Woman with multiple sclerosis speaks out about benefit cuts

Gill Willis, 61, from Bicester, had to fight to have her full disability benefit reinstated after it was downgraded by an assessor. PNL-170831-110953001
Gill Willis, 61, from Bicester, had to fight to have her full disability benefit reinstated after it was downgraded by an assessor. PNL-170831-110953001

A woman from Oxfordshire who has multiple sclerosis has spoken out about her nine-month fight to keep her full disability benefits.

Gill Willis, 61, from Bicester uses a mobility scooter and a zimmer frame to get around after being diagnosed with the condition in 1990.

She has been receiving disability living allowance (DLA) but was reassessed last year after she was moved onto personal independence payment (PIP) which has replaced DLA.

But after her assessment, in which the assessor deduced Mrs Willis’ ability to pick up her handbag meant she could hold a knife, her payment was downgraded. She said: “If she’d asked me to go into the kitchen and cut an onion she would’ve seen I wouldn’t have been able to.”

Mrs Willis challenged the decision at a tribunal in April. The full rate was reinstated when she told them she needed her husband’s help to take medication.

“The assessor didn’t appreciate how unpredictable MS can be – how you can be perfectly capable one day and perfectly incapable another. The process needs to be changed so that assessors have a proper understanding of MS.”

New figures from a Freedom of Information request made by the MS Society have revealed since the PIP was introduced in 2013 nearly one in three people, around 2,600, have had their payments downgraded from the highest rate mobility component of DLA or stopped following reassessment.

The MS Society has calculated a loss of at least £4,867,200 a year from all those receiving the highest rate of mobility.

A department for work and pensions spokesman said: “Under PIP 36 per cent more MS claimants receive the highest rate of support than under DLA. We recognise symptoms of MS can fluctuate over time, and regular reassessments mean we can ensure people with degenerative conditions get the help they need as their condition changes. Assessments consider illnesses which affect sufferers during the majority of days in a year, rather than just on someone’s ‘best days’ or assessing ability on a single day.”

He added assessments for PIP were carried out by qualified health professionals who were trained in assessing the impacts of a variety of disabilities, including MS.