Disabled people are disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis, with charity Scope estimating households with a disabled person face extra costs of £975 a month.
“Last Christmas I didn’t even have a pound to put on my gas and electric and things got worse as travelling to and from physio was costing me a lot on diesel,” Shirley added.
The record number of people experiencing delays comes as The Big Issue continues its series investigating the failures of the DWP disability benefits system, with scores of readers writing to share their experience of being “mistakenly” refused their benefits.
Aidan, an amputee who had his disability benefits reduced, told The Big Issue: “I was driven to severe psychological trauma to the point of being suicidal.” He later had his PIP restored to its full level, but it was too late after months of worry about ending up homeless.
The DWP has taken steps to halve wait times for new PIP applications from six to three months, according to Citizens Advice, but hundreds of thousands are still being left to wait too long for a review of their payments.
The DWP cannot keep up with growing demand for PIP. Between January and April 2023, 210,000 people made a new claim, but the DWP has reportedly failed to recruit and train enough staff to keep up.
Meanwhile, disability benefits assessors reportedly face pressures to “ramp up numbers” of assessments with little empathy for vulnerable claimants.
Whistleblowers previously told The Big Issue the disability benefits system is target-driven and designed “to catch people out”, with some being driven to panic attacks because of the pressure to hit quotas. Some assessors leave within months because they cannot cope.
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“It is run as a business,” one former assessor said. “It is not run to help people. As long as it’s run like that, nothing will change. It will remain target-driven. It will remain profit-based. It is not putting the best interest of the people using the system at its heart.”
The DWP has claimed to have a 92% satisfaction rate and a spokesperson said it “helps support millions of disabled people every year to claim the help they are entitled to”.
Citizens Advice is calling on the government to increase the recruitment drive for disability assessors, reduce the number of healthcare assessments by making decisions based on paper applications and medical evidence, and to introduce temporary measures to help people while they wait for a review.
Matthew Upton, acting executive director of policy and advocacy at Citizens Advice, said: “PIP can act as a lifeline for so many people with extra living costs linked to their health condition. But right now, hundreds of thousands are being left in limbo while they wait for a health assessment with little clarity as to when their claim will be reviewed.
“Delays don’t just pose a financially agonising wait; they can take a significant emotional toll on people every single day. At a time when rising prices are putting immense pressure on disabled people’s budgets, we need a system that efficiently and effectively helps people with extra living costs – not one that causes more harm.”
Read more of our coverage of the DWP disability benefits system