Ministers in disability concession

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wheelchairMinisters have bowed to pressure from campaigners to enshrine in law important eligibility criteria for the coalition's new disability benefit.

Protesters have raised concerns that people in need will not pass new tests for support when the disability living allowance (DLA) starts to be phased out and replaced by the personal independence payment (PIP) from April.
But the Government has announced it will meet a key demand of campaigners, by including in regulations that individuals must be assessed on what they can do "safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period".

The MS Society, which has campaigned for the change for more than a year and delivered a 4,000-signature letter to minister Esther McVey earlier this week, said the Government had "finally listened to our concerns".

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, said: "This is a crucial change that means the assessments for PIP will better recognise the needs of people with fluctuating conditions such as MS."

Mencap, which represents people with learning disabilities, also welcomed the change. Senior policy officer Jane Alltimes said: "The assessment for PIP shouldn't only consider whether someone is able to carry out an activity, but also the way in which it is carried out. For example, can someone get dressed or move around without causing themselves harm or within a reasonable time period? Having this defined in law should help to make sure these rules are applied consistently by assessors and help disabled people know their rights."

Ms McVey, the minister for disabled people, said: "I know that disabled people and their representatives feel strongly that this important concept is set out in law and I am happy to do this."

But the MS Society, representing 100,000 people with multiple sclerosis, said it remained "extremely concerned" about the strictness of the mobility criteria for PIP. People with MS will be judged under the new system on whether they were unable to walk more than 20 metres compared with 50 metres or more under the old DLA, it said.

The charity claimed that the 20-metre element was introduced in December without consultation. Mr Gillespie said: "If people can walk just 20 metres - even using aids such as sticks - they won't qualify for the enhanced rate of the benefit, and could lose up to £1,800 a year as well as their Motability vehicle."

National Autistic Society head of policy Sarah Lambert said: "Benefits are a necessity for disabled people, not a luxury, so the Government's concession on PIP will be welcome news to the many people with autism and other disabilities who are worried about whether they will be eligible for the new benefit. Today's announcement means that assessors will have to examine the context in which a person with a disability can carry out an activity. This will help to ensure that the system is fairer and takes better account of different aspects of the disabled person's condition."

© 2013 Press Association
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