As a gay man living with HIV since at least 1990, when I was diagnosed, I have always been extremely grateful and reliant on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – as have many others with HIV for whom it has been a life raft since it was introduced in 1992, ironically enough by Mrs Thatcher’s government. It is a benefit which is not means tested and which allows HIV positive people to return to work, part-time in my case, and still be assured that if they are unwell or unable to work full-time that they will have something to fall back on.
‘Many long-term recipients of DLA will not be eligible for PIP under the new harsh testing regime, which resembles the “computer says no” scenario from Little Britain.’
Several years ago I attended a meeting organised by Terrence Higgins Trust when it seemed that many of us who had been awarded DLA for life, could have that benefit stripped from us. There were people there, some of them in their 70s, with real terror in their eyes. Many had given up jobs and life insurance and for them, DLA is the only guarantee of any sort of quality of life. A recent article in the Guardian also referred to this.
The new Welfare Reform Act intends to abolish DLA from next year and replace it with PIP, Personal Independence Payments. It is clear from debates during the passing of the legislation and from Department of Work and Pensions statements since, that the aim is to remove half a million recipients from DLA. Even worse, ATOS Medical Services, whose cut throat methods have recently been exposed in the Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ programme and elsewhere, have been given the contract to assess who should and should not receive PIP. The quota will be what drives the assessment and not any real need.
The process will start from next April with face-to-face interviews. It is likely that many long-term recipients of DLA will not be eligible for PIP under the new harsh testing regime, which resembles the “computer says no” scenario from Little Britain. What is even worse is that DLA is a gateway benefit, thus those refused PIP will also lose subsidised travel, housing benefit and many other benefits and be cast into the grinder of being dependent on Employment and Support Allowance. The impact, both in terms of mental and physical health, for many people living with HIV will be huge.
It is vital that people living with HIV join the campaigns being mounted against these huge benefit cuts and the demonisation of disabled people by the anti-cuts and disability movements. In Greece, for example, because of the severe cuts, only those whose CD4 cell count is below 200 receive benefits, with the result that some are allowing their health to fail to access food etc. Two organisations I am involved in are Coalition of Resistance, the national anti-cuts campaign and Queers Against the Cuts, fighting against the cuts for LGBT people, many of whom are HIV positive. We must fight together or we will sink together.