Personal Independence Payments: the 20 metre rule

By Bernadette Meaden
May 9, 2016

In the 2012 Welfare Reform Act, the government replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Last week in the House of Lords there was a debate on one of the most controversial features of PIP, a feature which is causing thousands of people to lose help with their mobility. This is the 20 metre rule.

The motion for debate called on the government to find a way of assessing people's mobility, 'which is fairer than the current 20 metre distance, in the light of the impact on reassessed disabled claimants..’

Baroness Thomas of Winchester, who tabled the debate, explained her thinking, “Why am I so concerned about the 'Moving around' section? Because the relevant walking distance test for PIP has been made much harder than the DLA test, meaning that by the Government’s own estimate the number of people on enhanced or higher-rate mobility will go down from around one million people to 600,000 by 2018. Some 400 to 500 Motability cars a week are now being handed back by disabled claimants whose condition may not have improved but who are losing not just their car but, in many cases, their independence. Under DLA, the walking distance was 50 metres, which was in the Department for Transport guidance on inclusive mobility. The new distance of 20 metres is just under two London bus lengths, and is unrecognised in any other setting. There is no evidence that it is a sensible distance for the test, and it is not used anywhere else by the Government.”

Fellow peers speaking in favour of the motion showed a good understanding of the problems faced by disabled people. Indeed, several declared an interest, as they are in receipt of the benefit themselves, but because they are over 65 will not face reassessment. They were speaking out of concern for working-age people who face the real prospect of becoming housebound if they lose their mobility help.

Tanni Grey-Thompson, the Paralympian peer who is highly knowledgeable on disability matters, participated in the debate and said of the 20 metre rule “where does 20 metres get you? It is barely the distance from one wall of the Chamber to the other. How can we reasonably expect people who can walk only 20 metres not to require some sort of assistance?”

The reply from the government minister, Baroness Altmann, took everybody by surprise. She began by stating, "Many noble Lords have spoken of a '20-metre rule', but there is no such rule. Some people believe that we have changed the assessment of a distance a claimant is able to walk from 50 metres to 20 metres. This is not the case."

This was, frankly, amazing. The PIP 20 metre rule, and the change from 50 metres, was the subject of a highly controversial government consultation which went to a judicial review, and ultimately the Court of Appeal. The court case only ended in October 2015. The DWP spent a lot of public money defending its position on the 20 metre rule in court – and a DWP minister is now saying it doesn’t exist?

This has troubling echoes of the debate surrounding the £30 a week cut to Employment Support Allowance,(ESA), when Conservative MPs confidently asserted, and appeared to believe, that people who would be affected were fit to work. This was completely untrue, but it was accepted by enough MPs to ensure that the vote was passed and the cut was made.

Baroness Altmann is a relatively new appointment to the DWP, and her area of expertise is pensions, so perhaps she was merely faithfully relaying information that had been supplied to her. But this pattern of government misinformation regarding disability benefits, amongst its own MPs and ministers, is highly disturbing.

The government was able to cut ESA for some future claimants by £30 per week,  because enough people were misled into believing something that was simply not true. We can’t let this keep happening, we must counter misinformation with truth and reality. Baroness Grey-Thompson has tweeted, “Anyone out there who can walk less then 50m and have lost #pip please get in touch. Email greythompsont@parliament.uk

If you or anyone you know has lost their benefit due to being able to walk 20 metres, please let Baroness Grey-Thompson know, and copy in your MP. And if you have any problems with PIP, or any other disability benefit, inform your MP and ask them to contact the Secretary of State Stephen Crabb who has expressed a wish to understand the human impact of DWP policies.

* Contact details for Stephen Crabb here

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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