Are questionnaires for personal independence payments out of sync with the 'vision'?

For many the experience of being interviewed to check for eligibility for a personal independence payment can be demoralising and disempowering. Pamela Holmes, consultant and novelist recounts her friend's experience. 

I watched my friend Ian (not his real name) burst into tears. We were in his sitting room. He’d asked me to attend the face-to-face meeting he was required to have with an independent health professional to discuss how his condition affected daily life and thus his eligibility for a Personal Independence Payment.

I have known this man for years; we had worked together before he’d had a stroke at 46 years of age. He coped with characteristic pluck and determination with the resulting hemiplegia, rehabilitation and discharge back home where he’s lived alone as a wheelchair user in his adapted flat for over ten years.

The council funds care three times a day, helpers who provide him with personal care and to undertake household tasks. When he needs to go to the toilet at times when the carers are not present, he resorts to funding the extra care himself. He lives on benefits.

Over a cup of tea, we talked about what had happened. ‘The questions were all about what I can’t do,’ he said. ‘I try hard to live a good and independent life. But I had to focus on what I couldn’t do, really point it out, because if I didn’t, my PIP might be reduced’.

The interview had been humiliating and saddening. Clearly this was not the personal intention of the health professional employed to follow in accordance with the questionnaire. But when the public purse is under pressure and there is a drive to ensure support and payments are targeted, then questions must be asked.

In the briefing paper, The Asset-based Area, Alex Fox Shared Lives Plus Chief Executive discusses the ten features of an ‘asset-based area’ that are necessary to develop strong communities and sustainable public services. The report describes planning and support models such as ‘Local Area Coordination’ and ‘Wellbeing teams’ that are being used to achieve asset-based practice.  Many of those working in the wider public sector would agree that a focus on what people and organisations can do with the right support, rather than to highlight and emphasise what they can’t achieve, is the right way forward. Alex Fox makes the point that not until the whole system shifts and aligns around this changed perspective will there be comprehensive and meaningful change to promote wellbeing, resilience, independence and the ability to self-care. 

There are areas in the country which have taken on this approach successfully. Unfortunately this approach had not informed my friend Ian’s PIP questionnaire. Until it does, interviewees should beware. Like many other people who live with a disability, Ian takes a positive attitude towards his life, focusing each and everyday on what he can achieve and finding support for the things he cannot manage to do without assistance. He was not asked to demonstrate this to the PIP interviewer. There is, it seems, disconnection between the asset-based ‘vision’ for engaging and engaged communities and the reality for those who have to navigate the benefit system.   



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