The Future of Disability Benefits

On Friday 19 April, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced significant proposed changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) as part of a broader initiative to make the UK’s benefits system “sustainable and fit for the future.”  The announcement initiated a 12-week consultation period, providing a platform for stakeholders to discuss the potential impacts of these reforms. The upcoming general election could significantly influence the future of the proposed reforms. Depending on the election outcome, the direction and implementation of welfare policies may shift. 

As a business dedicated to providing accessible vehicles for wheelchair users, Open Road Access understands the critical importance of PIP in supporting the independence and mobility of disabled people  We are discussing these changes now to contribute to the government consultation and appropriately represent the needs and views of our customers. We believe this engagement is essential regardless of the election outcome, as both major parties are interested in some type of reform. In this article, we will delve into the proposed changes, explore the current state of PIP, and present the diverse perspectives surrounding the reform. 

PIP - Current Framework

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a tax-free, non-means-tested cash benefit designed to help individuals aged 16-64 manage the extra costs associated with long-term health conditions or disabilities.  PIP is divided into two components: a daily living component and a mobility component.  The former supports those with physical or mental health conditions affecting daily activities, while the latter assists those facing challenges with mobility. 

For the daily living component, individuals are assessed based on the level of help needed with specific activities, such as dressing, preparing meals, bathing, and socialising.  Mobility payments help with leaving the home and moving around.  Each component has a standard and enhanced payment rate.  Payments can vary from £28.70 to a maximum of £172.75 per week, depending on whether the claimant receives the standard or enhanced rate for the daily living component, the mobility component or both. 

The Rising Cost of PIP

As of October 2023, there were 3.2 million PIP claimants in the UK.  In advocating for the proposed changes, Mr Sunak has expressed significant concerns about the escalating costs of PIP, which are projected to increase by 63% over the next five years, reaching £35.3 billion by 2028.  He emphasised that the expenditure on disability support has exceeded the budgets for many essential services, deeming the current system unsustainable: “We now spend £69bn on benefits for people of working age with a disability or health condition.  That’s more than our entire schools budget, more than our transport budget, more than our policing budget.” 

“And spending on personal independence payments alone is forecast to increase by more than 50 per cent over the next four years. That’s not right, it’s not sustainable, and it’s not fair on the taxpayers who fund it,” Mr Sunak continued. 

However, critics argue that the proposed changes could lead to reduced or removed benefits for many disabled individuals, potentially exacerbating their financial and social challenges.  The contrasting viewpoints are further examined below. 

What’s Included in the Proposed Reforms?

The proposed reforms target several critical areas, including eligibility criteria, assessment processes and the structure of benefits providedThe changes are intended to make the system more sustainable and better targeted, but what exactly do they involveHere’s a summary: 

1. Eligibility Criteria Reform 

  • Extending the qualifying period before an individual becomes eligible. 
  • Requiring formal medical diagnoses. 
  • Narrowing focus to specific conditions. 
  • Modifying or merging existing assessment activities/descriptors. 
  • Adding new activities/descriptors. 
  • Adjusting the points thresholds required for qualification. 


2. Assessment Process Changes 

  • Redesigning assessments to be more ‘objective’ and condition based.


3. Alternatives to Cash Payments i.e. shifting from regular cash payments to: 

  • Vouchers for specific services. 
  • One-off grants for home adaptations. 
  • Reimbursements for disability costs with receipts. 
  • Increased provision of services like therapies or social care instead of cash payments. 

Perspectives on the Proposed Reforms

The proposed reforms have sparked a heated debate, with strong arguments on both sides.  Some believe reform is essential for financial sustainability, while others argue that the government’s true aim is to cut costs by reducing the number of claimants through stricter eligibility criteria and less flexible alternatives to cash payments.

Those in Favour

Proponents argue that the current PIP system is financially unsustainable, with costs projected to rise significantly in the coming years.  They advocate for changes to target support more effectively towards those with the greatest needs, suggesting that providing services or one-time payments instead of regular cash benefits could enhance cost-effectiveness and better tailor assistance to individual requirements.   

