2017-02-26 18:19:44 UTC
"taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety", a key Theresa May aide
No 10 policy unit head George Freeman said personal independence
payments (PIP) reforms were needed to roll back the "bizarre" decisions
Ministers say the changes will save £3.7bn but leave a "strong safety net".
But disability charity Scope criticised Mr Freeman's "crude" distinction
between physical and mental health.
And Labour said the comments were "an insult to disabled people".
Responding to criticism online to his interview on BBC 5 live's
Pienaar's Politics, Mr Freeman later tweeted that he had suffered from
anxiety and depression in childhood, adding: "I don't need and lectures
on the damage anxiety does."
Image caption George Freeman has labelled recent tribunal rulings on
disabilities as 'bizarre'
The government is proposing changes to PIPs, which replaced the
Disability Living Allowance (DLA), after two tribunal rulings at the end
of 2016 which it said would have added £3.7bn to the benefits bill by 2023.
The benefit is intended to help people cope with the extra costs of
living with ill health or disability and are made according to the
points a person scores in an assessment of their needs.
In his BBC interview Mr Freeman said: "These tweaks are actually about
rolling back some bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits
are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from
anxiety," he said.
"We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who
The Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk added that he and the prime minister
"totally" understood anxiety. "We've set out in the mental health
strategy how seriously we take it," he added.
After the interview, shadow chancellor John McDonnell tweeted: "This is
an insult to disabled people. (George Freeman) should apologise
immediately or Theresa May should make him."
And Scope chief executive Mark Atkinson said: "It is unhelpful to make
crude distinctions between those with physical impairments and mental
health issues because the kind of impairment someone has is not a good
indicator of the costs they will face.
"Many disabled people will be now be anxiously waiting to hear as to
whether or not these tighter rules will affect their current PIP award.
"The government must offer clarity and reassurance that these new
measures will not negatively affect the financial support that disabled
people receive now or in the future, and that they stand by their
commitment to making no further changes to disability benefits in this
Disabilities minister Penny Mordaunt said she was reforming the PIP
payments to "restore the original aim of the benefit" to make sure
support was given to the most needy.
Mr McDonnell said he was "furious" about the proposed changes to PIPS,
and said Labour would pressurise the government to reverse them in next
"Next week the Tories will make out that the economy and the public
finances are doing better, however, they are planning to go ahead with a
£3.7bn cut to the disabled," he said.
The cuts would mean many people with severe disabilities "are going to
be trapped in their homes", he added.
The Liberal Democrats said the government was using court losses "as an
excuse to severely restrict disability benefits".
A DWP spokeswoman said the government was "committed to ensuring our
welfare system is a strong safety net for those who need it".