Tag: Mandatory Review

Disabled people face a hostile environment of calculated, strategic ordeals to deny support

PIP court

Disabled people face a hostile environment comprised of strategically placed and thoroughly demoralising ordeals, which are being passed off as arising because of bad administrative practices and simple errors. However, such ordeals are happening far too frequently to have arisen through random error. Furthermore, there is an identifiable pattern of government sponsored behaviours that has emerged within privately contracted companies hired to deliver disability assessments, and within the Department for Work and Pensions, which is aimed at simply denying people support.

Many people who have challenged a Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) decision not to award them Personal Independent Payment (PIP) in court successfully are finding that soon after they have won their appeal, they face a reassessment, and their award is taken from them again.

Even when people appeal, the system is rigged against them applying for legal support, and cuts to charities mean any support at all is shrinking away. Official figures last year showed that legal aid cuts mean ill and disabled people appealing their lifeline support through what have been consistently shown to be fatally flawed assessments and irrational, poorly evidenced DWP decision-making, are denied legal support in a staggering 99% of cases.

This means that someone with severe depression, or battling serious illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis or connective tissue illnesses for example, are left to take on a long, exhausting and complex legal case against the government, alone. 

The assessment process is set up to remove people’s disability benefits entirely because the evidence provided in medical notes by GPs and consultants, and the account of ill and disabled people, are not deemed by the state to be as credible as a snapshot report by a private company assessor, based on a half hour interview.

Private companies are motivated purely by making profit. This perverse incentive leaves no room for improving the dire situation that people, often at their most vulnerable, are facing. Improving performance as a service provider, or of prioritising human needs in a system that was originally designed to do so offers no reward for companies such as Maximus and Atos, because the government has been willing to pay them – from public funds – for atrocious failings that have harmed people and caused much distress. 

Since PIP was launched in 2013 to reduce the costs of disability support, the increasingly reduced access to financial assistance to help with the additional costs of being disabled has forced more than 75,000 people to give up their specially-adapted Motability vehicles. 

The UN have found that government policies have brought about “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights” in the UK.

As someone who has gone through both PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments and subsequent appeal, and as someone who co-runs a support group online for others going through this system, I know that both the assessment processes are beset by profound administrative failures and ordeals which seem to be wholly designed to work to the disadvantage of  ill and disabled people.

A report last year called Access Denied: Barriers to Justice in the Disability Benefits System, shows some of the immense suffering that the adversarial social security system causes disabled people and the long, exhausting and difficult process people who are ill have to go through to finally get the support they deserve and have paid into.

After being wrongly turned down at assessment, people must first go through mandatory review which can take anything from a few weeks to several months. The DWP argues that claims are fully reviewed at this stage, but the fact that 69 per cent of claimants win their appeal after having gone through MR proves that the MR itself is failing to correct the assessment’s flaws.

Case study: ‘Rose’

I spoke to someone this week who has faced two tribunals regarding her PIP award.  After successfully appealing the first, Rose (not her real name) had a face to face assessment when her review was due in July 2017.  The DWP decided to end her award, so she requested a mandatory review.  The DWP ‘lost’ Rose’s request twice after she had sent it, and then failed to log it and upload it onto their system.

Many other people have reported that they are not being notified of mandatory review outcomes, too, finding out after months of phone calls that the original decision was upheld. People cannot appeal until they have gone through a mandatory review, and several people told me they think the delaying tactics are deliberate, to discourage them from appealing DWP decisions. 

The mandatory review request in Rose’s case was sent in September 2017. The DWP acknowledged it had been received but had not been ‘logged’. As she was kept in the dark, Rose rang to find out what was happening over a month later in November, and was told once again hat the DWP had  ‘forgot’ to put it on the system.

She told me “They just said that there were always delays and to be patient and didn’t tell me why it had been delayed in the first place, then didn’t log it yet again”.

She added: “The DWP finally did the MR in a rush (and did not change anything from the original decision obviously) when I phoned again a month after that in Dec 2017 (as I still hadn’t heard anything) and they finally admitted what had happened both times. They sort of apologised on the phone but that was it. The MR document didn’t even change one letter of their original decision.”

Rose then waited almost a year for a tribunal date, which was arranged for 19 December 2018.

She told me: “The tribunal was very hard. It was not my first or even my second, as I fought and won before a couple of years ago after having two hearings adjourned because I was too upset to continue. But I won.

“It was an interrogation in a proper court room, with very quick fire questions and a very bizarre one, to presumably try to catch me out right at the end as I was standing up.

“The judge asked where I went to get my nails done!? I have never had my nails done in my life. I actually laughed and showed them my very short, bitten, discoloured nails. When I told my parents about that bit, they were furious and quite rightly said ‘would he have asked a man something like that?'”

The court didn’t reach a decision that day.

Rose said: “They did not decide on the day as it was 3.45pm (the hearing started at 3) and they were finished for the day – it was almost Christmas. The staff there definitely seemed to be winding down to say the least.

“Whilst I was crying in the waiting area, the receptionists were all screeching and laughing about their party plans, which I felt was pretty jarring and unprofessional. 

“I finally got my letter on Christmas eve telling me that they had awarded me standard rates on both daily living and mobility components, which I was relatively happy with.

“Although relieved, I do think it should have been enhanced rate on daily living but they never consider finances / therapy in most cases I’ve heard. I wasn’t so happy with the amount of time awarded (see below) but I was relieved to have an award.”

