The DWP hoped we’d miss it changing the rules surrounding a crucial benefit. Wrong.

A ripped brown envelope and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) quietly updated the guidance for a key welfare payment on Monday 16 July. It probably hoped no one would notice – as the change seems to completely ignore a court ruling from December 2017.

The DWP: words are everything

The DWP has issued an update for assessors of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). It states that the update is for:

Part 2 [of the PIP assessment guide] – the term ‘anxious’ changed to ‘panicked’ in the illustrative example for descriptor B in activity 11 ‘planning and following journeys’.

The change forms part of the guidance for “Activity 11 – planning and following journeys”, an element within the PIP assessment on which assessors score claimants. It specifically relates to “descriptor B”, the second-lowest level on which people can score points towards their PIP claim (there are six levels in total). In context, “panicked” replaced “anxious”. Below is the DWP’s example of what a claimant would need to display to get the points for the descriptor:

The claimant becomes panicked before any journey and they are only able to get out of the door if someone provides encouragement and reassurance that there are no dangers or threats as a result of going outside.

This is instead of: “The claimant becomes anxious before any journey…”. The changing of one word may appear insignificant. But there’s a major reason why it’s not.

Ignoring a court judgement 

Firstly, the DWP was forced to change the Activity 11 part of the PIP guidance in June. This followed a court ruling in December 2017 which stated that this part of the PIP guidance was discriminatory against people living with mental health conditions.

A claimant, known as “RF”, brought the case against the government because she believed changes to the PIP would have a “significant negative impact” on her life. It was because the government had previously altered the PIP criteria around making journeys in such a way that people living with mental health conditions were adversely affected.

The court ruling specifically related [pdf, p11] to other descriptors, which the DWP has changed. But in now changing descriptor B, the DWP may well have re-discriminated against people living with mental health conditions.

A professional speaks

Clinical psychologist Dr Jay Watts explained the importance of the word change to The Canary:

It will essentially reduce the number of people who meet that part of the PIP criteria – saving the government money, yes. But this will be at the cost of the welfare of people with mental health conditions.

‘Panicked’ implies experiences akin to a panic attack – things like heart palpitations, sweating, thinking one is about to die or have a heart attack etc. It carries with it the idea of a response with a sudden onset clearly linked to going outside. Only a small subsection of mental health patients experience panic attacks whilst anxiety is a core feature in nearly all mental health conditions.

The term ‘anxious’ was a far more inclusive (though still problematic) term. Feeling anxious is an experience common to nearly all mental health conditions and there is less need to link it to a stand-alone episode. Unlike the word ‘panicked’. This is important as concern about going out tends to bleed into other anxieties and can be difficult to delineate from other concerns. The more general term ‘anxious’ also incorporated different forms of reactions to going out. For example, someone with a diagnosis of depression or schizophrenia might feel a blanket dread, a profound physical exhaustion or thought disorder as a response to the idea of going outside. Claimants are unlikely to categorise this as ‘panicked’, meaning they lose out on the financial support so crucial to improving quality of life.

A danger to claimants’ health

The Canary asked the DWP for comment, but it had not responded at the time of publication.

As Watts concluded:

One would have thought that the DWP would be bent on making the mobility criteria more inclusive after RF’s landmark high court victory on precisely this matter only seven months ago. Instead, we have yet another move seemingly designed to differentially discriminate against the majority of people with mental health conditions.

But with its track record on court cases, and when there have been five international reports (all scathing of the DWP and successive governments), observing the rule of law appears to be the last thing the department is concerned with. Its overriding preoccupation with forcing people into work is a danger to claimants’ health.

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Featured image via The Canary and UK government – Wikimedia

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