They also argue for a more objective assessment process based on medical diagnoses to enhance consistency and fairness.  Mr Sunak further emphasised the necessity of the reforms, stating, “It’s clear that our disability benefits system isn’t working as intended, and we’re determined to reform it to ensure sustainability for the future, delivering support to those who genuinely need it most.” 

Andy Cook, Chief Executive of the Centre of Social Justice supports this view, emphasising the need for an updated welfare system: “We owe it to those most struggling to make sure that the benefit system provides the best support to those who need it. And with costs skyrocketing, it is time to bring the welfare system into the post-lockdown age.” 

Work and Pensions Secretary, Mel Stride, also supports the reforms, highlighting that they aim to better reflect the impacts of disabilities on daily life and ensure that the welfare system is fair to taxpayers while providing necessary support​. 

Those Against

Opponents, however, raise several major concerns. They warn that stricter eligibility criteria could exclude many who rely on PIP for their independence and to manage extra costs. For example, increasing the qualifying period could negatively impact those with fluctuating conditions, while requiring formal diagnoses might create barriers for those with undiagnosed or less understood conditions. 

Moreover, shifting to vouchers and one-off payments is seen as limiting choice and autonomy, depriving individuals of the flexibility cash payments provide. Critics argue that these reforms fail to address systemic issues like underfunded public services and poverty, which drive up disability costs. 

Dan White, Policy Officer at Disability Rights UK, expressed his concerns, saying, “The clear agenda of the Government’s latest proposal is to reduce the number of disabled people receiving the crucial support we rely on…Being offered vouchers is more than an insult; it is dangerous… they will shut us off from our communities, leaving thousands without access to crucial services and support.” 

Our view

At Open Road Access, we are a business committed to providing equal access to transport for all, and we maintain a politically impartial stance. However, we cannot ignore the impact that proposed changes may have on the disabled community. 

David Dew-Veal, a Director of Open Road Access, states: ‘The proposed changes to PIP represent a significant step backwards for disability rights in the UK. I am deeply concerned that these reforms will disproportionately impact those who rely on PIP for their independence and mobility

“Disabled people deserve equal access to all aspects of society, including transport, which is often facilitated by the financial support provided by PIP.  These reforms threaten to restrict that access, pushing disabled individuals further into isolation and poverty.  Instead of cutting costs at the expense of vulnerable people, we should be investing in inclusive policies that empower and support all members of our community. 

Martyn Sibley, Non-Executive Director, Proximo Group and disability advocate and social entrepreneur added: “These proposed reforms potentially represent a regressive step that will strip disabled individuals of their autonomy, independence and basic human rights. Replacing vital monetary benefits with restrictive voucher schemes and one-time grants is morally questionable, as it undermines the ability of disabled people to manage their daily lives independently.”

“As someone deeply involved in driving towards social inclusion, I know how financial assistance like PIP is crucial for ensuring equal access and participation for disabled people. Denying or limiting this support will inevitably risk marginalisation and isolation of large elements of the disabled community,” concluded Martyn.

Concluding Remarks

The debate over the proposed PIP reforms highlights the complex balance between financial sustainability and providing adequate support for disabled people.  While the government emphasises the need for reform to manage rising costs, disability advocates warn that the changes could reduce vital support and exacerbate existing challenges.  As the consultation period progresses, it is crucial to consider the diverse needs and challenges faced by disabled individuals to ensure any reforms genuinely enhance their independence and quality of life. 


The upcoming general election could significantly influence the future of the proposed reforms. Depending on the election outcome, the direction and implementation of welfare policies may shift.  A change in government could either halt the current plans or accelerate them, depending on the winning party’s stance on disability benefits.  Therefore, the election results will be critical in determining whether these proposed changes are enacted. 

Make Your Voice Heard

What are your thoughts on the proposed changes? Do you believe they will make the system more sustainable, or do they risk excluding many people from the support they need?    

We would like to understand how the proposed changes could impact your ability to travel.  Please share your views in our survey on PIP reforms and the impact on accessible travel by clicking here.