Rose waited for around five weeks to hear from the DWP, anxious that they may be considering appealing the tribunal’s decision. After being prompted to ring them by  someone online offering her advice, she was told it was usual for the DWP to contact people to check details before they can sort out an award and backpay.

Rose told me: “I don’t have my own phone so used my parents’. The DWP said that their self imposed deadline to ‘sort it out’ was within six weeks and it would be paid then.

“I  phoned up again to check something and they said the same… then phoned yet again when the six weeks was up, a few days later, and I still hadn’t heard anything.

“The guy on the phone said he didn’t know why I hadn’t heard anything (he was lying as they did know by then) but said that there was nothing he could do and to just to be patient.

“I was distressed, pretty hysterical and in tears at this point on the phone to him and felt a bit sorry for him, as I don’t think he could understand much of what I was saying.”

Rose became more and more anxious and worried, so emailed her MP  in the hope that she could find out what was going on. She told me she was petrified that the tribunal outcome was being appealed.

Her MP phoned a special DWP ‘hotline’ and immediately found out that there was a problem, as the tribunal decision letter that Rose and the DWP had received on Christmas eve had one tiny date error on it: the court had written that Rose’s  PIP award should be backdated from the 07/07/2017 rather than 02/07/2017 .

Rose said: “The error apparently meant that they couldn’t pay me until it had gone back to the courts service to be changed (and then back to the DWP and right back to the back of the queue) which could take months, depending on how busy they were. 

“I would NOT have known this if the MP’s office had not have got involved ….the DWP outright lied to me on the phone more than once when they knew what was happening and further to that should really have picked up on this earlier i.e. when it was received by them before Christmas, according to the MP’s assistant.

“The MP’s assistant emailed the courts email address (apparently the only way he could contact them as they don’t have a hotline to HMCTS like they do to other government departments) and told me that they had two weeks to respond to him with further details.

“The day before that deadline this week (now 9 weeks since the tribunal) they contacted him and said that apparently the courts are STILL waiting for my file to be sent from an ‘offsite storage facility’ and it has not even got to the judge yet to sign. They have known about this since the 25th January (which is when the DWP finally contacted them, they took over a month to realise the mistake)! You’d think sending a simple file would not take that long…..

“They refuse to give timescales (the MP’s assistant has emailed them back to ask for some but obviously they then have 2 weeks to respond to that request again!) ….and obviously after the judge deigns to have time to change it, it then has to go back to the DWP to sort out (and go to the back of their queue again).

Rose told me “I can’t believe this, I need this money to live on. I SHOULD have had it every month since July 2017 (20 months back dated almost)! I’m at the end of my tether and don’t think I can cope with much more.

“It has almost been 20 months that I have been living on the breadline, just on my ESA as I don’t claim anything else. This whole process has made me so very ill. I mean I’m ill anyway, very ill but the added of all of this and the constant mistakes and errors and not knowing what’s going on and waiting has out me on the verge of sending me into crisis again. I have started self harming more regularly, my psychiatrist has put my medication up yet again and I don’t think I can cope with this anymore.”

Rose added “There will be no respite either, even when /if this gets sorted out, as I have just had my ESA renewal forms (ESA50) through last week …which is what sent me into a [mental health] crisis a couple of years ago.

“I will also have to apply for PIP again at the end of this year presumably as most of the backdated PIP will then be gone, as they only gave me 3 years. They felt I ‘could get better’, which is utterly laughable.”

Rose has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which is a degenerative genetic connective tissue disorder which causes constant chronic pain, chronic fatigue and frequent joint dislocations, with it’s concurrent POTS [postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome], MCAS [a mast cell autoimmune disorder]and IBS. Rose also has spinal scoliosis, kyphosis, three ruptured spinal discs and trigeminal neuralgia. She is undergoing investigations for dyspraxia as well. 

She also has bipolar with severe depression and chronic anxiety.

She told me: “I’m a relatively intelligent person who used to have a very good job before I became too ill to cope (something the DWP have repeatedly used against me, that and my degrees). 

“Obviously mental health can improve in some cases, which is probably what they were getting at (very unlikely though with this strain constantly happening. I can’t see anyone going through this terrible system having time to gather their thoughts and improve in any way, shape or form when they constantly make you fight and justify why you are ill).

“But EDS is a degenerative genetic illness and the symptoms severely impact on my mental health as it is. Trigeminal neuralgia also only gets worse with age. The latter is also known as the ‘suicide disease’ because of the amount of people who have killed themselves rather than live with the pain. It’s said to be one of the most painful things you can get.

“It’s ridiculous, these are things that aren’t just going to go away. I have already been ‘not well’ for 20 years now, but was forced to finally give up work in 2009 after years of struggling and disciplinary meetings for being off sick so much. Yet the judge only gave me an award for three years, as it is, because they thought I could ‘improve’, which is impossible. 

“I’m so scared, this can’t be right, living in constant fear like this. Why do they hate us so much? I still can’t get hold of my welfare advisor at the local council to help me with my ESA50 either. I emailed him on the 12th and have left phone messages on his mobile and with his colleagues.

“I’m just so petrified that they will find some excuse not to give this [PIP award] to me now altogether. At the same time I am terrified that my ESA will be taken away and I’ll be left with nothing. The timing of the ESA reassessment is atrocious (but not surprising). I’ve been on ESA, in the support group since 2013 and have never had an assessment for that. Not until now, anyway.”

