SDLP Councillor Angela Mulholland has hit out at the Department for Communities criticising its treatment of PIP claimants, particularly those with mental ill health. Councillor Mulholland has described the application process as unsupportive, degrading and exhausting.
“As confirmed by last month’s High Court ruling, the British Government’s PIP changes ‘blatantly discriminated’ against people with mental health problems. This once again highlights the callous nature of welfare reform.
I know first-hand from dealing with constituents that the application process for PIP is having a detrimental impact on already vulnerable people’s lives.
“The process doesn’t accurately assess mental health and wellbeing. It is a ‘functionality’ test that demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the nuances and fluctuations of mental health. The system relies upon antiquated indicators of mental ill health, for example, was the person rocking, were they trembling, what were they wearing, can they make eye contact, have they washed?
I would stress that the fact that you don’t present with these indicators on the day does not negate the presence of a mental health condition.
I also fail to see how the current system caters for people with fluctuating conditions, such as, bipolar. There seems to be a lack of understanding that although people with bipolar can sometimes present as well, they can also become very rapidly unwell and experience unimaginable days.
It is also clear to me that the process actually exacerbates mental health problems. I know of deserving applicants who have dropped out of the system or who have been put off applying in the first place because of the stress involved.
I know of a significant number of cases that have been overturned at mandatory reconsideration or the gruelling tribunal stage which also points to an obvious flaw in the system.
I, along with my SDLP colleagues, continue to impress upon the Department of Communities the need for parity of esteem between mental and physical health and a complete revision of the assessment process. We have written to the Department of Communities asking how many people in Northern Ireland will be affected by the recent High Court judgment and how quickly those with mental health problems will be afforded the support they need.