Welfare reform leaving one in four MS sufferers unable to heat their homes
A quarter of Scots with multiple sclerosis (MS) are cutting back on gas and electricity to get by because of cuts to their disability benefits, according to a new report.
A survey of more than 1,000 people from across the UK found that more than a third of people are finding that assessments are harming their health, with nearly half (48 per cent) of those who had an assessment for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) feeling the process caused their condition to deteriorate or relapse.
Around 36 per cent of those who had a face-to-face assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) said they felt the same.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society, which conducted the survey, said: “Having MS is enough. It should not be made harder by a welfare system that doesn’t make sense for people living with the condition.
“Lack of understanding of the condition and failure to use information from medical professionals is causing stress or contributing to relapses and deteriorating health.
“This is counterintuitive to a system designed to support people with disabilities.
“At their best, these benefits can enable people to work for longer, live rich, independent family lives and participate fully in society.
“The Government needs to recognise the reality of living with MS and make basic, common sense changes, fast.”
Of those who completed the survey, 242 had had an assessment for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and 269 had had a face-to-face assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
Furthermore as a result of benefit changes, 9 per cent of respondents said they have reduced spending on attending hospital appointments, 9 per cent cut down on medical treatment or prescriptions, 32 per cent have cut down on food, 28 per cent have cut down on transport while 41 per cent have cut down on socialising with family and friends.
Michelle added: “Living with a chronic, disabling, neurological condition such as MS is hard - it is also expensive. There are often substantial extra costs which add an average of £200 a week to the household bills.
“Steps must be taken to make sure the disability benefits system is working for those who rely on it or people with MS will continue to struggle.”
A new campaign by the MS Society called MS: Enough: Make welfare make sense is calling for disability benefits assessments to take into account the fluctuating and hidden symptoms of MS and their impact accurately and for the system to take adequate account of evidence provided by experienced professionals who understand the person’s condition.
The Society said existing criteria which do not reflect the barriers faced by people with MS should be changed and that people with MS should to be able to rely on support when they need it, without unnecessary burden or constant fear of having it taken away.
The campaign urges the UK government to undertake a full impact assessment of any further changes it undertakes to disability benefits – including the knock on effects on other areas of public spending such as health and social care – and to work with the disabled community and disability organisations to ensure that back to work support is adequate and addresses the barriers individuals face.