Tag: Debbie Abrahams

It’s time government ministers stopped lying about their attack on disabled people

Image result for centre for welfare reform simon duffy

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Universal Credit (UC) rules which will leave many disabled people who are new claimants, who experience a change in circumstances or a break in their claim, without their Disability Income Guarantee.

Those people who qualified for the support component of income-related Employment and Support Allowance and (ESA) are eligible for a disability premium (also called the Disability Income Guarantee.) However, as a result of the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) under UC rules, according to the disability charity, Scopethe cut to the disability income guarantee will see disabled people lose as much as £395 a month.

Two disabled people decided to take the government to court over the brutal cuts to their income, which has caused them severe hardship.

Earlier this month, in a landmark judgment, the High Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they claimed Universal Credit. 

Lawyers representing the men said the ruling showed that the new benefit system was “not working” for the disabled or other claimants, and urged the government to halt the roll-out and overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs and not “condemn them to destitution”. The two claimants, known only as TP and AR, had both previously been in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at ensuring the additional care and needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer are met.

Both people were required to make a claim for universal credit when they moved into new local authorities where the controversial new benefit was being rolled out. According to both the men, they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change. Yet despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to universal credit where circumstances remain the same”, both men saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved over to UC.

When they asked for the top up payments promised by the DWP, they were told that Government policy was that no such payments would be paid until July 2019 when managed migration is due to begin.

As both claimants testified to the court, the sudden drop of income had a devastating impact on them, both physically and psychologically. TP, a former City banker who suffers from a terminal illness, has been struggling to address his care needs, and AR, who suffers from severe mental health issues, has been unable to afford basic necessities.

Earlier this month, the DWP committed the government to ensuring that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto universal credit until transitional protection is in place and also, made a commitment to compensate those like the claimants who have lost out.  

Despite this, following the judgment, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the claimants were treated. 

Their lawyer, Tessa Gregory from the human rights team at Leigh Day, told the Court: “Nothing about either of the claimants’ disability or care needs changed, they were simply unfortunate enough to need to move local authorities into a Universal Credit full service area.”

The judge said the impact on the individuals was “clear”, and said the way they were transferred onto universal credit was “manifestly without reasonable foundation” and “failed to strike a fair balance”.

Following the ruling, Ms Gregory said: “This is the first legal test of the roll out of Universal Credit and the system has been found to be unlawfully discriminating against some of society’s most vulnerable. 

“Whilst we welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that no one in our client’s position will now be moved onto Universal Credit until top up payments are in place, it comes too late as it cannot make up for the months of suffering and grinding poverty our clients and many others like them have already had to endure.

“We call upon Esther McVey to compensate our clients and all those affected without any further delay, and urge her to focus on fixing Universal Credit rather than wasting more public funds appealing this court decision.

“Today’s decision shows again that Universal Credit is not delivering what was promised at the outset. It is not working. It’s not working for the disabled, it’s not working for parents, it’s not working for low-income and part-time employees and it’s not working for the self-employed.  

“The government needs to halt the rollout and completely overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs, not condemn them to destitution. If this doesn’t happen further legal challenges will inevitably follow.

“Disability premiums are not a luxury. They play a crucial role in helping disabled people pay for essentials like food, clothing and bills. The needs of the people involved in this case haven’t changed, and yet they have lost more than £170 per month in support. This isn’t  fair.

Until the Government fully addresses these issues, it will unfairly penalise disabled people for moving over to universal credit.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “The court found in our favour on three of the four points raised by the claimant. We will be applying to appeal on the one point the court found against the Department. This government is committed to ensuring a strong system of support is in place for vulnerable people who are unable to work.”

Clearly the government is committed to trying it on by paying people as little as they can possibly get away with from the public fund. Deliberately cutting money from disabled peoples’ crucial lifeline support can hardly be described as “ensuring a strong system of support is in place”. This response indicates quite clearly that the cut was fully intentional on the part of the government.

The spokesperson added: “Last week, the Secretary of State announced that we will be providing greater support for severely disabled people as they move onto universal credit. And we have gone even further, by providing an additional payment to those who have already moved onto the benefit.”

Yes, because the cut has been ruled as discriminatory and unlawful, not because a choice was actually made to do so. Only the Conservatives could turn prejudice, discrimination and breaking the law into some kind of virtue.

Again this response indicates clearly that these were intended changes, and not merely  a consequence of administrative incompetence. There was not a shred of regret expressed by the government regarding the severe hardship these cuts have caused for disabled people. 

And this still leaves disabled people claiming the disability support component of Universal Credit for the first time without the Disability Income Guarantee. That is also discriminatory. 

The Department for Work and Pensions have claimed UC means that support is “focused on those who need it most”, but a government removing Severe Disability Premium and Enhanced Disability Premium, which is support designed to help severely disabled people who live without a carer – is pulling a basic safety net from citizens with the greatest needs. The premiums were also designed in part to address the problem of cumulative poverty for severely disabled people who cannot work, or who face disadvantage in the labour market because of additional needs and barriers. 

This cut will also potentially affect disabled lone parents who may rely on their benefit support to pay for support to shop, cook and wash, for example. The cut may mean that they will be forced to rely on their own children as carers.

Austerity has been carried disproportionately by disabled people

The UC system has made an estimated £11bn in savings, mainly through Treasury cuts to the original set level of universal credit rates – most notably through reductions to work allowances, which will save around £3bn, and the removal of £2bn in disability premium payments – but UC planning and delivery has also incurred £8.5bn in expenses.

Government statistics published last year show 47 per cent of people who were formerly receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) saw their support fall or stop altogether when they were reassessed for Personal Independent Payment (PIP).

Of a total of 947,000 claimants who were reassessed in the year up to October 2017, 22 per cent saw their support reduced, while a quarter were disallowed or withdrawn altogether — meaning 443,000 people will have had their claims reduced or removed.

However, the success rate for claimants when appealing Personal Independence Payments (PIP), for example, was 65% in 2016/17. The Mirror has recently reported that the rate of PIP appeal success has hit an all-time high of 71% for the first quarter of 2018.

Labour MP Rosie Duffield secured a debate (her first) which took place a couple of days ago (20 June) about the report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The report said successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee said the government had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people. (You can read the full debate here).  

The debate addressed last autumn’s report on the UK’s implementation of UNCRPD, and the conclusion of the UN’s disability committee that the UK government should make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

In a briefing prepared ahead of the debate, the Equality and Human Rights Commission  the other official and independent bodies responsible for monitoring the UK’s progress in implementing the convention – had called on the UK government to describe how it would “comprehensively address” the UN committee’s findings. However, the government has not made any commitment to implementing the committee’s recommendations.

