which could lead to a humiliating defeat if concerned Tories join with Jeremy Corbyn’s party in blocking what the Labour leader called the “appalling” plan to impose tighter restrictions on the personal independence payment (PIP).
The Government, has a slim overall majority, cannot count on the support of the UK Independence Party’s only MP Douglas Carswell (Clacton) who said he would not be supporting them over its plans. “Osborne has got it wrong,” he said.
The Department for Work and Pensions said the changes followed an independent review to ensure the benefit was meeting its initial purpose – to help people with the extra cost of disability.
The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, said: “Many people are eligible for a weekly award despite having minimal to no extra costs and judicial decisions have expanded the criteria for aids and appliances to include items we would expect people to have in their homes already.
“We consulted widely to find the best approach. And this new change will ensure that PIP is fairer and targets support at those who need it most.”