The tribunal granted Rose’s appeal. Because of the date error on the court letter, it may be justifiable that the error needs to be rectified by the court before the DWP issue the money she is owed in PIP backpay – from the date of her claim. However, Rose is entitled to ongoing PIP payments too. The DWP know this, yet haven’t given her a single payment. There is no credible reason for not paying her ongoing award in the meantime.

Recently, I have seen a large number of cases where people are being re-assessed earlier than the DWP had stated and they are losing their awards. For those on PIP and ESA, it’s become commonplace for people to be going through appeals for both awards at the same time, or successively, which means there is no respite from the extreme strain that they are being put through. The thing that strikes me is that in every case, the decision to end someone’s award is irrational and cruel, most often with absolutely no reasonable justification provided in the assessment reports, which are invariably completely inaccurate.   

The endless ordeal of re-assessments and withdrawals of support for disabled people; the introduction of heavily bureaucratic mandatory reviews, designed to deter appeals; the withdrawal of support and the long periods people are being left without any means of meeting even basic needs; the fact that mandatory review very rarely changes the decision to end an award and then the awful experience of having to appeal again is certainly convincing evidence of an intentionally created hostile environment for ill and disabled people – those very people the government claims it protects. 

There are also the unofficial, undeclared and non-legislative means that the Department for Work and Pensions frequently use to try at every opportunity to end claims. For example, it’s fairly common for the DWP to try to end ESA claims because a disabled person has been awarded PIP – a non means-tested income to support day-to-day independence and meet the costs of the additional needs arising because of disabilities. The DWP often try to claim that this is “standard” process when someone has “another award.” But PIP does not affect people’s  eligibility for ESA at all.

The endless tactics deployed by the DWP are designed to force disabled people to go through the thoroughly demoralisng, anxiety-provoking and punitive claim process all over again – which means a huge reduction in income because during the mandatory review, people cannot claim any ESA, and following MR, they will then only be eligible for the basic rate ESA. This also means there will be another long wait for another harrowing assessment, which presents a further opportunity for the withdrawal of lifeline disability support, and so on.

This kind of ruthless tactic was probably also designed to ensure that people never feel secure while needing lifeline support – a kind of informal Poor Law-styled “deterrence”.

Earlier this year, through a parliamentary question from Labour MP Madeleine Moon, it was revealed that more than 17,000 people died waiting for a DWP decision on their PIP claim between April 2013 and April 2018.

Disclosed official DWP data also reveals that 7,990 people died within six months of having a claim for PIP rejected by callous DWP ‘decision makers’. This indicates that contrary to Conservative minister’s claims, those most in need of support are being catastrophically failed by the assessment and decision making regime. 

Of these, 3,680 died within just three months of having their PIP applications rejected by the DWP.

I’m wondering what it will take for the government to admit that the system is unacceptably cruel and to acknowledge the mounting empirical evidence that, rather than supporting those most in need, the system is intentionally set up to deny support to as many people as possible, regardless of their needs and regardless of the ethical red line that has been shamefully crossed by the Conservatives under the guise of ‘welfare reform’.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am struggling to get by, like many other ill and disabled people. But if you like, 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 going through the disability assessment process, mandatory review and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Universal Credit is an unmitigated catastrophe for ill and disabled people

Image result for pictures universal credit

I co-run an online advice and support group for people going through Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals. Recently there has been a spike in people being reassessed for their awards of both kinds of support much earlier than expected. Furthermore, many are seeing their longstanding awards being taken from them by the Department for Work and Pensions following the reassessment, when this is clearly unjustifiable.

Failing a work capability assessment usually triggers migration onto Universal Credit.

For example, a significant proportion of this group have chronic or degenerative illnesses that are not going to improve. If someone with such a condition is deemed unfit for work, or in need of extra support to meet their needs and maintain independence, given that it’s highly improbable that their condition will improve,  it’s more than unreasonably cruel that following review, these people have lost their awards, most often based on highly inaccurate reports from assessors and the Department’s decision makers.

One person received a letter notifying her of an early ESA review – it wasn’t due until next year – just days after she had seen her PIP award removed, following a review that was not due until 2021. 

Those people claiming Universal Credit (UC) and needing a work capability assessment because they have not previously received ESA are experiencing long delays (often around six months) before the assessment appointments are finally arranged. This is true even when there is clear evidence of ill health and/or disability, and it means people miss out on additional payments. Some are being subjected to conditionality and sanctions because they are being given inappropriate requirements to look for work while they wait for their assessment. 

A recurring problem with UC is the failure of DWP staff to include a limited capability for work (LCW) or limited capability for work related activity (LCWRA) element in a claim for Universal Credit for people moving from ESA, who had already been assessed as entitled to the equivalent element in ESA. These components are supposed to be automatically included in UC but people are reporting that it this is not happening.

Two people who had been claiming ESA for two or more years, both placed in the support group following their assessments, triggered ‘natural migration’ when they claimed Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) because of hardship. One person’s local council had wrongly made ‘non dependent’ deductions for her adult son, pushing her into hardship and rent arrears. As she was awarded PIP at the daily living rate, non dependent deductions should not have been made, as the standard daily living award exempts people from those deductions in this group of PIP  claimants.   

