Both MPs and patient groups are calling for an end to the repeated assessments that people with progressive diseases must endure in order to qualify for disability benefits.
Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease are affected by this process.
Those applying for disability benefits and suffering with these conditions will be retested later this year in order to decide whether they will should still be considered eligible for a personal independence payment (PIP).
But several MPs and charities that represent patients with these conditions believe that repeated testing is demeaning and unnecessary for those with incurable diseases, which are known to become progressively worse.
And according to the most recent figures from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), 3,500 people with progressive conditions were reassessed for PIP between April and October last year.
Carol Monaghan, the MP for Glasgow North West, said she was challenging four cases where patients with multiple sclerosis had been called in for reassessment despite their illness getting worse.
“MS is a progressive condition. They’re never going to be any better than they are at the moment, so they should never be asked to go for a reassessment. Some of these people are still able to walk to a certain extent, so they get themselves in, just about, and then they’re being told, ‘You look fine.’”
Madeleine Moon, the MP for Bridgend, acquired the figures in a written parliamentary question.
DWP data confirms that the number of people reassessed for PIP rose sharply from 200 in 2014/15 to 2,400 in 2015/16.
A spokesperson on behalf of the DWP claimed that the new reviews will enable the department to establish whether people are legitimately entitled to benefit.
“PIP is an interactive benefit, designed to ensure any changes in a claimant’s functional ability can be identified and that they receive the right support at the right time. More than a quarter of claimants are receiving the highest level of support.”
But charities are critical of this argument, pointing out that approximately 25% of those living with Parkinson’s disease in the UK had lost at least some of their support following benefit reassessments, only to have the payments reinstated once appeals had taken place.
Phil Reynolds at Parkinson’s UK suggests that the new process is completely flawed, and must be reassessed as soon as possible.
“It’s absolutely crucial that the DWP looks again at the broken PIP assessment to ensure people with long-term conditions get the support they so desperately need, rather than rigging the system against them.”
Laura Wetherly, from the MS Society, also expressed the concerns of the multiple sclerosis charity regarding the new procedure.
“We’re concerned about the number of people with MS being inappropriately reassessed, especially when we know assessments can cause stress and anxiety, and in some cases exacerbate MS symptoms. With more than 100,000 people living with MS in the UK, the PIP system needs to accurately reflect the realities of living with a fluctuating and progressive condition. Having a disability like MS is hard enough. People should be able to rely on support without fear of having it taken away.”