Last week I attended an assessment for Personal Independence Payment or as it’s more commonly known as PIP. This wasn’t the first time that I’ve had to go to one of these appointments. I previously applied to receive the additional payment earlier in the year after the DWP told me that I was entitled to it, only to be categorically denied it with a big fat score of zero. I could put that unfortunate result down to a number of things. Firstly, the fact that the application paperwork is ridiculously difficult to complete and secondly the fact that I had a mad dash around Bristol City Centre before my appointment in order to try and find the assessment centre. I ended up arriving almost an hour late that time because despite the best efforts of Google Maps I just couldn’t find the damn place.
So this time I made a real effort to fill in the application form properly, rather than just writing the truth of how my condition affects me on a day to day basis, I instead chose to follow a helpful guide on the Citizens Advice website that told me what to include and how to phrase it. It doesn’t help of course that both the application form and the actual assessment itself is heavily leaned towards people with a physical disability and not people with a mental illness. All the questions seem to relate to things such as how your condition affects your ability to cook a meal or how your condition affects your ability to go to the toilet. In fact, the only question on the entire form that seemed to have any real relevance to my mental illness was the one about my ability to mix with other people. The rest? Irrelevant.
So once I had sent the completed form off – well, I say form. It’s more like a bloody workbook – I waited for the PIP people to invite me to another assessment. Which they duly did, this time at a physiotherapists in the centre of Salisbury. Because a physiotherapist is perfectly positioned to assess somebodies mental well-being aren’t they?
My assessment was much the same as my first one earlier in the year. I was asked the same questions again that were on the application form. While the assessor, who had the most condescending voice and manner of all time, tapped away furiously on his computer keyboard and didn’t bother to look at me. This was an assessment by numbers and deeply impersonal.
Once the assessment was completed and I had given the assessor some additional evidence to support my claim from my GP and the Royal United Hospital, I was then told that the decision would not be made there and would in fact be made by somebody else up north who had never met me. Brilliant. I’ll get a decision in 6-8 weeks apparently, which I’m already predicting will be negative. But I will be appealing this time. Everyone from my GP to the Citizens Advice Bureau to the DWP themselves have said that I should be receiving the payment as I am unable to work. So this time I’m not going down without a fight.
The whole system is messed up though. Really it is. In my opinion there ought to be a separate application form for those suffering with mental health issues. Rather than asking whether the individual is able to cook a meal or have a shower they ought to be asking about some of the extreme side effects of the different medications that we have to take. Or perhaps how often we think about hurting ourselves or taking our own lives. Or even the loneliness and boredom that we experience during a typical week and how it affects our overall mental state.
Mental health issues shouldn’t be lumped in with physical disabilities. Somebody who suffers with Bipolar won’t have the same struggles as somebody who is paralysed from the waist down for example and it’s about time our government realised that.