She later reported that non dependent deductions were wrongly taken from her UC housing element, also. She said that the problem arose because PIP awards are not logged on the system, which means that once the underpayments were eventually rectified, she still had to remind her advisor that she was exempt from non dependent deductions being made to her housing costs. The problem keeps arising, however, with some of the deductions still being made some months. She also told me that her mandatory review request was completely ignored.

The DHP application from both people in the support group triggered a move from existing benefits on to UC. When migrated from ESA on to UC, people in the ESA support group should be automatically awarded the extra element of UC (the ‘limited capability for work-related activity element’) and should not be required to undertake any work related activity. However this did not happen and both were refused this element. Another person was told, wrongly, that she would need to undergo another work capability assessment and another was asked to undertake inappropriate work related activities which he were unable to carry out because of his illness.  

Several others have also reported that they have submitted requests for mandatory review and not had any response. One person was told that they had to ring to request the review, rather than requesting it in writing. She was then told that because more than one month had passed since the decision she was challenging, she could not request a mandatory review. 

Special rules exist for terminally ill people who are expected to live less than six months, to fast-track their claims for support and to allow certain health-related payments to be paid at the highest rate without needing further assessment. One person applied for UC and was incorrectly told that there was no special rules provision under UC. She was asked to provide evidence that she could not carry out work related activities before she could receive the payments due to her and have her work related conditionality lifted, despite the fact she had submitted a DS 1500 report from her consultant.

Another person who is terminally ill told me that his advisor said there was no evidence that he had submitted a DS 1500 report. By this time, he had already waited seven weeks for his UC claim to be processed. He was still waiting for a PIP assessment date. 

Another problem arising for disabled people is that some are experiencing difficulty making new-style ESA claims (which are based on National Insurance contributions, rather than being income related) in ‘full service’ jobcentre areas, and are being wrongly advised to claim UC in circumstances where that is not required. 

One very vulnerable young person told me that he was flatly refused when he asked to claim the disability element of UC. His GP had told him he was unfit for work. His work coach said that he was “not allowed” to claim disability benefit under UC rules. He was sanctioned because he could not carry out  work related activities, which also had an impact on his partner. He needed support with a mandatory review request and his doctor submitted a report from the young man’s consultant. His sanction was overturned after seven weeks. That is seven weeks of hunger, fuel poverty and threats of eviction because of mounting rent arrears. 

Transitional protection for disabled people

The government recently announced transitional protections, include paying the Limited Capability for Work element in Universal Credit if someone has been continuously entitled to ESA and entitled to the Work-Related Activity Component in ESA prior to 3rd April 2017 and are migrated to Universal Credit. This means people with ESA awards after that date, or those making a new claim for UC will not get the disability income guarantee which is only provisionally available to others.

The government have recently postponed the migration of people who have a PIP award onto UC, because there is no transitional protection in place, which means people will lose their disability premium. Transitional protection of disabled peoples’ disability income guarantee is not due to come into effect until later this year (July). 

However, when people have a change in circumstances, they are automatically migrated onto UC. The change may include moving house, or a change in the amount of support you get, or someone joining or leaving your household. It’s been reported that changes to housing benefit awards – such as an increase, or a DHP award – have also triggered ‘natural migration’ onto UC. 

People who already claim Working Tax Credit and become ill are being asked to claim UC. Those who claim income-based jobseeker’s allowance and need to attend court or Jury Service, or are remanded in custody, are also being asked to claim UC.  If someone starts work that would normally entitle them to working tax credits, or if they work, but their hours drop below 16 hours a week, they will be asked to claim UC. If someone already claims Child Tax Credits and income based legacy benefits and starts work with enough hours to satisfy Working Tax Credit conditions, they will also be asked to claim UC.

A high court judgement last year said that the loss of disability premiums (the disability income guarantee) under UC is discriminatory and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The government conceded after some reluctance that they would ensure transitional protection is in place for people who receive the severe disability premium via their legacy benefits. However, there are three types of disability premium, and the government have so far only mentioned protecting one of them, though it is implied that the other premiums will be included. 

Many of us have said previously that the government’s ‘flagship’ failure, UC, is about implementing further cuts to social security support by stealth. However, the loss of income to disabled people through hidden cuts was under-reported. Last year I wrote about how the disability income guarantee that legacy benefits ensured had been removed from UC – Disability Income Guarantee abolished under Universal Credit rules – a sly and cruel cut.

The draft regulations setting out the managed migration process, including details of transitional protection, were consulted on by the Social Security Advisory Committee  (SSAC) in July 2018. The SSAC report and the Government’s response were published in November 2018. Some changes were made to the Regulations as a result of SSAC’s report. The draft regulations were also published on November 2018 and were expected to be debated in Parliament this month (January 2019.)

However, in the draft regulations, only one of the three disability rates is mentioned in the planned transitional provisions – the Severe Disability Premium (SDP). 

On the government site, it says there a three rates under ESA and/or PIP:

“Disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £33.55 a week for a single person
  • £47.80 a week for a couple

Severe disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £64.30 a week for a single person
  • £128.60 a week for a couple if you’re both eligible

Some couples will be eligible for the lower amount of £64.30 a week instead.

Enhanced disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £16.40 a week for a single person
  • £23.55 a week for a couple if at least one of you is eligible

You can get the disability premium on its own. You might get the severe or enhanced disability premium as well if you’re eligible for them. There are (complex) rules of eligibility which are outlined on the same site. For example, if you have a ‘non dependent’ child living with you, that makes you ineligible for the severe disability premium, but you may be entitled to one or both of the others.