During the debate, Labour MPs accused Sarah Newton, Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, and the government, of making disabled people a “forgotten class”; of allowing the DWP to “endlessly mistreat” them, and of creating a “national scandal”.

Newton dismissed Labour’s comments, using techniques of neutralisation that I’ve written about before. In short, Newton used a tactic that the Conservatives have used many times before – an indignant and outraged denial. She actually accused the opposition of ‘scaremongering’ again, (and by default, she attempted to discredit disabled citizens’ accounts of their own experiences, which of course flies in the face of democratic accountability). 

The Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying the victims and condemning the condemners. 

In her attempt to defend her government’s appalling record on cuts to social security, she also told MPs that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”.

But this is not true, a fact that has been repeatedly pointed out to Tory ministers and her party.

Although disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are exempt from the benefits freeze – which is set to last to 2020 – there is no exemption for the main component of ESA and the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, which continues to be frozen.

Newton claimed that the UN, opposition and again, by default, disabled citizens, were making “irresponsible” allegations. And the courts. Again, this is a technique of neutralisation called “condemning the condemners”, used to ‘switch off ‘someone’s conscience when they plan, or have done, something to cause harm to others. The technique may also be used to push at the normative and moral boundaries of groups and the wider public.  (*See below for a full outline of the techniques).

Newton also said that the government was “very disappointed” that the UNCRPD did not “take on board […] the evidence that the government gave them. They did not acknowledge the full range of support.” That’s because it isn’t there.

The UNCRPD report presented extensive, meticulous evidence with their thorough report, gathered from disabled people that have been affected by the welfare cuts, campaign groups, charities and research academics. It also condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements.” 

It isn’t ‘scaremongering’ to express concern about punitive policies that are targeted to reduce the income of social groups that are already struggling because of limited resources, nor is it much of an inferential leap to recognise that such punitive policies will have some adverse consequences. 

Political denial is oppressive – it serves to sustain and amplify a narrow, hegemonic political narrative, stifling pluralism and excluding marginalised social groups, excluding qualitative and first hand accounts of citizen’s experiences, discrediting and negating counternarratives; it sidesteps democratic accountability; stultifies essential public debate; obscures evidence and hides politically inconvenient, exigent truths. Denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced. The government have no empirical evidence to verify their own claims that their punitive policies do not cause harm and distress.

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizen’s accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the Government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion and neutralisation to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Damian Green, who was the work and pensions secretary at the time the UN report was published. dismissed the highly critical findings . He said, shamefully, that the report was “patronising and offensive” and presented an outdated view of disability in the UK. He said Britain was “a world leader in disability rights and equality”.

But many of us – disabled citizens, disability activists, campaigners, charities and researchers – welcomed the report, saying it accurately highlighted the real economic and social hardships faced by disabled people after years of harsh spending cuts to social security and social care.

The shadow work and pensions secretary at the time, Debbie Abrahams, said the UN report was “crystal clear” in its identification of UK government failures. “It confirms that, despite Theresa May’s warm words, this government is failing sick and disabled people,” she said.

The UN committee said a range of measures introduced since 2010, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets, had disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

Spending cuts had negatively affected the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work and to achieve an adequate standard of living, the report said. The UN urged UK ministers to ensure the rights of disabled people were upheld.

Green said: “At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings. The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people. Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can’t.”

The government said at the time that it spent about £50bn a year to support sick and disabled people – a bigger proportion of GDP than countries including Canada, France and the US.

However, this is plainly untrue. In 2015, the government’s own figures show that even before some of the cuts were implemented, the UK was ninth out of 28 countries, when ranked in terms of the size of its social protection expenditure as a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP). 

In fact Newton’s highly selective statistical ‘data’ was contradicted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) who also reported that the UK actually spends less than France, as well as Norway, Germany and Spain on disability benefits.

Furthermore, Newton’s figure includes amounts that are not directly related to disability benefit, such as carers’ allowance, housing benefit, council tax allowance, and it also includes some NHS spending.

The government actually spent £39 billion on disability, incapacity and industrial injury benefits in 2017/18. That’s 76% of the total £51 billion that Newton claimed was spent.

Abrahams said the report echoed warnings Labour had been making since 2011 about the effects of the government’s policies on disabled people. It certainly echoed warnings many of us have been making – in my own case, since the welfare “reforms” in 2012.

“The UN committee is clear that its report examines the cumulative impact of legislation, policies and measures adopted from 2010 to October 2016, so the government’s claim that it is outdated does not stand up to scrutiny.

“I am also concerned that the government is labelling the report as patronising, when they are the ones dismissing the concerns raised by disabled people who helped instigate the inquiry in the first place.”

This dismissal is despite being presented with evidence from a wide range of organisations as well as disabled citizens, to whom Conservative policies are causing harm and distress.  Yet the government continue to distance themselves from the consequences of their own decision-making, opting to deny them instead. Those are not the reasonable actions of an accountable, democratic government. 

Decades of findings in sociology and psychology tell us that as soon as a social group are defined as an outgroup, the public start to see them differently. Because politicians have stereotyped people who claim welfare support, portraying only negative characteristics, the public also perceive only those characteristics. The government, with the help of the media, has purposefully portrayed people claiming welfare support as folk devils: lazy, dishonest, stupid and as scroungers, and so on. This is profoundly dehumanising. 

The people being harmed by policies have become outsiders, they’ve been pushed out of the circle of our moral community. The government clearly don’t think of the people enduring terrible distress and hardship as experiencing the same range of autonomy, needs, thought, emotion and motivations that they do; they don’t imagine them feeling things in the same way that they do. This disconnection – a failure to recognise common human characteristics in the other – means that they are denied some measure of empathy, and consequently a sense of ethical and democratic obligation and inclusion.

The Conservatives talk a lot about “evidence-based policy”, but they don’t walk the talk. A weight of evidence has highlighted the cruel, draconian effects of the Tories’ social polices. The government have chosen to deny and ignore it. 

This lack of appropriate response indicates a deliberately prejudiced, vicious attack on a significant minority of the population, which the government has absolutely no intention of stopping or putting right any time soon.

 

You can watch the whole debate that was secured by Rosie Duffield here

 

* Techniques of neutralisation: 

Used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. 

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by David Matza and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. 

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, stigma, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide.

In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying  distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.

