In a recent post on this blog, I wrote about faulty breast implants (PIPs) and the cost to the taxpayer of removing and/or replacing them on the NHS. This post is about a different type of PIP - the government's Personal Independence Payment which is to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2013. To be eligible for PIP, you must be aged between 16 and 64, satisfy a daily living and/or mobility activities test for three months prior to claiming and be likely to continue to satisfy this test for a period of at least nine months after claiming (you can tell this is government-speak); pass a residence and presence test; and pass a habitual residence test, whatever that may be.
This new PIP is obviously designed to root out all the malingerers who have been claiming DLA on false pretences, using fake or faint disabilities to reap the award and cheat the Big Society taxpayer. That there are such malingerers about, I don't doubt for a second; but where does this change from DLA to PIP leave the bona fide claimant? I suppose the government would argue that if these others are genuinely bona fide, they should have nothing to fear from a new set of eligibility tests. But I smell a rat. As it stands, DLA is one of the toughest benefits to claim: the application form is enough to test the sharpest minds, let alone those weakened by illness or disability. Metastatic cancer has been given disability status, but when I tried to claim DLA in 2005 after I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, I was fobbed off, first by a Macmillan nurse and then, when I persisted, by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). It was only when I was in a catatonic state after my treatment for a brain metastasis four years later that I was approved for DLA, and that was due to the kind lady from the Citizens' Advice Bureau who helped me with the form by going through the questions with me and acting as my scribe. Had I had to fill the form in on my own, I wouldn't have had the energy, although I had had to stop work and desperately needed the money. I gave up the first time because I had some private health insurance to fall back on (although that shouldn't have affected DLA), but by the time I'd reached the brain tumour stage, I needed the benefit safety net.
I don't mind undergoing a PIP test in 2013, but I am wondering how they are going to gauge the level of my disability on a day-to-day basis. That I have a long-term disability I am in no doubt, and I am on Herceptin and Tamoxifen indefinitely to defend me from what my consultant calls further trouble; but I have good days and bad days. Since my treatments in 2009 (two craniotomies, the second one to stop the march of meningitis, cartloads of steroids and antibiotics; and the largest dose of radiotherapy I could have received without it killing me), I have made a slow but uncertain recovery from the effects of all these interventions. This means I have disabled days, when I am laid out by fatigue or veering side to side when I walk more than forty yards, and better days, when I am able to do simple household chores, so long as I don't reach up - reaching up and turning round too quickly make me dizzy and I lose my balance. I know that I will be living with these side effects for a very long time, not to mention the threat of further trouble, which is why I can't commit myself to regular work outside the online work I do at home, and this is why I rely on my DLA. I know I won't be the only one in this position.