‘How many fingers am I holding up at a benefits system which leaves people feeling even more disabled’

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Joe Kenny

Joe Kenny, who lost his sight at the age of five, is not amused by the ‘ridiculous test’ that people with disabilities go through as part of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment

So, if you’re really blind, how many fingers am I holding up?” An echo of a question that rings in my ears from when I was a child. Kids would lead off with this question to test whether I was telling the truth about being blind. Sometimes it was just innocent inquisitive childs’ play and sometimes it wasn’t.

Why am I recalling this echo from my past? Well, it strikes me that, parts of the assessment for Personal Independence Payment, more commonly known as PIP, which has been replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) since 2016, is asking us the claimants, just that.

Applicants are asked to perform a ridiculous test by the assessor and how you do is then used in the assessment of eligibility for the benefit. Now in of and of itself, being asked to prove your disability in order to get ‘free money’? I’ve heard some say that’s hardly unreasonable.

But allow me to drop a context boom here.

So your assessment date has finally arrived after jumping the first hurdle of filling out the forms, which I might add, only come in print and therefore are not accessible to me or any other blind person who only happen to be the subject of this application process.

You’ve had to find someone to assist you as you can’t fill out the forms. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as sight loss charities have decided not to do that anymore. Yep, I don’t get it either.

You have an eye condition that’s probably been diagnosed by an ophthalmic consultant. It even has a name, that you can Google and everything.

Now you’d think, wouldn’t you, that Capita, the professional body that are about to assess your eligibility for this benefit would request a medical breakdown of your sight loss and visual acuity from a doctor who’d know, wouldn’t you?

Uh, no, you’d be wrong. Instead they ask you to behave like a performing seal and pull off some undefeatable act of blind sight lossery. “Try and read this print document?” Or here’s an absolute belter: “Could you stand on one leg?” I kid you not, this is an actual question that was asked of someone during their PIP assessment.

There’s a strange trend to that, a person arriving to the assessment unaccompanied is presumed not to need as much financial support as someone who arrives with a family member, sighted guide or some other light dependent person. So this half-hour assessment in an uncontrolled environment conducted by someone who has no specialist knowledge about disability or the condition in question, is how we are going to assess you, the person who lives with it day in, and day out.

Look, it’s a fact, disability means you spend more money on life stuff. Buying food, reading, communicating and going to where you need to go, when you need to go there, takes longer and costs more.

And if you listen really hard, you might just hear the sound of those who believe that we’re faking it, making it and taking money we don’t deserve. I’d give up every penny I ever received from welfare benefits if it meant I didn’t have to spend hundreds of pounds on taxis each month or rely on overpriced technology to just get stuff done each day and now I’m being asked to demonstrate the challenges I face by performing some sort of Christmas cracker disability stunt.

I’m gonna let you into a little secret, shall I? When it comes to form filling time, as it must for the best of us, we have to go to that bad place in our heads.

Paint the picture of the worst day, the type of scenarios that really leave you feeling very disabled and will probably make you squirm in your seat as you recall your secrets to someone who is drawing assumptions from what you say right there and then.

And we don’t talk about this. Why? Because of unspeakable, diminishing, shame. On one hand, we say to people with a disability your dignity is in your power, fight for your right to independence and an accessible society in which you, me, we, can all play an equal part.

And then once you’ve cultivated a little bit of your own self-esteem, self-worth even, just try getting through a PIP assessment with your dignity intact, and boom, how do you feel now?

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade but mind the PIP won’t you?

So how many fingers am I holding up at a benefits system which ultimately leaves people feeling even more disabled and feeling like they’re committing some sort of fraud against their neighbour.

Well, I’ll let you decide.

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