 


 

I write voluntarily, to do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights. I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other disabled people going through ESA and PIP assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today

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A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson has denied allegations that people with mental health conditions claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are being treated differently to those with physical disabilities: “At the core of PIP’s design is the principle that mental health conditions should be given the same recognition as physical ones”, the spokesperson said.

“In fact, there are more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than the DLA equivalents.

This Government is also investing more in mental health than ever before – spending more than £11 billion this year.”

However, following two independent tribunal rulings that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the scope and eligibility criteria of PIP, which helps both in-work and out-of work disabled people fund their additional living costs, the government is rushing in an “urgent change” to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of PIP. The court held that people with conditions such as severe anxiety can qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component, on the basis of problems with “planning and following a journey”, or “going out”. 

The government’s new regulations will reverse the recent tribunal ruling and will mean that people with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety who can go outdoors, even if they need to have someone with them, are much less likely to get an award of even the standard rate of the PIP mobility component. The regulations also make changes to the way that the descriptors relating to taking medication are interpreted, again in response to a ruling by a tribunal in favour of disabled people.

The first tribunal said more points should be available in the “mobility” element for people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone. The second tribunal recommended more points in the “daily living” element for people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. 

It’s worth noting that the Coalition Government enshrined in law a commitment to parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In January 2014 it published the policy paper Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health (Department of Health, 2014), which sets out 25 priorities for change in how children and adults with mental health problems are supported and cared for. The limiting changes to PIP legislation does not reflect that commitment.  

PIP is defined by Capita, the private company employed by the government to carry out “functional assessments of disabled people as “a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these.” It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as socially and economically inclusive, active and independent lives as possible.

Who will be affected by the reversal of the tribunal rulings?

As I reported previously, from 16 March (today)  the law will be changed so that the phrase “For reasons other than psychological distress” will be added to the start of descriptors c, d and f in relation to “Planning and following journeys” on the PIP form. 

New guidelines circulated by the DWP instruct assessors to disregard the physical impact of mental illness, in relation to how the impairments affect a person’s mobility in completing a journey unaccompanied, which will effectively exclude them from eligibility to the higher mobility component of PIP.

This means that claimants with severe mental illness that impacts on their mobility will be refused the same level of financial support as people with physical disabilities.

It effectively means that people suffering with debilitating mental health conditions are to be denied equal access to the disability benefits system.

People with the following conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the independent tribunal’s ruling regarding PIP mobility awards, with conditions in the general category of “severe psychological distress”:

Mood disorders – Other / type not known, Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke, Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

A case study is included in the new guidance, which says: “Sukhi has sought an award under mobility descriptor 1f as she cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person.

However, the [decision maker] determines that because of the wording of mobility descriptor 1f (“for reasons other than psychological distress, cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid”), any problems following the route due to psychological distress are not relevant.”

PIP consists of two separate components – a daily living component and a mobility element – each paying a standard or enhanced rate, with the enhanced rate paying more than the lower rate. 

In response to the rulings, government have simply chosen to rewrite the law in a way that denies higher PIP payments for those claimants who would have benefited from the rulings, without consulting medical experts, disabled people, advocacy organisations and MPs – including the Work and Pensions parliamentary committee.

Responding to the new guidelines, Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: “The purpose of PIP is to cover the extra costs people incur because of a disability – decisions makers shouldn’t discriminate between disabilities on the basis of their cause, but decisions should be based on the impact of the disability.

People who struggle to leave the house without support may face the same costs whether their difficulties arise from, for example, a sensory disability or severe anxiety or other mental health problems.

Yet those making decisions about the level of support someone will receive will now be explicitly told to disregard those barriers if they are a result of someone’s mental health problem.”

He added: “This move undermines the Government’s commitment to look at disabled people as individuals, rather than labelling them by their condition, and completely goes against the Government’s commitment to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health.

Meanwhile, the government’s own expert welfare advisors have said that the changes to PIP – affecting the mentally ill – should be delayed until they have been properly tested and “clearly understood”. 

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) said in their report that they are “particularly concerned” that overturning the tribunal’s ruling will cause confusion. They warn it is “not clear” how assessors will interpret the changes, raising concerns over a real possibility that claimants will not be “consistently treated”.

The committee have disputed ministers’ claims that emergency legislation must be rushed through today, suggesting the feared increase in costs has been “over-hyped”.

The government claimed the tribunal ruling would cost at least £3.7bn over the next five years – money which should go to “really disabled people who need it”, according to one minister.

The committees’ damning conclusions have sparked angry exchanges in the Commons, with some Tory MPs joining Labour and the Liberal Democrats in criticising the impact of the PIP regulations on some of the most vulnerable citizens.

However, Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary, refused to allow MPs to vote on the changes – insisting that was “above my pay grade”.

Green also acknowledged “a handful of people” could now have their PIP payments cut, having been awarded higher sums in the last few months.

Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s Work and Pensions spokeswoman, said that contradicted repeated assurances – including by Theresa May – that no disabled people would lose money, with only new claimants affected.

And she said: “The Government’s decision to change the law on PIP is a clear example of the way people with mental health conditions are not given equal treatment.”

The SSAC have urged the DWP to consider “testing the proposed changes with health care professionals and decision makers to ensure the policy intent behind the regulation is clearly understood”.

They concluded: “The department should both (a) consult more widely with representative bodies and health care professionals; and (b) improve the estimate of likely impact before the changes are introduced.”

Answering an urgent question in parliament, Mr Green insisted the SSAC was “not challenging the decision” to tighten the criteria for PIP.

But he added: “We think there may be a handful of people whose appeals have gone through the courts in this very, very small period.”

While “that money will not be clawed back from them” they would receive lower PIP payments once those appeals were struck out by the new regulations.

In their recent Equality Analysis PIP assessment criteria document, the government concede that: “Since PIP is a benefit for people with a disability, impairment or long-term health condition, any changes will have a direct effect on disabled people. The vast majority of people receiving PIP are likely to be covered by the definition of “disability” in the Equality Act 2010.

By definition, therefore, the UT [upper tribunal] judgment results in higher payments to disabled people, and reversing its effect will prevent that and keep payments at the level originally intended. The difference in income will clearly make a real practical difference to most affected claimants, and (depending on factors such as their other resources) is capable of affecting their ability to be independently mobile, access services etc – all matters covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as set out at the start of this Analysis.”

It goes on to say in the document: “However, this does not necessarily mean that the increased payments that would result from the judgment are a fair reflection of the costs faced by those affected, or represent a fair approach as between different groups of PIP claimants.” 

