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Personal independence payments: benefit for the government

It's clear, argues Peter White, that the new personal independence payments Will serve the government's main purpose which is getting the welfare bill down.

It must be an odd job, being asked to sort out who isn't quite disabled enough to qualify for benefits to help with transport or care costs. I wonder how you measure your success when you go home at night.

'Ah! That plan I made today should weed out that old codger across the road I saw stagger at least 30 metres without a sign of anyone helping him! Thinks he needs a car. There's a perfectly good bus which comes to the end of the road once every other Wednesday! He can get on that, can't he.'

Or maybe it's more like 'young Jane next door thinks she needs help with her care costs, keeping her house cleaner and getting someone to help her read the train indicator board at the station. Pah! I distinctly saw her looking into a shop window the other day with that powerful magnifier.'

An exaggeration? Not really. After all, how else can this job have been presented to the civil servants who have been asked to cut at least 20 per cent from the Disability Living Allowance budget when it's replaced by personal independence payments?

By my calculations, there are only two ways civil servants can do that: either cut the numbers of people eligible for the new benefit, or pay less to the people who do qualify for it. And judging by the jolly satisfaction with which the Minister for Disabled People presented the fact that there should be 600 thousand less people in receipt of the PIPs by 2018 to the Commons, they've gone for the former option.

Oh yes, of course. There is another way of presenting the government's aim. They say that they want PIPs to help the most severely disabled people.

On the face of it, you could be forgiven for thinking that this meant that there would be more financial help for some groups; but there's no evidence of that so far (we don't know anything about the rates at which PIPs will be paid). What we do know is the unequivocal aim of knocking as much off the benefits bill as possible.

Even if you do take the government's line of giving more money to severely disabled people at face value, I continue to question, as I have in this column quite often, the direct relationship between severity of disability and need. There can be a relationship, of course. But if the government is really serious about its claim that the new benefit should be based on your level of need rather than the nature of your disability, then surely you need a more subtle instrument of judgment than the point-scoring method we have at the moment.

I am at a loss to understand how being able to walk 21 paces unaided makes you any less in need of help with your transport than someone who can walk 19 paces or how someone with partial sight struggling to read street and station signs should not qualify for daily living costs. But on the whole, the press, and therefore by extension the public, don't seem very bothered by these potential injustices, and therefore may only become so when their friends are affected, by which time it will be too late to do anything about it.

The announcement was slipped out on 13 December when most people were more concerned about whether little Jason's games console would be delivered on time, or which in-law to go to on which day of Christmas. But, with the honourable exception of We are Spartacus, there has been barely a whimper. Compare that to the reaction to the fact that some families with a combined income of more than £80 thousand a year might be losing child benefit. I'm a supporter of universal benefits but, if we're talking about fairness - correct me if i'm wrong - isn't having children a choice we made! I wasn't aware that disability came into that category.

So, sleep well constructors of PIPs and don't let your dreams be disturbed by the old codger across the road taking that fateful 21st unaided step!

·Cartoon by ed cetera

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