MS campaigners in benefit protest
Campaigners representing tens of thousands of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the UK have lobbied the Government over "devastating" plans they claim will restrict the right to qualify for a benefit aimed at helping those with walking difficulties.
Protesters have accused the Government of slashing the criteria for qualifying for a higher rate of benefit aimed at compensating people with walking difficulties and which also entitles them to cars, powered wheelchairs and scooters under the Motability scheme.
The MS Society said qualifying for the enhanced mobility rate payment will be tougher from April when the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) starts to be phased out in favour of a new benefit, the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
People with MS who are of working age will face a new test to qualify for the enhanced rate of whether they are unable to walk more than 20 metres compared to 50 metres or more under the old DLA, according to the MS Society.
Protesters with MS, some walking with the aid of sticks, "marched" 20 metres outside the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to deliver a open letter of protest with 4,000 signatures addressed to Disability Minister Esther McVey.
Kay-Anne Sheen, 42, from Southend, Essex, a former mental health nurse who was diagnosed with MS in 1997 and uses a scooter, said she feared her benefit could be reduced under the new PIP payment and she could lose her Motability car.
She said there was concern that MS was a fluctuating condition, where a test such as walking 20 metres could be carried out for an assessor but could prove to be impossible the following day.
"I think this is going to frighten the lives out of people with MS, because MS is so variable," she said.
"Today for me is a good day, but there are days when the 20 metres would be nearly impossible.
"I have a Motability car, so if I lose this benefit it is going to be very difficult for me to go anywhere. This is a real concern for me."