VULNERABLE people with learning disabilities and mental health problems are suffering in silence because of a controversial benefits shake-up says a concerned volunteer.

David Matthews (pictured) says the scrapping of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in favour of the Personal Independence Payment scheme (PIP) is heaping pressure on the city's most vulnerable people in the run up to Christmas.

The benefit case worker at Worcester CAB and WHABAC and his colleagues are doing all they can to help after some clients received a score of 'zero' in the PIP assessment despite having a complex range of physical problems, learning disabilities and mental health problems which he says should make them eligible for the benefit.

Under the system, which is being introduced nationwide in phases, a health professional assesses a person's eligibility for PIP against 10 key 'daily living' criteria and against a 'mobility' checklist.

Criteria include whether the person is able to prepare food, manage and monitor their health condition, wash themselves, cook, go to the toilet, dress and undress, communicate, read and write and manage money.

If the claimant is aged between 16 and 64 they could get between £22 and £141.10 a week by claiming PIP.

The points-based assessment is supposed to gauge a person's needs and has nothing to do with their means. To be entitled to the standard PIP rate they must score eight points, 12 points for the higher rate.

For example someone would score 10 points if they needed another person to place food in their mouth and eight points if they needed help with incontinence problems.

But in one case Mr Matthews has been helping a female client with physical and mental health problems and learning disabilities who was given a PIP score of zero, one of a series of such cases he is now dealing with.

He says she cannot walk unaided, cook for herself, read or write or complete practical tasks like using a cash machine.

The woman suffers from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, incontinence, arthritis, asthma and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Her physical problems are so pronounced she needs either two crutches or a push trolley to move around and also has a severely fractured leg which requires a calliper.

However, after her PIP assessment in November she lost her previous entitlement to more than £113 a week in benefits which she previously received as part of her DLA.

Her learning disability has rendered her unable to appreciate the gravity of the situation or the impact the change will have on her quality of life.

Mr Matthews is so concerned he has asked the Department for Work and Pensions to reconsider the case but has yet to receive a response.

He said: "I feel angry the system is not recognising people with learning disabilities. I'm surprised they have got away with it.

"This has caused real hardship. There are more people suffering in silence. It's disgraceful.

"It's terrible. She doesn't understand money. She doesn't understand how serious the situation is."

Mr Matthews said people with learning disabilities often did not understand the gravity of the changes and struggled to articulate their needs while being assessed.

One of the phrases under the PIP ‘mobility activities’ (planning and following journeys) refers to the effect on activity caused by factors ‘other than psychological distress’, a phrase repeated three times in this section alone.

But Mr Matthews argues that psychological distress can be a factor in reducing mobility, for example in the case of someone who cannot go outside unaccompanied because they suffer panic attacks.

Remonia Blackwood, campaign research supervisor at Worcester CAB, said some PIP assessments were completed in half an hour which she does not feel is long enough to assess someone's needs.

The caseload in Worcester continues to increase as the phased implementation of PIP accelerates

"People who feel they can't cope can come to us and we will try to help them" said Mr Matthews.

A DWP spokesperson said: “PIP looks specifically at how someone’s life is affected by mental health, unlike the old system which did not sufficiently recognise mental health problems.

“In fact, there are now more people with a mental health condition receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than their DLA equivalents, and people with mental health conditions can still qualify for the highest rate of mobility under PIP.”

Decisions for PIP are based on all the information provided by the claimant and their GP or medical specialist, and anyone can appeal the decision.

Last year the DWP said a record £11.6 billion was spent on mental health, and by 2020 there will be another £1 billion a year on top of that.

The say the health professionals carrying out PIP assessments have training in multiple and complex conditions, including mental health.

In addition, the healthcare providers have Mental Health Champions who are experienced professionals with direct and relevant work experience of helping patients with mental health problems.

In total 66 per cent of people with mental health conditions are on the enhanced rate of Daily Living and 30 per cent are on the enhanced rate of Mobility.

This compares with 22 per cent on the higher rate of care and 10 per cent on the higher rate of Mobility under DLA.

The DWP says PIP 'ensures that mental health conditions are given the same recognition as physical ones'.