Tuesday 22 January 2013

20 Metres, Coming Up Short

The Coalition are proposing to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments, or PIP, and as part of the change, they are proposing to ‘clarify’ how much difficulty in walking you must have to qualify for the PIP version of what was the Higher Rate of Mobility Component of DLA. The previous level was that you had to have significant difficulty in walking 50m, this has now been ‘clarified’ to 20m, a 60% cut, or rather less than the distance between the stumps on a cricket pitch. In the shambolic performance by Minister for(?) Disabled People Esther McVey and her advisors before the Select Committee on Work and Pensions on Monday 21st January it became clear that the cut to 20m had been intended from the outset, and that references to 50m in all published drafts of the PIP descriptors except for the final one had been ‘inadvertently misleading’. The DWP’s Chief Medical Officer stated that 20m had been ‘intended to get someone from their car to the door of the supermarket’, only for (disabled) committee chair Anne Begg MP to ask him, ‘So it gets me to the door, what about getting me around the aisles?’ 

Taking advantage of Google Earth, I thought I would look at exactly how useful 20m is in the real world, by zooming in on the disabled parking in my local town centres, Rochester and Chatham, which should be fairly typical, and significantly better than many. In each case the yellow line on the image marks 20m from the nearest disabled bay towards the shops, banks and other facilities a disabled person might need to access, the arrow pointing towards where you would want to go.


First the major carpark (it isn’t normally used as a market as it was in the Google Earth picture), which only has six disabled bays near the High Street. As the High Street is up a small bank there is an accessible ramp, and 20m will barely get you to the top of it. Double it and a bit more and you might make it to the door of the local chemist/post office. (Town Centre redevelopment plans propose turning this car park into a square and relocating parking several hundred metres away).

Next the other group of disabled parking bays in the same car park, which are hidden away around its furthest corner, between the A2 dual carriageway and a bit of the old city wall (you really couldn’t make this up). 20m won’t even get you into the main carpark and there is quite literally nowhere else to go (and special kudos to Mr White-Van-Man for parking over 3 disabled bays).

Moving on we have the small disabled car park at the other end of the High Street, just four bays in this one, I think I have managed to park in it once in a decade. The line shows you that again 20m won’t get you on to the High Street, never mind to any of the shops or other facilities (the vehicle apparently parked closer is using a turning space).

Finally for Rochester, the spot I normally have to park in, because by the time I get over to Rochester, every disabled bay has inevitably long since been occupied. This is the closest legal on-street parking spot to the High Street on a Saturday, and 20m doesn’t get you remotely near it.


Chatham is perhaps an even more important test for disabled bays and 20m, because not only do we have the normal range of shops and banks, but also DWP’s Jobcentre Plus, and the Atos Assessment Centre.

The first of two large disabled parking areas is behind the theatre, less than ideally it is situated up a relatively steep bank. As can be seen, 20m will barely get you to the top of the ramp down to the High Street.

The second large disabled car park is tucked away at the back of the shopping centre (servant’s entrance yet again!), there are three potential directions out of this one, so I have combined the results from Google Earth onto one image. Heading out of the car park to top right takes you into the shopping centre, but only onto a corridor, barring a single cafĂ© it is another 100m to get to any shops and several hundred metres to the only post office in Chatham. To bottom left you have the choice of a rather icky alleyway towards the High Street, or a longer route that takes you to the High Street along the road, but the first half of that road has no footpath. Unfortunately 20m barely gets you out of the car park. And tucked away at the bottom left of the picture, 150m from the car park, is the Atos assessment centre (marked ‘A’) and another 20m beyond it the closest bank to any of Chatham’s disabled parking. To bottom right of the carpark is a pathway around the edge of the shopping centre, 20m will barely get you started on that route, but 200m away, across the dual carriageway, is the Jobcentre Plus (marked ‘J’).

