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18 January 2012

Disability benefits campaigners claimed that the result of the debate on personal independence payment (PIP) in the Lords last night was a victory, in spite of losing the vote on a crucial amendment.

Peers rejected, by 16 votes, an amendment that would have obliged the DWP to run a trial of the proposed PIP assessment system before introducing it nationally.

39 crossbench peers voted with disability campaigners and only 13 against, demonstrating that campaigners won the argument where peers with no political allegiance were concerned.  The vote was won for the government largely because it had the almost complete support of whipped Lib Dem peers, with 65 voting with the government and only two rebelling.

However, leading Spartacus Report campaigner Sue Marsh claims in her blog, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, that in order to win the vote, Freud had to concede almost everything that the campaigners were asking for. 

For example, regulations for PIP will now have to be published and voted on by the parliament rather than just going through on the nod of the minister after the Act has been passed, as the government had intended.

According to Marsh:

“This is crucial. It means that all the details still missing on assessments, weightings and entitlement criteria will have to be agreed by both the Commons and the Lords before they can go ahead. This is what we most needed and is a huge concession. It means the Government cannot sneak unfit plans through without the agreement of parliament. I can't stress enough what a win this was and how resistant ministers had previously been to the demand.”

In addition, rather than launching a full blown process of assessing all new and current claims from April 2013, as had been planned, Freud has now set out a much more gradual introduction.  

There will now  only be a few thousand new PIP claims a month in the first months of implementation.  If this goes smoothly, all new claims will then be for PIP rather than disability living allowance (DLA) in the following months. 

Existing DLA claimants will only be assessed for PIP six months after the benefit has been introduced.  Initially, this will only be DLA claimants whose fixed-term award is ending and claimants who report a change of circumstances.

Freud also gave an undertaking that there would be independent assessments after two years and four years, with a third also to be held if there were still concerns.

So, although the government saved themselves the embarrassment of yet another defeat over the welfare reform bill, Marsh argues that they did this only by giving campaigners what they wanted:

“When I took on the Spartacus Report, I hoped that in some small way it might put pressure on the Government. That somehow, it might make people think. I never in a million years thought it would result in real changes to the plans for PIP. It did, and every last one of us should sit back in amazement and really take in what we did. We embarrassed the Government. We embarrassed them so much, they would certainly have lost yesterday if they hadn't moved significantly. We won three amendments to ESA. We changed the structure and implementation of PIP . . . Did you ever - ever - think we would do any of that?”