MS charity criticises UK government for ‘squandering’ millions on benefit rule

MS Society is urging Work and Pensions  Secretary Amber Rudd to scrap the 20 metre rule. Picture: Getty
MS Society is urging Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to scrap the 20 metre rule. Picture: Getty
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Benefits cuts for people with Multiple Sclerosis will cost the UK government more money than they save, according to a leading charity.

The MS Society said that although benefit cuts for people with the illness are expected to save the government £83.3 million over three years, this will be outweighed by knock-on taxpayer costs amounting to more than £92.7m.

More than 100,000 people live with MS in the UK and nearly one in six will lose out on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) support because of the “20 metre rule”.

This rule says people who can walk one step over 20m do not need the highest rate of mobility component.

As a result of this rule, thousands with MS have been stripped of their Motability cars and left trapped in their homes and unable to work, seen their health deteriorate, and been forced to face stressful and lengthy appeals to get their benefits reinstated.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has insisted its 20 metre rule would not have “any significant additional cost implications” for other government departments. But the MS Society has found the rule has not only failed people with MS, it’s also had a disastrous impact on public finances.

Ahead of the UK government considering its spending plans within the Spending Review, the MS Society has sent a report to the DWP detailing massive extra costs directly related to the 20 metre rule. This includes significant costs to the DWP itself.

Additional costs for the years 2020-23 (the review period) include: £22.3m cost to the NHS on increased use of GP, A&E and counselling services, £57.4m in lost tax revenue from people with MS and their carers having to reduce hours or leave work, £11.4m in extra benefit payments (Employment and Support Allowance and Carer’s Allowance) for people who left work and £1.7m in processing extra appeals and reassessments.

Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said: “We’ve long known about the enormous harm caused when PIP takes vital support away from people with MS. Our new report shows for the first time that this harm is rebounding on the UK government: the knock-on costs from people losing support are greater than the original cuts. So the UK government is squandering millions from the public purse while derailing lives.

“Scrapping this senseless rule would stop this unnecessary waste and help people with MS finally get the support they need. MS can be painful and exhausting, it shouldn’t be made harder by a welfare system that doesn’t make sense.”

According to the MS Society, the condition can increase living costs by around £200 a week, with one in three people with MS losing support, primarily due to the 20 metre rule.

As part of its MS: Enough campaign, the MS Society is urging Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to scrap the 20 metre rule and agree in consultation with disabled people, healthcare professionals and charities on a new measure of mobility support. Since the campaign launched in 2018, more than 36,000 people across the country have called on the UK government to scrap the rule.