Bishop of Winchester supports motion to regret changes to personal independence payments

winchester171116On Monday 27th March 2017, the House of Lords debated a Statutory Instrument introducing changes to the regulations governing Personal Independence Payments. Two motions relating to the regulations were debated, the first a motion to “annul” the regulations, and the second a motion to “regret”. The Bishop of Winchester spoke in favour of the second motion. Lord Henley responded on behalf of the Government. When put to a vote, the motion to annul was defeated, and the motion to regret agreed.

Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I have been asked to speak on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and a number of other Lords spiritual who are unable to be in their places today. Like them, I have serious concerns about the impact of the proposed changes to the personal independence payment on people with mental health problems. A number of the Lords spiritual wrote to the Secretary of State on 8 March seeking clarification on the rationale for the new legislation. I am not aware that they have received a reply. I wish to use this debate to reiterate these concerns and urge the Government to reconsider their position.

Our understanding is that the introduction of PIP was intended to create parity of treatment for people with mental and physical health problems by basing the assessment on a person’s ability to carry out certain tasks, irrespective of the nature of their disability. This is a fundamental principle that we strongly support, which has helped counter a long-standing bias within the benefits system against people who suffer from severe mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and autism. Explicitly limiting access to the enhanced rate of the mobility component for those who experience psychological distress undermines this fundamental aim by reintroducing an unhelpful distinction between people with physical and mental health conditions.

Crucially for this debate, this change appears to be inconsistent with the primary legislation, which makes it clear, as the Explanatory Notes underline, that people should be entitled to the higher rate of mobility component if,

“a person’s ability is severely limited by their physical or mental condition”.

Furthermore, it appears to be inconsistent with Ministers’ public statements at the time. People who find it difficult to leave the house because of anxiety, panic attacks and other mental health problems can be as restricted in their independence as people with physical mobility problems. They face the same additional barriers and costs as other disabled people, and should be scored accordingly against the same criteria. The amended regulations, however, would mean that people with these conditions would be assessed against only two of the six criteria for “planning and following journeys”, even though they may be unable to make familiar or unfamiliar journeys without the support of another person.

I am aware of the issues through the work of local mental health charities in my own diocese of Winchester. I understand from Jane Harvey, the head of home support at Solent Mind, which supports people with mental health problems in Southampton and across Hampshire, that she is in no doubt about the social isolation of many of her clients. Getting out of the house can be an extremely stressful experience for someone who suffers from paranoia, lacks confidence in social situations or feels unsafe in noisy, crowded environments, such as public transport. But these daily interactions are also vital to their mental and physical well-being, preventing them becoming even more isolated and enabling them to eat properly, pay their bills and attend important appointments. That is why it is so important that we seek to remove as many barriers to their mobility as possible through financial and other forms of support, and that we do not differentiate in a way that seems to be against people with mental health problems, whose condition can be just as debilitating as a physical disability.

I realise that, in practice, many people with mental health problems have until recently missed out on the mobility component of PIP. But we believe that the clarification provided by the Upper Tribunal ruling is more in keeping with the original intent of the legislation than the amendment tabled by the Government, opening up additional support to around 160,000 people with severe mental health problems.

From these Benches we would not want to be seen to be resisting the aims of the original legislation, but we need persuading that the amendments to PIP are not undermining the intended aims of the benefit. I shall be supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock.

Lord Henley (Extract): …It is important at this stage that I emphasise what the changes are not. They are not a policy change. They are not, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the noble Lord, Lord Low, seemed to imply, inconsistent with the primary legislation. They are bringing clarity to that legislation and to the regulations which we put forward, as the tribunal asked. In answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, they will not result in any claimants seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions. As said by my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State, in his Statement in the other place, which I repeated to this House, and to which the noble Baroness responded, there will be no further welfare savings in this Parliament beyond those already legislated for. It is inaccurate to describe this as a cut: it is merely the reassertion of the original policy intention…

Baroness Sherlock (Extract): I am grateful for the support from different Benches, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and my noble friend Lord McKenzie. I thank the Minister for his answers. I only wish they had been answers to the questions that I asked, or indeed any of those asked by the Social Security Advisory Committee or the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee…