Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Southwark News column - Government delays to disability benefits

Thousands of ill and disabled people up and down the country have been waiting for months to find out whether they will get the Government’s new disability benefit – Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – which is for people who need help with the extra costs of living with a long term illness or disability.

 We read in the papers about the chaos and delays at the Department for Work and Pensions but these are more than just "administrative" delays, they cause a nightmare for people waiting for assessments and for financial support.  

The Government says the average waiting time for an assessment is 4 months but constituents tell me they have been waiting on average between 10 months to 1 year. This is totally unacceptable because until you've been assessed you can’t claim for other crucial benefits like a Carer’s Allowance, a bus pass or help with taxi fares to hospital appointments. So to add to the problem of suffering from ill health or a disability, some people have had to borrow money from friends or family, cut down on essentials, or face going in to debt to pay for the extra costs of their disability because of the Government’s delays and incompetence.  

Here are some examples of people who I've been helping:  

A 51 year old woman from Nunhead who lives alone in a council flat applied for a PIP in September 2013 but after 1 year she is still waiting to be assessed. In May 2014, she had a brain tumour removed and is still recovering from the procedure. She has a history of bad knees and recently fractured her ankle in three places and had to spend a few weeks in hospital. She currently receives £200 every fortnight in Employment Support Allowance which pays for the essentials but she struggles to cover the extra costs of her disability such as her weekly travel to Kings College Hospital and has had to cut down on food and non-essentials like buying new clothes.  

A 52 year old man from Peckham was diagnosed with liver cancer in December 2013 and applied for a PIP in January 2014 but after waiting 9 months he still hasn’t been assessed. He had a liver transplant in May this year and further cancers were discovered so he is now on a tough course of chemotherapy. He is seriously unwell and is struggling to cover his basic living costs because the £227 he receives every fortnight is not enough and he often has to borrow money from friends as he has no family in the UK.  

A 44 year old single mother of two children from Camberwell had a bad fall in May 2013 and suffered severe jarring up through her spine into her head. She now has a movement disorder which triggers seizures and causes severe headaches. Before the accident, she worked full time as a youth worker but she has not been able to return to work since the accident. She applied for a PIP in December 2013 and although she had an assessment in July this year, she is still waiting for the outcome after 10 months.  

Government delays in administering the PIP have created unnecessary uncertainty, stress and financial costs for sick and disabled people and their families. No one should have to wait months to be assessed and left in financial limbo just because they are ill or because they suffered an accident. We want the Government to urgently reform the assessment process and introduce guaranteed waiting times. The benefits system should be there to help people who need it, not add to their stress and worry.

*The print version of this article is shorter and does not include all of the above examples

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