A Borders woman with multiple sclerosis has slammed the benefits process as the Scottish Government makes plans for a devolved system.
Barbara Hogarth, from Coldstream, was diagnosed with MS in September 1993 and has spoken out on how the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment failed her.
Shortly after being diagnosed with MS, she started receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and was given an indefinite award for the highest mobility and lowest care. In June 2017, Barbara was reassessed for PIP and was downgraded to the lowest standard rate for mobility and no care.
She successfully appealed, after a six month wait, to be given back the same level of support she had received on DLA.
Barbara said: “The assessment tested my reflexes and muscle power. I said I could do things once or twice but not repeatedly but I don’t think this was taken in. The assessor spent more time looking at his computer screen than me. All he seemed to want to do was tick boxes. If I said I could do something then the box got ticked, but I didn’t get the chance to explain anything further.
“My statements and substantial supporting medical evidence were largely disregarded. I had supplied contact details for my GP and consultant, and provided letters and reports from my optician and other therapists. But I couldn’t see how these were taken into account.
“Looking at my report, I had virtually been called a liar by the assessor. Nothing in the report matched up to reality.
“I don’t see how this system is helping anybody, when it has no reflection on a person’s mental or physical health. All it does is tell you whether you deserve money or not. It’s so demeaning to people.
“I have no faith in the assessment process but I’m trapped in it with no other means of essential support.”
More than 15,000 people live with MS in Scotland and nearly one in six will lose out on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) support because of the 20 metre rule. This rule says people who can walk one step over 20m don’t need the highest rate of mobility component. As a result of this rule, thousands with MS have been stripped of their Motability cars and left trapped in their homes and unable to work, seen their health deteriorate, and been forced to face stressful and lengthy appeals to get their benefits reinstated.
Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said: “We’ve long known about the enormous harm caused when PIP takes vital support away from people with MS. Not only does the process lack respect for people and their lives but arbitrary and nonsensical conditions like the 20-metre rule can deprive people of vital support.
“We welcome commitments by the Scottish Government to reform the assessment system when it becomes devolved but it is essential that the 20-metre rule is scrapped to ensure that people with MS get the support they need. MS can be painful and exhausting, it shouldn’t be made harder by a welfare system that doesn’t make sense.”