Debate: Benefits

That this meeting of Congress asks RCN Council to insist that the Government urgently reviews its appalling management of benefits.

There is widespread evidence that the Governments’ review of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replacement with Personal Independence Payment (PIP) demonstrates a fundamental disregard for the emotional and physical needs of some of the most vulnerable individuals in society.

Individuals and families living with disability physical or mental due to chronic, progressive and or terminal illnesses have on a daily basis additional costs for care, major living adaptations, specialist equipment,  and specialist vehicles. Overall they have higher living costs. DLA and now PIP payments are intended to support with these daily and ongoing additional costs. The revised guidance for assessment to either transfer to PIP or a new PIP application is causing unpredicted levels of stress and anxiety. Moreover, it is being reported there are many instances of these assessments ceasing or disallowing payment putting a financial burden on individuals and families with devastating impacts on quality of life which may in some instances be very limited.

The Westminster Government's approach to this review and its enactment is a travesty. It is reported to be an administrative farce with appointment cancellations, lost applications and inaccessible buildings. There are significant concerns with the behaviour of the assessors provided by Atos and Capita. Their assessments do not appear to reflect the required knowledge and skills that would be expected to provide, empathetic, comprehensive objective assessments or understand supporting evidence from health care professionals. Subsequently, more than half the decisions made on PIP that go to appeal result in claimants having decisions overturned after suffering unnecessary stress.

On a daily basis health care providers are seeing and dealing with the harsh impacts of these reforms for individuals and their families. Nurses are now increasingly being requested to provide evidence to support individual’s applications and navigate the system. This is concerning for nurses, time is being diverted from providing direct care and the need for physical and psychological care is increasing when there is already a struggle to meet basic care needs. As the Spartacus Network asserts, any reform into disability benefits must be measured, responsible and transparent, based on available evidence and designed with individuals experiencing disability at the very heart of decision-making.

However, there is evidence emerging that this is not the case and the government’s response to the DLA consultation presents a highly misleading view. The proposal by the Rt Hon Steven Crabb as Minister for Work and Pensions in 2016 ‘… 'to start new conversations with individuals with disability, their representatives and health care professionals to shape future policy and to take time to reflect on how best to support and help transform people’s lives’ indicated an interest in engagement and some acknowledgment of this catastrophe. However, ministers have changed and there continues to be a fundamental disregard for the emotional and physical needs of some of the most vulnerable individuals in society.

There is a fast changing landscape with regard to benefits in Scotland. The following disability benefits are now under the remit of the Scottish administration: Attendance Allowance; Carer’s Allowance; Disability Living Allowance; Personal Independence Payment; and Industrial Injuries Benefit Severe Disablement Allowance. In addition, Scotland now has powers to top up benefits reserved to Westminster and to introduce new Scottish benefits. The Scottish Government has consulted widely on how to discharge its new responsibilities, and the agreed set of agreed principles – including respecting the dignity of individuals and having decisions overturned after suffering unnecessary stress.

As an organisation with care, compassion and empathy at its heart the RCN must become actively involved in calling the Department of Work and Pensions to account and challenging these reforms. Exposing this catastrophe and ensuring the needs of individuals living with disability are appropriately addressed. After all, we are supposed to be a civilised society actively caring for our most vulnerable.

This iniquitous change affects people living in all four countries of the UK. Many nurses are supporting people to navigate the system in order to obtain the support and benefits they are entitled to, at the cost of providing direct nursing care.

In the last debating session of Congress 2017, Mary Quirke, Proposer, began this sensitive item by arguing that the government’s review of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replacement with Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was disproportionally targeting people living with disabilities.

She went on to say that the actions of the reforms sowed a fundamental disregard of the needs of people with learning disabilities and that they were being ‘pushed further into exile’.

Geoff Earl felt that the public’s perception of benefit fraud was damaging, which was harmful to the management of disability benefits. However Maureen Dolan argued that there are people who are claiming benefits that don’t need them and the face-to-face assessment was vital.

Many delegates spoke with great emotion from personal experience, or from experience of dealing with clients, of the overwhelming fear of the DLA being taken away and being called for a PIP assessment. Lisa Crooks stated that some of her patients had had ‘unnecessary relapses due to PIP reassessment’.

A common theme among speakers was the feeling that the PIP reduced claimants to a scorecard, and the assessment was simply a tick box exercise which didn’t take into account fully the needs of the person.

Jim Blair passionately argued that ‘people with disabilities are being used as austerity scapegoats’.

In her right of reply, the Proposer thanked Congress for generating the discussion and urged Congress to pass the item.

Vote: Passed 


17 May 2017 16:15 - 16:45

Location To Be Confirmed


Resolution, submitted by the RCN Neuroscience Forum

Page last updated - 05/09/2018