I think it’s much less likely that the government’s decision to subvert the ruling of the upper tribunal reflects any consideration of a fair reflection of costs faced by those affected, or a “fair approach” between different groups of PIP claimants. 

The purpose of Upper Tribunals

The government introduced the restrictive regulations after losing two cases at tribunals, showing an utter contempt for the UK judiciary system. However, the UK tribunal system is part of the national system of administrative justice. 

Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of government. It is designed to independently review the decisions of governments, and as such, it provides protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens.

The Upper Tribunal is a superior court of record, giving it equivalent status to the High Court and it can both set precedents and can enforce its decisions (and those of the First-tier Tribunal) without the need to ask the High Court or the Court of Session to intervene. It is also the first (and only) tribunal to have the power of judicial review. (The Conservatives have a historical dislike of judicial review. See for example: The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law.)

The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 created a new unified structure for tribunals and recognises legally qualified members of tribunals as members of the judiciary of the United Kingdom who are guaranteed continued judicial independence. This means that the judiciary is kept discrete from other branches of government. That is so that courts are not subjected to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests.

Judicial Independence is vital and important to the idea of separation of powers. The intent behind this concept is to prevent the concentration of political power and provide for checks and balances. It has been significantly influenced by judicial independence principles developed by international human rights constitutional documents. in the application of the European Convention on Human Rights in British law through the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in the UK in 2000.

The government’s new regulations are a particularly autocratic move, aimed at simply overturning two legal rulings that the government did not like, partly because their zealotry concerning their anti-welfarism and “small state” neoliberal ideology has been challenged. The regulations were ushered in and imposed so that they would not be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and debate or democratic dialogue with disabled people or groups and organisations that support and advocate for those with disability. 

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Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green

Related

Two EDMs have been tabled to stop Tory cuts to disability support, with cross-party endorsement


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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Research finds damaging mental health discrimination ‘built into’ Work Capability Assessment. Again.

Research conducted by academics at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt and Napier universities confirms what many of us already knew: that the government’s “fit for work” assessment is causing permanent damage to some people’s mental health, from which they are not recovering. 

The researchers say in their report that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) experience “for many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from”.

The study comes at the same time as John Pring, journalist from the Disability News Service (DNS) has exposed private provider Maximus in their use of “brutal and dangerous” questions about suicide intention directed at people with mental health problems during their assessments. 

Dr Jay Watts, a clinical psychologist and academic, told DNS that people should only be asked about suicidal ideation by a trained mental health professional who can offer help, or someone in an “existing trusting relationship with the individual”.

Watts said that WCAs were “degrading and humiliating experiences for most if not all claimants” and were carried out in a space which was “not a trustworthy one”.

She said: “Individuals are required to parade their distress and feel compelled to answer intrusive questions (for the means to live relies on this).”

She went on to say: “To ask about suicide or self-harm in this context brings huge risks.”

She added that such questioning “can be suggestive if the environment is unsafe.”

She said that claimants were “battered with multiple questions about that which is most personal” in disability assessments and questioned about suicide while the assessors are “typing away” on their keyboards.

Watts concluded: “I have no doubt that questions on suicidal ideation, and the degrading manner in which they are asked, are one reason behind the suicide spike associated with the WCA process.”

The tragic case of Michael O’Sullivan, who killed himself after being found fit for work by the government’s disability assessors, has also cast a spotlight on the harmful consequences of the work capability assessment, particularly in relation to people with mental health problems. 

Though O’Sullivan’s suicide is the first to have been judged a direct consequence of being found fit for work, the DWP has conducted 49 internal reviews into benefit-related deaths since 2012, according to data released following freedom of information requests by the Disability News Service.

Of these, no fewer than 40 were conducted following the suicide, or apparent suicide, of a person claiming benefit. This is both profoundly shocking and entirely unsurprising. It is the wholly predictable result of a system designed and operated by people who appear to lack even the most basic understanding of the realities of living with mental illness.

Despite providing reports from three doctors, including his GP, stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia, and was unable to work, O’Sullivan was taken off employment support allowance (ESA) and placed on jobseeker’s allowance. The decision to find him fit for work was made after an assessment by a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) doctor, a former orthopaedic surgeon, who did not factor in the views of any of the three doctors treating O’Sullivan.

Work capability assessments discriminate against people with mental health problems and should be “redesigned entirely”, according to Professor Abigail Marks from Heriot-Watt University’s Centre for Research on Work and Wellbeing. This recent study also established, through dozens of in-depth interviews of people who had been through the tests, that “in the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide”. Mental health charities said the contents of the interviews “reflect what we hear from people every day”.

The researchers interviewed 30 people with existing mental health conditions who had taken the tests throughout 2016. The majority of subjects suffered from depression or anxiety, whilst a smaller number had more complex issues like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. In addition, the team interviewed individuals from advocacy organisations, Citizens Advice Bureau and a former employee of Ingeus, one of the private Work Programme providers.

Marks said: “It is unacceptable that healthcare professionals who act as assessors for the WCA, for example, physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists are not fully qualified or trained to assess mental health conditions, yet they seem to be able to override participants’ own GPs, community psychiatric nurses, and therapists.

The WCA must be entirely redesigned, and focus on the potential barriers to work for both physical and mental health problems.”    

The report also highlighted that WCAs make non-Work Programme work experience, or other voluntary work, almost ‘impossible’ for people with mental health conditions. 

Dr Gavin Maclean, research assistant at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “Many of the participants in the study found the experience of the WCA so damaging that they stopped engaging in work-based activity and did not return to it.

This could further reduce their long-term employability and potentially increase their dependency on benefits.”

Dr Sue Cowan, assistant professor of psychology in the School of Social Sciences, said: “For people with severe and enduring mental health conditions, voluntary work may be as ‘good as it gets’, as one of our participants stated.

This does not mean a failure to obtain more. Rather, it is a recognition that an individual is making a choice, and the current system does not recognise or support that in any way.

The assumption that engaging in voluntary work means an individual is fit for employment should be scrapped; there has to be much greater flexibility about undertaking training while on ESA and much greater value must be placed on voluntary work and work-preparation activity.”

The qualitative study highlights in particular a lack of expertise in mental health problems among WCA assessors and advice from the WCA that was not consistent with what people going through the assessment had been told by their own GPs. In one case recorded in the study, a participant recounted a doctor “actually physically gasping” during an appeal because of the poor quality of evidence recorded by a WCA assessor. 