If you get income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) you cannot get the disability premium, but you may still qualify for the severe and enhanced premiums.”

The draft regulations did not clarify whether all of the disability income guarantee rates will be included in the transitional protections arrangements. 

In a letter to the Social Security Advisory Committee, the government says of the new draft regulations: “They also introduce transitional protection payments and additional provisions to support existing and former Severe Disability Premium recipients.”

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions also says in the letter: “In designing Universal Credit, one of the key aims was to simplify the existing system. For people with health conditions and disabilities, a conscious choice was made not to replicate every aspect of disability provision in the current system, which contains 7 different disability payments. Instead, the right levels of support can be provided through 2 rates of payments, reflecting the current Employment and Support Allowance components.” [My emphasis]

The choice was originally to cut all disability premiums for those with a ‘change in circumstances’ and new claims. The hardships that this decision has caused were intentional. 

A House of Commons briefing paper entitled Universal Credit and the claimant count outlines why “Universal Credit is increasing the number of people claiming unemployment benefits, by requiring a broader group of claimants to look for work than was the case under Jobseeker’s Allowance.” 

However, UC also requires other groups of people who were previously exempt from conditionality to look for work, or to increase their hours and pay, if they already work.

This means that the increased application of conditionality and sanctions regime will affect families and couples, where one person – not necessarily the person who has made the claim – has been sanctioned. For the first time, UC will mean families who are in work but on low pay will also be subject to sanctioning if they don’t make efforts to increase their hours or pay. It’s not clear what provision is in place to safeguard children and vulnerable family members form the impact of severe hardship when a family member is sanctioned.

Furthermore, last year the government’s own research, together with a mass of other studies, have clearly demonstrated that sanctions do not work as the Conservatives claim they were intended to. Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, accused ministers of trying to bury the findings of a secret DWP report, rather than give parliament the chance to debate how to better help low-paid workers. 

Field said if UC were to be built into a “line of defence against poverty, rather than an agent in its creation”, a more careful application of sanctions would require “urgent attention”.

He added: “Likewise, any new service to help the low-paid should be built around the provision by a dedicated caseworker of information, advice and guidance, as part of a clear and agreed contract which is aimed at helping them to earn more money and, crucially, overcoming the barriers that currently prevent them from being able to do so.” 

The government’s report came after a major report from the UK’s biggest food bank network found the rollout of UC would trigger an explosion in food bank use, with data showing that moving onto the new welfare support was the fastest growing cause of food bank referrals. The Trussell Trust said urgent changes to the new welfare system were needed to protect vulnerable claimants from falling into hardship or dropping out of the benefit system altogether. 

Garry Lemon, director of policy at the Trussell Trust, said: “We owe it to ourselves to have a benefits system that gives us support when we need it most, and ensures everyone has enough money to afford the absolute essentials. 

“Yet our research shows that the more people are sanctioned, the more they need foodbanks. On top of this, government’s own research shows that sanctioning under universal credit has no effect in encouraging people to progress in work. 

“With the next stage of universal credit about to rollout to three million people, it is vital that we learn from evidence on the ground and avoid the mistakes of the past.” 

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said it was “shocking” that the government was sanctioning working people who are “just trying to do the right thing”.

She said: “This report shows that there is no evidence that sanctioning helps people increase their earnings. Meanwhile, wages are still below 2008 levels and millions of people are stuck in insecure work. 

“Universal credit is clearly failing in its current form. Labour is committed to a root-and-branch review of the social security system to ensure it tackles poverty and provides support when people need it.” 

In a damning report in 2016, the National Audit Office castigated the DWP for failing to monitor people whose benefits had been docked and suggested the system cost more money than it saved. 

Yet a DWP spokesperson said: “The ‘in work progression trials’ helped encourage claimants to increase their hours, seek out progression opportunities and take part in job-related training.

“The trials delivered positive results for many of the lowest paid people who claim universal credit and we are now considering the findings.” 

This is political gaslighting, which reveals a government’s intentions to continue implementing a draconian welfare policy, regardless of the significant and mounting empirical evidence – including from their own research – demonstrating this punitive does nothing to ‘support’ people into work, or into better paid jobs. In fact it prevents people from doing anything other than struggling to survive.

The briefing – Universal Credit and the claimant count  – says “In Full Service areas existing legacy benefit claimants may move onto Universal Credit if they experience a change of circumstances such that they would have had to make a new claim for a different legacy benefit. As new claims for legacy benefits are no longer possible, only Universal Credit can be claimed.  The DWP refers to this as “natural migration.”

“Existing legacy benefit claimants whose circumstances do not change will remain on their existing benefits until they are invited to make a claim for Universal Credit at the final “managed migration” stage. This is expected to begin in late 2020 and be completed by December 2023, but will be preceded by a managed migration pilot involving 10,000 households starting in July 2019.”

The briefing provides an outline of why the claimant count has risen in areas where UC has been rolled out:

“Universal Credit requires a broader span of people to look for work than was the case for legacy benefits.

“The introduction of Universal Credit means that more claimants are required to look for work as a condition of receiving the benefit. This is referred to as “conditionality”.

