by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I have a friend who has been quite severely disabled since birth. His problem has left him with limbs which are slightly twisted and very unreliable. He has trouble walking and certainly can’t manage any speed greater than a determined plod. His hands have trouble holding things and I know he was always given extra time to complete exams at school because he took so long to write anything.

Despite these problems, he’s a very clever and witty man, and he’s never let his physical difficulties stop him getting around. He used to accompany our group of pals on such diverse things as pub crawls and gentle hill walks, and he never, ever complained although once or twice he did turn back if the going underfoot became too rough.

After school, he went to university, qualified as a lawyer and has held down a job for many years. Now that he’s approaching retirement, he’s finding things becoming even tougher since, with the aging process, his limbs are even less reliable than they used to be when he was younger. He manages without a wheelchair, but needs a walking stick and preferably someone to hang onto when walking. Nowadays he can’t walk very far at all. Like many disabled people, though, he is able to laugh at himself and has always kept his sense of humour.

Recently, though, he had to undergo a PIP assessment because he was due to be transferred out of the old Disability Living Allowance scheme. I was a bit worried for him because he is able to do a lot of things which I thought might disqualify him from earning PIP points. Fortunately, he has been granted PIP, but his comments about the process were quite revealing.

He told me, “It’s quite depressing to have to go into a room and justify just what a pathetic and inadequate human being you are."

Which sums up the PIP concept perfectly. Rather than a system which is designed to assist disabled people cope with the inevitable extra costs their disability incurs so that they can participate more readily in society, it seems designed to degrade people and make them feel worthless. Rather than allowing disabled people to cope with finding a job, it seems to rely on making them feel totally inadequate.

Most disabled people I know like to concentrate on the things they can do, but PIP forces them to focus on the things they cannot do. If you are lucky enough to receive some financial help from PIP, then the cost to your sense of self-worth is not insignificant because you can be made to feel that you are scrounging from your fellow citizens.

The way PIP has been implemented has made it a cruel and heartless system at the best of times. The number of people who have been refused assistance despite having significant physical or mental problems is appalling. Yet even those who succeed in their claims are left feeling somehow tainted by the experience.

As with so many aspects of life, the UK Government is showing us how not to do things. But is there a better way?

it must be said that the principal problems with PIP are the actual assessments themselves. Untrained examiners with targets to hit result in far too many genuinely disabled people being disqualified from PIP. People have lost their Motability cars, some have lost jobs and some have even taken their own lives. So, while the broad concept of PIP can perhaps be viewed as well-intentioned, the implementation of the scheme has caused immense societal harm. The Scottish Government does seem to be adopting a more humane approach in its construction of the Scottish Welfare system, although only time will tell whether this will work better than PIP when put into practice. And, of course, the DWP will retain control over most aspects of Social Security, so the Scottish Government’s efforts will, at best, be a mere sticking plaster on the injuries inflicted by PIP.

A possible solution could be Universal Basic Income. This is gaining in popularity as a societal change which could make a huge difference to many lower paid or unemployed workers. It would result in the removal of Personal Tax Allowances and most Social Security Benefits, but would provide each citizen with an income which should provide a reasonable, if basic, standard of living. From an administrative point of view, it would cut out a lot of red tape. From the perspective of people who are self-employed or on zero-hour contracts, it would provide a safety net. For those who find themselves out of work, it would remove the stress of being forced to meet ludicrous targets for job applications simply in order to obtain some basic State assistance. There is a great deal to be said for UBI, and we’ll be watching developments and trials with interest.

However, we must not forget that having a disability inevitably results in additional costs for such things as specialised equipment and even simple things like transport. Many disabled people struggle with public transport and need to rely on taxis to get about. That’s not cheap, even though some Councils operate discounted schemes. So, even if UBI becomes a reality, some sort of additional Social Security Benefit will probably be needed by the disabled. Let’s hope that, in an independent Scotland, we can come up with something which is rather more humane than PIP.