Some participants reported being in tears or having panic attacks during the tests, and others told the researchers that the assessments were “making me feel worse”.

The researchers said that the extreme stress having to deal with multiple stigmas of being unemployed and having a mental health condition became “self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating”, leading to the deterioration of peoples’ condition.

It says in the report: “Our research has reinforced the fact that people with mental health problems face more stigma and discrimination than those with physical health conditions and that this discrimination is built into the WCA.” 

Professor Marks, the lead author of the study, who is based at Heriot-Watt University, told the Independent that people who worked closely with such cases reported that deterioration in mental health conditions was an “almost universal” response to the tests.

Key causes of extreme stress were said to be a claimant’s fear of losing their lifeline income, the prolonged nature of tests, a lack of specialist mental health training amongst assessors, and the fact the test was “clearly geared towards people with physical disabilities.”

This said, many people with physical disabilities have also stated that the WCA experience has had an adverse effect on their mental health. 

Marks says: “A lot of the people we spoke to were in a position where they are preparing to go back to work before their assessment – they were doing training courses, community initiatives, or volunteering.” 

“They said that after the assessment, because the assessment had caused them so much stress, they were unable to go back and take part in those activities because their mental health had had such a deterioration.

“Talking to the advocacy workers, as well, they said it was almost universal that after people had gone through an assessment there was a significant decrease in their mental health.” 

In October last year the Government announced that it would stop repeat Work Capability Assessments for people with chronic conditions, characterising the repeat assessments it was scrapping as “unnecessary stress and bureaucracy”.

Mental health charity Mind said the WCA was clearly “not fit for purpose” and that its lengthy and costly appeals processes could well make matters worse.

“The findings of this report are concerning but sadly not surprising, as they reflect what we hear from people every day,” Ayaz Manji, the charity’s policy and campaigns officer, said.

“People with mental health problems tell us that the current fit-for-work test causes a great deal of additional anxiety. We know the assessors rarely have sufficient knowledge or expertise in mental health, meaning many people don’t get the right outcome and then have to go through a lengthy and costly appeals process. 

“The current approach is not fit for purpose and needs to be replaced by an open and honest conversation based on each person’s individual needs.”

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions minister, said the study was more proof that the WCA “is not only unfit for purpose, but is causing harm to some disabled people”.

She added: “That’s why I have committed Labour to scrapping these assessments completely and replacing them with a holistic, person-centred approach.”

As usual, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson dismissed the interviewees’ experiences as not “statistically significant”.

Apparently, qualitative data doesn’t count as “empirical evidence”, or contribute to it. Or put another way, if the government don’t want to count it, it doesn’t count.

The spokesperson said: “Only thirty people were interviewed for this report, which fails to acknowledge any of the significant improvements we have made to our assessments – particularly for people with mental health conditions.” 

“Last year alone at least 35,000 work capability assessments took place in Scotland to help ensure people get the right level of support that they need.”

In fact, 37 interviews were conducted for the study. Furthermore, there is much evidence outside of this study that supports the findings. Qualitative evidence often provides richer, more in-depth, detailed evidence than quantitative studies tend to permit. Yet the government insist that citizens’ own accounts are not important, regularly dismissing them as “anecdotal”.

The government have also failed to conduct a quantitative investigation into the established correlation between WCAs and a deterioration in mental health conditions.

In 2015, the “fit for work” tests, introduced to assess eligibility for disability benefit ESA, were again found to have caused relapses in patients with serious mental health conditions, Dr Jed Boarman, consultant with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, called for an  overhaul of the process.

Boardman, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS trust, also said the WCA discriminates against those with mental health issues. 

Boardman, who treats patients with serious and long-term mental health problems, said: “People with severe long-term problems get very distressed about being assessed, probably because mistakes are made, because the process isn’t perfect, because they don’t feel they are being listened to in their interviews.

“You do see people relapsing as a consequence of getting distressed.”

His comments followed a study, published the previous month, that linked the WCA tests with an additional 590 suicides, increased mental health problems and hundreds of thousands of antidepressant prescriptions.

The study, published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, showed a correlation between worsening mental health and assessments under the WCA.

The Department for Work and Pensions described the study as “misleading.”

The study’s main author, Benjamin Barr, said it was crucial the DWP takes seriously concerns that WCAs are “severely damaging” mental health. He called on the department to release data it holds to researchers to allow further analysis of the health impact of the controversial test.

Boardman added: “Their primary criticism of our study is that we don’t have data specifically on people going through the WCA and consequent mental health problems,” said Barr, from the University of Liverpool. “They have data on who has died following the WCA and they could facilitate linkage of that data with health causes.”

Thousands of claimants have died after being found fit for work, according to statistics released in August 2015 by the DWP, following a freedom of information request and a determined and successful court appeal by Mike Sivier of Vox Political. Ministers insisted that the figures they have released could not be used to link claimant deaths to welfare reforms, but the government has refused to release figures that would make it possible to assess whether the death rate for people found fit for work is higher than normal.

Boardman and Mark’s concerns are echoed by psychologists and benefit advisers working with claimants, who say they have gathered a lot of qualitative evidence that WCAs cause much additional psychological distress for those with mental health issues.

Related

Maximus ‘admits’ using brutal and dangerous suicide questions – John Pring

Man leaves coroner letter as he fears Work Capability Assessment will kill him

Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”

What you need to know about Atos

The importance of citizen’s qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – report from Samaritans


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

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Two EDMs have been tabled to stop Tory cuts to disability support, with cross-party endorsement

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I reported last week that the Liberal Democrats were planning an Early Day Motion (EDM) to halt the government’s authoritarian Personal Independence Payment (PIP) regulations. The new regulations are designed by the government to disregard the rulings of two upper tribunals regarding the scope of eligibility criteria for disabled people claiming PIP. However, upper tribunals are part of a body of administrative law that governs the activities of the administrative agencies of government. It is designed to independently review the decisions of governments, and as such, it provides protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens.

The Upper Tribunal is a superior court of record, giving it equivalent status to the High Court and it can both set precedents and can enforce its decisions (and those of the First-tier Tribunal) without the need to ask the High Court or the Court of Session to intervene. It is also the first (and only) tribunal to have the power of judicial review. (The Conservatives have a historical dislike of judicial review. See for example: The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law.)

The first EDM has already gained excellent cross-party support. It’s primary sponsor is Tim Farron. Signatories include Jeremy Corbyn, Debbie Abrahams and a number of other Labour Party MPs, Caroline Lucas (Green Party), Jonathan Edwards (Plaid Cymru) and Scottish National Party MPs.  