“For example, someone out of work who previously claimed Child Tax Credit or Housing Benefit but not Jobseeker’s Allowance was not required to look for work. Under Universal Credit they are required to look for work, subject to certain exceptions.

“Similarly, under Universal Credit, the partners of claimants are now required to seek work. Previously, if someone was in employment and claiming tax credits or housing benefits but their partner was not in work (and not claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance), there was no requirement for their partner to look for work. This is no longer the case, subject to an earnings threshold and certain exceptions.

“The OBR has estimated that conditionality will be extended to around 300,000 additional claimants.

“Additional conditionality will also be applied to Universal Credit claimants who would otherwise have received Education and Support Allowance (ESA), and the OBR has estimated that around 150,000 claimants will be required to look for work as a result. Furthermore, the OBR has forecast that around 450,000 newly-eligible Universal Credit claimants will face further additional conditionality requirements (though not necessarily an obligation to look for work).”

If people are not obliged to look for work, what is the point in imposing conditionality them?

And: “New claimants who are awaiting or appealing Work Capability Assessments are being required to look for work. Some of the claimants who under the legacy system would previously have claimed ESA are initially subject to all work-related
requirements upon starting a new claim to Universal Credit, pending their Work Capability Assessment.

“New ESA claimants who can provide a ‘fit note’ are treated as having a limited capacity for work pending their Work Capability Assessment. This is not the default position under Universal Credit.

“Although a claimant must meet with a Jobcentre Plus Work Coach within seven days of applying for Universal Credit to agree the conditions attached to their receipt of benefits, the period until a Work Capability Assessment takes place is often much longer. During this period, Work Coaches set conditionality based on their understanding of the claimant’s health condition, but there are concerns that Work Coaches may struggle to identify claimant support needs accurately.

“Those claimants who are required to look for work will be included in the claimant count statistics. We might expect some to drop out of the claimant count again once the Work Capability Assessment has taken place, assuming they are judged to have limited capability for work, but they can remain on full conditionality for an extended period (and thus remain in the claimant count statistics).”

And confirming the accounts of disabled people I have supported:

“In addition, there have been reports that some claimants moving from ESA onto Universal Credit who have limited capability for work are being required to undergo a new Work Capability Assessment, and in the meantime are subject to full conditionality. Under Regulation 19 of the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/1230 as amended), these people should be treated, from the outset of their Universal Credit application, as having limited capacity for work without the need for a Work Capability Assessment. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has reported this as one of the most common problems highlighted by advisers.” 

It’s crossed my mind more than once that the sudden increase in early ESA and PIP reassessments may be linked to an aim to reduce the costs of the government’s unanticipated legal requirement to pay disabled and ill people transitional protection when they are migrated onto UC, or when they are forced to claim UC because of a change in circumstance – hence work coaches telling people in both ESA groups frequently that they have to undergo another assessment, when the rules state very clearly that they don’t.

The cases  I have highlighted here reflect only my most serious concerns about some of the consequences UC is having for ill and disabled people. It’s worrying that the problems I have outlined were not confined to just a couple of areas; the errors and problems seem to be entrenched on a systemic and national scale.

 

Related 

The rush to throw sick or disabled people off ESA and force them onto Universal Credit goes on while the DWP talks bollocks about support…

 


 

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Frank Field’s letter regarding the DWP’s non-existent/existent data: a Schrödinger kind of paradox

cat schro

The data is only real when someone looks for it

Following on from the article yesterday, (DWP spent £100m on disability benefit appeals over 2 year period), I have copied Frank Field’s letter to Esther McVey below, which highlights the discrepancy between what McVey informed the Work and Pensions Committee when they asked her to provide evidence regarding the costs of disability benefit appeals and mandatory reconsiderations in an inquiry into disability benefits, and the details provided, following a timely Freedom of Information request. 

Key facts

  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spent £108.1 million on Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) reviews and appeals since October 2015
  • Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spent £103.1 million on social security and child support tribunals in 2016/17
  • Around two-thirds of PIP and ESA tribunals have been won by claimants this year
  • More than 300,000 PIP and ESA decisions have been changed at review or appeal since October 2015

Figures obtained by the Press Association through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request show that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent £108.1 million on direct staffing costs for ESA and PIP appeals since October 2015.  The cost covers mandatory reconsiderations, an internal DWP review, and appeals to tribunals run by HM Courts and Tribunals Service. 

This staggering amount of money is being spent on the administrative costs of a Department fighting to uphold the outcomes of its own incompetent and deeply flawed decision-making. This is unacceptably leaving thousands of ill and disabled people having to fight to receive lifeline support to which, as the high proportion of successful appeal outcomes informs us, they are legally entitled. Furthermore, when provided with a second chance to remedy incompetent decision-making at mandatory review, the Department has persistently continued to uphold the original flawed decision in many cases. 

Since October 2015, 87,500 PIP claimants had their decision changed at mandatory review, while a further 91,587 claimants went on to win their appeals at tribunal. In the first six months of 2017/18 some 66% of 42,741 PIP appeals went in the claimant’s favour, highlighting that both the original decision-making process and mandatory review are failing to effectively ensure eligibility for support is fairly and accurately assessed.

The figures for ESA since October 2015 show 47,000 people had decisions revised at mandatory reconsideration and 82,219 appeals went in the favour of those let down by the current system of assessment and DWP decsion-making.

It’s as if the system is weighted to refuse as many people as possible their lifeline support.

