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  1. ITV Report

Government fights ruling to extend disability benefits for mental health sufferers

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

Campaigners and backbenchers have criticised the government over its plans to go against a legal ruling to extend disability benefits to people suffering from severe mental health issues.

A legal tribunal had called for disability benefits to be given to people suffering with "overwhelming physical distress" from issues such as depression and anxiety.

It ruled claimants with psychological problems who cannot travel without help must be treated like those who are blind and receive Personal Independence Payments (PIPs).

Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt has said she will take action to ensure PIPs go only to the most needy.

But Conservative backbencher Heidi Allen called on Ms Mordaunt to reconsider blocking the ruling, which would affect 160,000 people and save £3.5 billion in future years.

Tory MP George Freeman was criticised for his comments about anxiety. Credit: Chris Radburn / PA

The row over the government's stance on PIPs intensified on Sunday after MP George Freeman made comments in which he appeared to indicate people suffering anxiety were not "really disabled".

Mr Freeman, who is the head of Theresa May's policy unit, came under fire after suggesting disability benefits should go to "the really disabled people who need it" rather than those who are "taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety".

He has since said he regrets "any offence" caused by the remarks and posted a series of messages on Twitter in which said he had, had personal experience of mental health problems and knew "all too well" the pain caused by anxiety and depression.

Downing Street claimed that no disability applicant would lose out as a result of the changes to PIP.

"Clearly, the Government is committed to ensuring the welfare system is a strong safety net for those who need it," a spokesman said.

"Nobody is losing out as a result of this. The amendments haven't been brought in to make any savings. Nobody is going to see a reduction in the amount of PIP they receive."