It says: “That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (S.I., 2017, No. 194), dated 22 February 2017, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23 February, be annulled.”

From 1 April 2017, further cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are to be introduced, again via statutory instrument (which are usually reserved for non-controversial policy amendments only). The new regulations mean that claimants who are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) will lose around £30 a week, receiving the same rate of payment as those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and the equivalent in Universal Credit.

Another EDM was tabled by the Labour Party, with the primary sponsor being Jeremy Corbyn, which says: “That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional and Savings Provisions) Regulations (S.I., 2017, No. 204), dated 23 February 2017, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27 February, be annulled.”

Disabled people have already carried a disproportionately large burden of austerity cuts.

 

 

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The cuts to disability support have been widely opposed, yet the government apparently pays little heed to the need for democratic accountability. 

You can support disabled people who are being targeted by ever-increasingly punitive Conservative policies that are having an extremely damaging impacon us by emailing your MP and asking them to sign both EDMs. (Contact details here).

 

Related

A black day for disabled people – disability benefit cuts enforced by government despite widespread opposition

House of Lords debate: ESA – Monday 07 March 2016 (From 3.06pm)

MP attacks cuts hitting disabled people – Debbie Abrahams

Leading the debate against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – 3rd reading – Debbie Abrahams

My speech at the Changes to Funding of Support for Disabled People Westminster Hall Debate – Debbie Abrahams

Man leaves coroner letter as he fears Work Capability Assessment will kill him

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Stephen Crabb’s obscurantist approach to cuts in disabled people’s support

A Critique of Conservative notions of “Social Research”

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control


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Tory MP says PIP should only go to ‘really disabled’ people, not those with anxiety ‘taking pills at home’

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George Freeman, MP for Norfolk and chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, has defended the government’s decision to subvert the judicial system, by disregarding the rulings of two independent tribunals concerning Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for disabled people.

In an interview on Pienaar’s Politics, on BBC 5 Live, Freeman said: 

“These tweaks [new regulations to cut PIP eligibility] 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 claimed that the “bizarre” upper tribunal rulings meant that “claimants with psychological problems, who are unable to travel without help, should be treated in a similar way to those who are blind.”

He said: “We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.”

He added that both he and the Prime Minister “totally” understood anxiety, and went on to say: “We’ve set out in the mental health strategy how seriously we take it.” 

He said: “Personal Independence Payments reforms were needed to roll back the bizarre decisions of tribunals.” 

Freeman’s controversial comments about people with anxiety “at home taking pills” implies that those with mental health problems are faking their disability. He trivialises the often wide-ranging disabling consequences of mental ill health, and clearly implies that he regards mental illnesses as somehow not “real” disabilities.

His comments contradict the government’s pledge to ensure that mental health and physical health are given a parity of esteem, just months after the Prime Minister pledged to take action to tackle the stigma around mental health problems. 

Yet people with the following mental health conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the Independent Tribunal’s ruling on PIP mobility awards – those in particular who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone:

Mood disorders – Other / type not known, Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke, Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Note that some of the listed conditions have known physiological causes, too, such as “Cognitive disorder due to stroke”, whereas Agoraphobia, “Stress reaction disorders”, PTDS, some anxiety and depressive disorders, substance use and PTDS, for example, most often arise because of context, circumstances, events and  experiences, whilst the aetiology of some of the other listed conditions is not yet clearly understood by medical experts.

Regardless of the cause of an illness, it is not possible or appropriate to use constructed and arbitrary taxonomies and hierarchical ranks of disability to decide in advance of an assessment how those conditions negatively impact on disabled people’s capacity to live their lives, to perform tasks, their dignity, social inclusion and independence. Freeman’s generalisation was therefore completely inappropriate.

Freeman’s comments signposted the Conservative’s “deserving” and “undeserving” narrative, implying that some disabled people are faking their illnesses. However, disabled people do not “cheat” the social security system: the system has been redesigned by the government to cheat disabled people.

Criticism

Despite some scathing comments and challenges from the opposition, Freeman maintains: “My point was that these PIP reforms are partly about rolling back some frankly bizarre decisions in tribunals which have seen money that should go to the most disabled spent on people with really much less urgent conditions.”

The chief executive of Scope, 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 Parliament.”

Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has also responded to the comments by Freeman. She said:

“Mr Freeman must immediately apologise for the comments he made regarding sick and disabled people.

Freeman dismissed the needs of people with mental health conditions saying support should go to “really disabled people” rather than those who are “taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.

Not only does this fly in the face of the commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for people with mental health conditions, but it directly contradicts Theresa May’s comments on mental health and two recent tribunal judgements.”

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has called on Philip Hammond not to go ahead with the £3.7bn worth of cuts to PIP which will hit 160,000 disabled people.

The announcement about the two controversial regulations to be imposed without any parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and without any democratic dialogue with disabled people, was sneaked out last week by the government. It will mean 160,000 disabled people are likely to see a loss in their income as a direct effect of the changes made by the government to how PIP is awarded.

 McDonnell said

“Theresa May has used the cover of the by-elections to sneak out this announcement hurting so many vulnerable disabled people.

His is a return to the worst politics of spin that so tarnished our politics for so long. It is an act of immense bad faith. She is degrading politics and demeaning the role of Prime Minister.

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 £3.7 billion cut to the disabled.

This time last year when the economy and public finances were not doing as well, and the then Chancellor George Osborne tried to cut PIP, Labour stopped him. And in his u-turn he claimed that he could “absorb” the cost of reversing this cut.

Hammond can’t hide from these PIP cuts in his Budget. He needs to explain why he can’t absorb them like his predecessor while he is still going ahead with tax giveaways to the very wealthiest in our country.”

But cutting PIP may cost more than it will save. 

PIP is an in-work benefit as well as being accessible to disabled people out of work. Cutting PIP will invariably mean that some disabled people can no longer remain sufficiently independent to work. Many have lost their higher mobility rate component when they were reassessed for PIP after claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and as a consequence, have lost their motability vehicles – which includes wheelchairs as well as specially adapted cars –  leaving many completely housebound and unable to work. 

The Conservative claim that “the government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, given the Conservative’s policy record, including cruelly scrapping the Independent Living Fund, which has had a hugely negative impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives, and the Access To Work funding has been severely cut, this is also a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work.

