32% of claimants with mental health conditions end up with no award at all when they are moved from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence payment (PIP), a study by academics at the University of York has revealed today. The figure is much higher than for physical health conditions.

Mental versus physical
According to the report, DLA claimants with a mental health condition are 2.4 times more likely than claimants with a physical health condition to be awarded nothing at all when they are assessed for PIP.

The academics looked at DWP statistics relating to a range of physical and mental health conditions, where a DLA claimant had been through the assessment process for PIP between April 2013 and October 2016.

They chose a broad range of mental health conditions and compared these with a range of physical health conditions.

The physical conditions included ‘visible and non-visible, chronic and potentially relapsing health problems’ in order to make the two groups as comparable as possible.

The refusal numbers and percentages are shown below.

All psychiatric conditions 47,741 (32.1%)

Psychosis 22,661 (31.0%)
Personality Disorder 1,953 (31.0%)
Psychoneurosis (anxiety and mood disorders) 17,391 (33.0%)
Behavioural disorders 1,120 (32.0%)
Alcohol and drug use 1,456 (28.0%)
Hyperkinetic syndrome (ADHD) 3,160 (40.0%)

All physical conditions 29,323 (16.4%)

Musculoskeletal conditions (arthritis, back pain, diseases of muscles, bones, joints) 20,226 (13.6%)
Neurological conditions (multiple sclerosis, epilepsy) 7,392 (29.6%)
Diabetes Mellitus 1,705 (31.0%)

The lowest refusal rate for mental health relates to substance misuse, where 28% of claimants get no award. At the top end is ADHD, where a huge 40% receive nothing. Other conditions all range between 31% and 33% refusal rates.

On the physical health side, diabetes has a 31% refusal rate whilst conditions such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy are at 29.6%.

But much more common, and perhaps more easily understood, conditions such as arthritis and back pain have a much lower refusal rate of 13.6%.

The figures show then that in the 3.5 years that the study covered, almost 50,000 people who were receiving some help from the state in connection with their mental health had that help abruptly withdrawn. In many cases the stress of the assessment process, and the subsequent refusal, is likely to have made their condition significantly worse.

The financial help was taken away not because their condition had improved, but simply because the goalposts had been moved in an attempt to save cash.

And also possibly, as the report’s authors note, because as of November 2017, a meagre 16.6% of Atos PIP assessors had a mental health background.

As one of the authors of the paper, Professor Kate Pickett, argues:

“Our study provides robust evidence that the benefits system discriminates against those with mental illness. The government needs to take notice and take action to ensure that those with mental illness are treated fairly.”

One surprising suggestion came from Professor Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who said:

“We can provide the best treatment in the world for our patients but if they can’t afford accommodation, heating or food this will be ineffective.

“It is essential that clinicians know how to support their patients in applying for the benefits they are entitled to.”

There are probably many claimants who would hugely benefit from, but struggle to obtain, a detailed and relevant letter of support for their PIP claim from their psychiatrist

Shambolic lottery
This study only looked at the percentage of claimants who received no award. We have no information about which claimants got a PIP award that was significantly lower or higher than their DLA award.

What we do know, however, from the recent Office for Budget Responsibility report is that overall, PIP is actually costing 20% more than DLA.

So there must be winners as well as losers.

There must be some health conditions for which a higher proportion of claimants are getting awards, or getting higher awards, in order to more than offset the mental health claimants who are losing out.

But it’s unlikely that this was a matter of policy intent. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that the DWP could even tell you who the winners and losers are.

They have simply turned disability benefits into another shambolic lottery for no other reason than a failed desire to cut costs.

And claimants with mental health conditions appear to be the people paying the price.

You can read more about the report Discrediting experiences: Outcomes of eligibility assessments for claimants with psychiatric compared to non-psychiatric conditions transferring to Personal Independence Payments in England on the University of York website


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