There is one further car park with a couple of disabled bays, and a couple of on-street disabled bays next to it, 20m from that will get you to the 1st floor back door of one of the department stores, but not actually into it.

And that is it for Chatham Town Centre, as the High Street is surrounded by bypasses, there is no on-street parking that can usefully supplement the disabled bays.

And finally my local out of town supermarket. 20m will actually get you through the doors, but as Anne Begg pointed out, just getting in the door doesn’t actually do you much good.

Remember, in all of these cases I have measured from the closest disabled bay towards the nearest useful destination. In almost every case 20m from the furthest bay won’t even get you out of the disabled car park, and if you want to get to something other than the nearest destination, such as to any bank in either of the two town centres, and likely in the whole of the 265,000 population Medway Towns, then you are looking at considerably further. The last bank even remotely close to 50m from any of these disabled bays closed a few months ago, and you are now looking at significantly more than 100m to get to one. And demand for these disabled parking bays massively exceeds provision, the Chatham situation is so bad I go into the town centre about once a year, yet live less than 5 minutes drive away.

So there we have it, 20m may be the Coalition’s chosen mark for what constitutes a major mobility impairment, but it is so short a distance, less than the length of the floor of the Commons, that it is functionally useless, even with the help of a blue badge. So if 20m is so short that it can’t get you anywhere, why is 21m long enough that it no longer qualifies as a significant impairment?  

Thursday 17 January 2013

New rules judge you fit for work based on imaginary help #esaSOS

There are new regulations for Employment Support Allowance about to come into force on the 28th of January. These regulations were proposed only six weeks before they will come into force, leaving very little time for the impact to be considered.

Worse, these regulations make drastic changes to the assumptions made during the assessment that will result in even more people being refused sickness benefits or told to take part in work-related activity.

The two big changes are:

An assessor can consider what mobility aids, equipment, medical treatments or medicines might help the claimant return to work, and then, without consulting them as to whether the change is suitable, they can judge them fit for work or for work related activity based on them making that change. This completely ignores things like side-effects of medication, suitability of adaptions and mobility aids, or even if such help is available to the individual. This could already happen to some extent, such as with wheelchairs, but will now apply to a far wider range of changes. This also raises the huge problem of medical treatment without consent, since refusing to take a drug that could help a person return to work, even for very good reasons, could lead to benefits being withdrawn.

The second huge change is to how the the assessment considers the relationship between mental and physical health conditions. Where previously any disability or restriction could be applied to any activity, whether it was caused by mental problems or physical problems. These new regulations will strictly separate the two such that one set of questions considers purely physical restrictions, and another set purely mental restrictions. You may be completely unable to perform a task due to mental illness, but be considered able to physically and therefore able to full stop. This equally applies to side effects of medicines. For medicines that treat mental health conditions, only the impact of side effects ON mental health will be considered. Crippling physical side effects caused by treatment for mental health will be completely ignored when deciding that a person can work.

These changes will pull the rug from under the feet (or wheels) of hundreds of thousands more people who are struggling to live, never mind to earn a wage. Make no mistake; whatever the intention of these changes, this is a cut in support.

What you can do

The clearest analysis of these changes that I have read is from Ekklesia. Briefing on ESA Regulations [Ekklesia] I recommend that you read this.

Please write to your MP urgently to oppose these new regulations. You can find and contact your email through Write to Them. My own communication with my MP will be available on this blog later today.

Please share this and other blogs about this subject on Twitter with the hashtag #esaSOS as well as on Facebook and anywhere else you think suitable. A tweet of your own will have far more impact than a retweet.

Please also add your signature to the War On Welfare petition to call for a cumulative impact assessment of this government's welfare reforms.

Further Reading

DWP guidance on the changes: Memo DMG 1/13 [PDF]

The Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012 [legislation.gov.uk]

Diary of a benefit scrounger: ESA SOS

Thousands of disabled and sick people will be hit by new ESA/WCA changes [Ekklesia]