The mental-physical illness distinction is a false dichotomy

It’s not appropriate to dichotomise mental and physical illness, as they are not clearly distinct. Most people would probably recognise that trauma, anxiety and stress can exacerbate illnesses that have a clear physiological basis. However, illnesses that have clearly defined “physical” symptoms can often also cause mental illness. Depression resulting from dealing with chronic pain and adapting to progressive illness and increasing disability is one example of the overlap between the physical and mental dimensions of illness.

I have lupus, which is an autoimmune illness that potentially progressively damages the joints, tendons, muscles, nerves, skin, eyes, blood cells, capacity to fight infections, heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach and liver. And the brain.

Most people with lupus complain of severe headaches, cognitive dysfunction, short-term memory loss and often, coordination difficulties. However, some suffer from depression and anxiety as a direct consequence of inflammatory changes in the brain, and some people also experience mood disorders.  Other forms of neuropsychiatric lupus include psychosis, seizures, stroke and vascular dementia, chorea and cerebrovascular disease. There is often no clear boundary between the mental and physical symptoms of illness.

Health and wellbeing have socioeconomic determinants

Another important consideration is the context in which people live, this also has a significant impact on health and wellbeing. There is an extremely unequal distribution of power and wealth in the UK. There are also corresponding unequal distributions of opportunity, health and psychological wellbeing, inclusion, human rights and citizen freedoms more generally, such as freedom of choice and participation in democracy.

Precarity and anxiety directed by the state through targeted and discriminatory policies at the poorest citizens mediates and maintains a repressive state–citizen power relationship.

There is also an emerging and clear “cognitive” hierarchy: those in positions of power are formulating policies that are premised on a fundamental assumption that poverty happens because of something that poor people don’t do, or that they do “wrong”, and this happens because of cognitive errors and  “wrong” behaviours and attitudes. The assumption, of course, is that the policy decision-makers are more cognitively and behaviourally competent than those they are “nudging” to change their thinking and behaviour.

However, we know that an economic system founded on mythical “market forces, an even more mythical meritocracy – amongst other just-world fallacies – and competitive individualism, which sets citizen groups fighting for increasingly scarce resources, creates just a few “winners”(around 1%) and many more who are dispossessed (99%). 

Policies controversially aimed at “correcting behaviours” are increasingly punitive (benefit sanctions, increased welfare conditionality generally and restrictions on child tax credits are examples of the government’s behaviourist approach) that draw on psychosocial dynamics – imported from techniques of persuasion at the low end of the advertising industry – build and reproduce socioeconomic hierarchies, not only materially, but through dominant discursive practices, and also through inflicting precarity and perpetual anxiety on those people who have the least share of national wealth. 

It’s remarkable that a government that claims “work is beneficial to health” also fail to recognise the impact of neoliberal socioeconomic organisation, prejudiced political narratives and draconian policies, the relationship between growing inequality and increasing poverty, and how this toxic context has a detrimental effect on people’s physical health and psychological wellbeing.

The Conservatives are so busy diverting public attention, and pointing out what they think those people who need mitigation from the worst ravages of neoliberalism are “doing wrong”, they fail to recognise and acknowledge what it is that the government is doing wrong.

When people are attacked, oppressed and controlled psychologically by a so-called democratic government that embeds punishment at the heart of public policies to target the poorest citizens, it’s hardly surprising they become increasingly ill.

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I wrote a longer article about this for Scisco Media, which can be read here: Social security has been redesigned to cheat disabled people

 


 

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Lords table motion to kill new Tory restrictions on PIP

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It’s estimated that around 160,000 disabled people will be stripped of their entitlement to support for the additional costs they face because of their disability after the government shifted the goalposts to deal with upper tribunal legal rulings, according to the Labour Party.

Debbie Abrahams, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “Instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of personal independence payment assessments and correcting these injustices, the government has instead decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings.

This is an unprecedented attempt to subvert an independent tribunal judgment by a government with contempt for judicial process.

By shifting the goalposts, the Tory government will strip entitlements from over 160,000 disabled people, money which the courts believe is rightfully theirs.

This is a step too far, even for this Tory government. Labour will stand with disabled people, who have already borne the brunt of seven years of austerity, in fighting this injustice.”

(See also:  Government subverts judicial process and abandons promise on mental health ‘parity of esteem’ to strip people of PIP entitlement. )

Labour opposes the reform and will also seek to block the statutory instrument in the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

According to the Liberal Democrat Voice, the Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion to kill the government attempts to severely restrict disability benefits. 

The government will have used a statutory instrument that amends the Welfare Reform Act 2012. However, statutory instruments are generally used for non-controversial policy changes, and changes that don’t require much parliamentary scrutiny and debate. That clearly is not the case for the Conservative’s contentious Personal Independence Payment regulations, that attempt to overturn court rulings that are meant to be independent of government influence.

The move follows the recent undemocratic announcement by the government that they will be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which will see people with serious illnesses such as diabetes, epilepsy and a wide range of mental illnesses left without support.

The purpose of Upper Tribunals

The government has introduced the restrictive regulations after losing two cases at tribunals, showing an utter contempt for the UK judiciary system. However, the UK tribunal system is part of the national system of administrative justice

Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of government. It is designed to independently review the decisions of governments, and as such, it provides protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens.

The Upper Tribunal is a superior court of record, giving it equivalent status to the High Court and it can both set precedents and can enforce its decisions (and those of the First-tier Tribunal) without the need to ask the High Court or the Court of Session to intervene. It is also the first (and only) tribunal to have the power of judicial review. (The Conservatives have a historical dislike of judicial review. See for example: The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law.)

The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 created a new unified structure for tribunals and recognises legally qualified members of tribunals as members of the judiciary of the United Kingdom who are guaranteed continued judicial independence. This means that the judiciary is kept discrete from other branches of government. That is so that courts are not subjected to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests.

Judicial Independence is vital and important to the idea of separation of powers. The intent behind this concept is to prevent the concentration of political power and provide for checks and balances. It has been significantly influenced by judicial independence principles developed by international human rights constitutional documents. in the application of the European Convention on Human Rights in British law through the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in the UK in 2000.

The government’s new regulations are a particularly autocratic move, aimed at simply overturning two legal rulings that the government did not like, partly because their zealotry concerning their anti-welfarism and “small state” neoliberal ideology has been challenged. The regulations were ushered in and imposed so that they would not be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and debate or democratic dialogue with disabled people or groups and organisations that support and advocate for those with disability. 

From Penny Mordaunt’s statement:

“The first judgement held that needing support to take medication and monitor a health condition should be scored in the same way as needing support to manage therapy, like dialysis, undertaken at home. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who need support to manage therapy of this kind are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.

