Revealed: people with cancer, arthritis and amputees among 40% denied UK disability benefits

The government is rejecting more than 40% of applications for disability benefit from people with multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy and arthritis – and one in four applications from amputees, the Observer can reveal.

Analysis of personal independence payment (Pip) disability benefit data for England and Wales shows that thousands of applicants with illnesses such as cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and emphysema were turned down by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) between August 2023 and January 2024.

The Pip assessment is based on applicants’ ability to perform specific activities. The figures highlight the enduring difficulties faced by people with fluctuating conditions when applying for Pip, at a time when the government has focused on rising claims based on anxiety, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), announcing plans last month to curtail spending on Pip.

“These statistics show that Pip is not an easy benefit to get, contrary to the current government rhetoric, which says that too many people claim benefits and that they are undeserving,” said Rensa Gaunt of disabled people’s group Inclusion London.

“The high rates of Pip decisions overturned at tribunal with no additional information needed show that many disabled people are turned down for benefits they are eligible for.”

The Observer’s analysis shows that 45% of Pip applications based on MS were rejected – almost 1,100 out of the 2,451 decisions made during the six-month period.

“The Pip assessment has been failing people for over a decade,” said Charlotte Gill, head of campaigns and public affairs for the MS Society.

“Living with MS can be debilitating, exhausting and unpredictable. Pip is essential to help people manage the extra costs of MS and supports them to be more independent for longer.

“Instead of looking at cost-cutting measures, the government urgently needs to improve the Pip process so it accurately reflects the reality of living with unpredictable conditions.”

A particularly striking figure is that one in four applications from people with amputated limbs are rejected, with 207 applications turned down in six months.

“Often [Pip] assessors believe that a prosthesis can be worn constantly and do not account for rubbing, inability to wear due to discomfort, and heaviness and pain,” said Michelle Cardno, a welfare benefit lawyer and founder of Fightback4Justice, which helps people appeal against benefit refusals. “We win all [appeal] cases where a client is an amputee.”

Among the other rejection rates uncovered by the Observer were 40% of applicants with osteoarthritis and more than 40% of those with inflammatory arthritis, 40% of applications based on PTSD and 30% of applicants with Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s.

Also rejected were half of all applications based on cerebral palsy, nearly half of those with spina bifida and nearly 40% of those with muscular dystrophy.

The data also shows nearly one in five applicants with cancer are rejected, including nearly half of those with testicular cancer, a third of those with prostate cancer and 30% of those with bladder cancer.

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“Usually, it is lack of evidence of functional restriction that makes the claims fail in these cases,” said Cardno. “We submit diaries, statements from people who help and occupational therapy reports. Most of these things people would not think of or know they can get help with until they speak to us, so lack of understanding is one of the reasons many also fail.”

One of the highest rejection rates is for endometriosis, which can cause severe pelvic pain among women but often takes years for the NHS to diagnose. Just over 70% of Pip claims based on the condition are rejected.

“Living with endometriosis and in chronic pain can have a devastating effect on both physical and mental health, impacting people’s careers, finances and much more, so having the option to apply and be considered for Pip can be crucial to those with endometriosis,” said Claire Kelleher of Endometriosis UK.

Across all applications for Pip during the six-month period, 54% were accepted and 46% rejected.

A DWP spokespersonsaid: “We are modernising our disability benefit system to better target it towards those who need it most and ensure people with health conditions and disabilities are receiving the right support.

“We’re encouraging everyone to have their say and respond to our consultation, which includes questions on how the Pip assessment process can be changed.”

The Guardian