So far in 2017/18, 68% of 35,452 ESA appeals have gone in favour of the claimant.

Conservative peer Baroness Altmann, a former minister at the DWP, said the money could be spent on benefits for those who need them, rather than on the costs of fighting their claims.

“Disability benefits need an overhaul and, of course, we must not let people make bogus claims, but the extent of the appeals we are seeing clearly indicates that something is seriously wrong with the system,” she said.

Figures released to the select committee’s inquiry show further costs to taxpayers.

The Ministry of Justice says it spent £103.1 million on social security and child support tribunals in 2016/17, up from £92.6 million the year before and £87.4 million in 2014/15.

Around 190,000 cases were cleared with or without a hearing in 2016/17, the Ministry told the committee.

The select committee is due to publish the results of its inquiry into PIP and ESA on Wednesday.

Chair Frank Field has written to Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, in the wake of the figures to question why MPs were not given such information.

DWP gave the committee the average costs of a mandatory reconsideration and appeal for PIP and ESA.

However, Field, a Labour MP, said the committee was unable to work out the full cost of the appeals process.

This was because it was told information on PIP appeals was not available on whether they were appeals from new claimants or those being reassessed, which have different costs.

The information released to the Press Association was broken down into costs for new claims and those undergoing reassessments.

Here is Field’s letter:

letter head

From the Chair
                                                                                                                            9 February 2018
Rt Hon Esther McVey
Secretary of State
Department for Work and Pensions

PIP appeal data

During our inquiry on PIP and ESA assessments, your Department kindly provided to us estimated unit costs of MRs and Appeals. This indicated that different costs are attached to PIP appeals depending on whether they relate to new or reassessed claims. 

Seeking to understand the financial implications of appeals for the Department, Committee staff inquired on 30 January: 

Of the 170,000 PIP appeals since 2013, how many were for new claims and how many were reassessments?  

We were duly informed:

The information on the number of PIP appeals is from HMCTS published statistics and this information is not available from HMCTS for new claims and reassessments separately.    

We were therefore unable to estimate the full cost of appeals to your Department, although the Ministry of Justice informed us that in 2016/17 its appeals expenditure was £103 million. 1

It was with some surprise, therefore, that we today received data released in response to an FOI request. This provided estimated costs per month spent on PIP appeals—broken down by new and reassessed claims.

You will be aware that we are shortly due to publish our report. That this data was provided in response to an FOI request, but not for our Report, is doubly regrettable since the key theme of our report is the need to introduce much greater trust and transparency into the PIP and ESA systems.

Might you please explain how this occurred?


1 Cost of Social Security and Child Support appeals, of which the majority relate to PIP/ESA.Franks sig

 

 

 

 

 

 


Related

A critique of the government’s claimant satisfaction survey

DWP spent £100m on disability benefit appeals over 2 year period

Thousands of disability assessments deemed ‘unacceptable’ under the government’s own quality control scheme

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Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP

Susan Roberts was found dead because of a morphine overdose (Photo: Philip Coburn)

A disabled mum, Susan Roberts, was found dead at home following an overdose of morphine. Susan died just metres away from a heartbreaking 11-page letter she had written to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), detailing her suffering following being told she wasn’t eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). 

Susan, a grandmother of eight, had survived four heart attacks. She died £4,000 in debt, after taking a fatal overdose within hours of being informed that her claim for PIP was unsuccessful. She had previously claimed Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and had been given an indefinite award, as her medical conditions were considered highly unlikely to get better.

The letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (Photo: Philip Coburn)

Susan was asked to apply for PIP by the DWP following the proposed closure of her DLA claim. Many people who have previously been eligible for DLA have found that they lose their support once they are reassessed for PIP. The government introduced PIP to replace DLA and to cut costs in 2013, as a part of their welfare “reform” programme, which inflicted cuts on the poorest citizens. The Conservatives claim that PIP “targets those most in need”. However, many people with the highest level of needs have been turned down for PIP after having indefinite or lifetime awards of DLA.

Susan’s tragic death also highlights that despite their claims, the government are not succeeding in “targeting the most vulnerable people”

Before taking a fatal dose of morphine, Susan had placed the paperwork from the DWP, which informed her that she had been turned down for PIP following mandatory review, a Do Not Resuscitate note and her unsent letter, on her dresser.

Susan was shocked when she was informed that she did not even qualify for an award of PIP at the lower rate. 

She began her heartbreaking letter: “Dear sirs, first of all, I request that you read this through carefully – this is my life after all.”

She said: “I am in a considerable state of depression after receiving your decision about my claim for PIP.”

Describing her health, she said: “My gall bladder needs to be removed because of multiple stones, weight loss, vomiting, excruciating pain – but specialists won’t operate because of my heart condition.”

She then describes the impact of suffering from ME, and explains that she can only manage to do tasks for just two or three hours a day. 

Susan had a stent fitted after her heart attacks and spent most of her time bedbound, largely due to also having ME.

An operation to remove part of her bowel meant she needed help to go to the toilet. She also needed help with her personal care, such as showering and with shopping, as she struggled to walk. But in late 2015, the Conservatives scrapped DLA and replaced it with PIP. Anyone 65 or older on April 8, 2013 still got DLA.

Susan’s daughter, Hayley Storrow, said: “It’s so sad. If she was born a week earlier she may have still been alive today.”