The second held that someone who cannot make a journey without assistance due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulties navigating. By way of example, the first group might include some people with isolated social phobia or anxiety, whereas the second group might include some people who are blind. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who cannot navigate, due to a visual or cognitive impairment, are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.”

Responding to the announcement, Baroness Cathy Bakewell, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:

“The government is using its recent losses in court as an excuse to severely restrict disability benefits. Rather than listening to the ruling they are using it to make matters worse for disabled people – that is utterly outrageous.

What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of by-elections. These decisions impact the lives of vulnerable people, Liberal Democrats will not allow the Conservatives to get away with treating people with disabilities with such total contempt.”

The Liberal Democrats contributed to scuppering the government’s plans to restrict tax credits back in October 2015.

Personally, I welcome any collaborative effort to challenge the Conservative’s draconian policies which deny people the help and support that they need. 

 

Related

Government defeated twice on tax credit cuts in House of Lords

Government signal move to curb the powers of the House of Lords after tax credit defeat

The Strathclyde Review clarifies the Conservatives’ authoritarianism

A black day for disabled people – disability benefit cuts enforced by government despite widespread opposition


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Dangerous new changes planned to force sick people into work – or into poverty – Debbie Abrahams

With many thanks to Open Democracy.

The government promised to help disabled people back into work. They’re failing – and now it looks like they’re targeting those who need higher levels of support.


The punitive changes to social security for sick and disabled people were recently highlighted in the film I, Daniel Blake

The Government published its long-awaited ‘Improving Lives: Work, Health and Disability’ Green Paper at the end of October 2016 after originally promising a White Paper in 2015. The White Paper was supposed to define how disabled people would be supported into work and meet the Government’s manifesto pledge of halving the disability employment gap of 34% by 2020 (currently it stands at 32%).

The employment gap was used to justify further draconian cuts in social security support for disabled people in the Welfare Reform and Work (WRW) Bill published last summer. In particular, the Bill announced cuts of approximately £1,500 a year in Employment and Support Allowance to half a million people in the Work-Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG) – those people who had been found not fit for work, but who may be in the future – to be introduced in April 2017.

The 2016 Welfare Reform and Work Act followed the 2012 Welfare Reform Act which Scope estimated by 2018 will have cut nearly £28bn of social security support to 3.7m disabled people. Of course this doesn’t include £4.6bn cuts in social services support since 2010 or the NHS crisis, both of which affect disabled people.

The Green Paper, the consultation for which closed on 17th February just 6 weeks before the ESA WRAG cuts come into place, makes the bold claim that ‘…employment can… promote recovery.’

The issue I have with this statement, and the tone of the Green Paper as a whole, is that this implies that disabled people and people with chronic conditions would recover if only they tried a bit harder, or their doctors weren’t such soft touches. It doesn’t mention ‘shirkers’ directly but comments on how some people with the same condition languish in the ESA Support Group whilst others “flourish at work”, making it clear that’s what they’re thinking, ignoring their own rhetoric about “not treating everyone in a one-size-fits-all way”.

As a former Public Health consultant who researched into the health effects of work and worklessness, I agree that some work is good for health, but I don’t agree with the Government’s flawed thinking underpinning this: that it’s OK for people to return to work when they are still not fit, because it may help. This is not just unsound, it’s dangerous.

The scapegoating of disabled people, which includes people with physical or mental impairments and long-term health conditions as defined under the 2010 Equality Act, has been a hallmark of this Government and the previous Coalition. But even the conclusion of the United Nations inquiry that the UK Government has been responsible for ‘grave…systematic violations’ of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since 2010, has been met with Government stonewalling.

It is already well established that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people as a result of the extra costs associated with their disability. Currently 4.2 million disabled people live in poverty and I have been informed from unpublished analysis by an Economic and Social Research Council research project that this is getting worse.

The Government has refused to stop the cuts to ESA WRAG and Universal Credit’s Limited Capacity to Work which come in this April, which will undoubtedly increase the numbers of disabled people living in poverty, threatening their health and well-being. Various discretionary funds may be available, for example the Flexible Support Fund, but there is no guarantee of support and they are quite specific in what they can be used for.

The timing of these cuts when there has been a negligible reduction in the disability employment gap is quite shocking. The Green Paper rings alarm bells that people in the ESA Support Group are the next to be targeted. Linked to this, the new Work Capability Assessment criteria which the Government announced last September (after I committed to scrap the Work Capability Assessment) will be published later this year. These will give a clear indication what the Government’s real agenda is.

The Green Paper also talks about employers and the need for them to invest more in workplace health and occupational health support. This is, of course, very important; 90% of disability and long-term health conditions are acquired, so it is absolutely right to examine what can be done to reduce the risk of employees falling ill and how employers can make reasoned adjustments to support an employee to stay in work if they become disabled. But Access to Work helped only 36,000 disabled people stay in or access work in 2015 out of the 1.4m disabled people who are fit and able to work.

To date, the Disability Confident Campaign launched in 2015 has been a dismal failure making a negligible impact on the disability employment gap. Changes in employer attitudes and behaviour needs practical support, including Access to Work. But what is the Government doing to support employers, especially small businesses given that nearly half the workforce is employed by them? How can a small business access affordable, timely occupational health support? With the NHS in crisis and waiting times for non-urgent treatments escalating, how will timely interventions to help people back to work be delivered?

As always with this Government and the previous Coalition, they are happy to point fingers at everyone else without taking any responsibility themselves. They talk about the impact of work on health and the need for ‘culture change’ and to ‘reinforce health as a work outcome’ but what about the impacts of the social security system on the health of claimants? Their policies have a direct impact on people’s health in the punitive, humiliating way they are too often implemented, but also through the real, enduring poverty and hardship people are forced to live under.

Labour will hold this Conservative Government to account on all these areas, developing meaningful, alternative, approaches with disabled people, employees, and employers as part of our Disability Equality Roadshow. If this Government is committed to a fairer society, they should stop trying to rebuild the economy off the backs of poor, sick and disabled people.

Labour believe, like the NHS, our social security system should be there for all of us in our time of need, based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us of our dignity.   

Related

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow is a nationwide public consultation about policy with disabled people  Make sure you go and have your say – Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow comes to Newcastle

The next Disability Equality Roadshow event will be held in London on 27th Feb. Sign up here, to see when the consultation will be held in your area: Eventbrite -Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow-Brixton. Attending the consultations is free.


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