Susan’s PIP assessor had somehow erroneously decided that she could wash and bathe unaided, go to the loo and walk over 200 metres. Shockingly, this type of “error” and gross inaccuracy is very commonplace in the reports produced when disabled people are assessed for their lifeline support. In fact, earlier this year, the Labour party, the Green party and the Liberal Democrats called for the government to act on claims of widespread dishonesty by the medical professionals paid to compile benefits assessment reports, following a two-month investigation by Disability News Service.

Susan added in her letter that she would be virtually housebound without her Motability vehicle and her concluding comment is: “Thank you for reading this, with the greatest respect.”

She lost her Motability car last April because of the DWP’s decision not to award her PIP. Susan had sent a heartbreaking text to her daughter, Hayley, saying: “I’m never going to be able to see you again because they are taking the car.”

Susan is among thousands of disabled people who have lost their specialist Motability vehicles and wheelchairs because of cruel Conservative cuts and the restrictions to the eligibility criteria of PIP, and many more are likely to be affected. 

The PIP is supposed to help with the additional costs of being disabled, and in supporting disabled people in maintaining their independence and dignity, but many people are being denied the benefit because they are not assessed properly, and because the eligibility criteria have been made increasingly restrictive.

This means people previously eligible for the mobility component of DLA lose their cars and wheelchairs once they have been reassessed for the new PIP, if they don’t qualify for the mobility component. For many disabled people, this is a massive blow which impacts on their ability to remain independent, take part in their communities or get and keep a job. PIP is not means tested, so disabled people in work may claim it to help with additional support and extra costs. Many people losing their Motability vehicle will no longer be able to work.

Susan had asked for a review of the DWP decision following her first appeal. On 18 May last year, a letter arrived at her warden-assisted flat to tell her that the PIP award had been turned down yet again.

She was found dead the following morning and despite the letter and papers left out on the dresser, remarkably, a coroner said in October that she “had not taken her own life as there was no suicide note”, ruling it was a “drugs-related death”.

However, her daughter, Hayley, said: “I believe her unsent letter was her suicide note.”

It’s highly unlikely that an accidental overdose would have somehow prompted Susan to include a Do Not Resuscitate note with her letter and the bundle of DWP paperwork, too.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders are basically notes kept in a patient’s file that they do not want to be resuscitated should their heart stop. The medical establishment views DNR orders as the patient’s choice, though they do request that those considering DNR orders to discuss it with their family members. DNR orders may be requested by patients for a variety of reasons, all of them designed to keep the patient from suffering further. However, DNR laws do not take into account the situation of mentally ill patients framing a DNR order as a preparation for suicide.

The fact that Susan left the DNR note out with her letter and bundle of DWP documents indicates that her overdose was not accidental.

The Coroner’s verdict

By the end of 2015 it had emerged that the UK had experienced the largest annual spike in mortality rates for nearly 50 years.

Much media coverage seems to avoid reporting suicide as a response to structural conditions, and instead tends to emphasise suicide as an outcome of “mental illness” – as an individual act, rather than a problem that is influenced by socioeconomic and political conditions. The government has attempted to reconfigure wider social and economic problems as psychological problems, which has pushed highly politicised individual clinical and state therapeutic interventions – embodied in a rise of the mass provision of cognitive behavioural therapy and mandatory “attitude adjustment” classes for welfare recipients in the UK. This approach reflects political ideology and prejudices, rather than tackling the bigger issues of social inequality, poverty, lack of opportunity and an extremely punitive welfare regime. All of which are largely shaped by government policies.

Earlier this year, the Samaritans pubished their report Dying from Inequalitywhich clearly recognised rising socioeconomic inequality with a higher risk of suicide. The charity called on the government to direct support to those with unstable employment, insecure housing, low income or in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.

Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner North London, wrote directly to the DWP in 2015, stating that the suicide of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who hanged himself, had been a direct result of being ruled “fit to work.

The coroner’s verdict of Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide is widely seen as ground-breaking by disability rights campaigners and groups like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) because the DWP, the media and charities usually frame suicide as “complex” with no single cause, which means suicide has rarely been directly linked to the austerity programme, nor have government policies more generally been seen as directly responsible for suicides. 

Suicide is a significant social problem. Over 800,000 people commit suicide every year. Many of these can be quite properly understood as “economic suicides” because they take place against a backdrop of structural adjustment policies and rampant neoliberal market-led reforms. A counter discourse to the government tendency of psychologising socioeconomic conditions, making them the responsibility of individuals, rather than government and wider society, is of course crucial.

Technically, a coroner makes a finding of fact at the end of an Inquest. The coroner cannot attribute blame to any individual and cannot imply a criminal or civil liability, by law. The Coroner must use the evidence heard to decide who the deceased person was, where they died, when they died, and what the cause of their death was. Commonly, the “finding of fact” is referred to as a verdict or conclusion. A conclusion of suicide is decided where the evidence indicates a person has voluntarily acted to destroy his or her life in an intentional way. Inquest verdicts of Suicide (and Unlawful Killing) must be decided “beyond reasonable doubt”. Other causes of death may be decided on “a balance of probability”.

However, there is evidence to suggest that suicides are being under-reported because of the change in Coroner’s statutory regulations and guidelines, in 2013. Interestingly, contrary to the current trend in health and safety inquests, the Ministry of Justice guidance tells coroners that, wherever possible, short-form conclusions should be delivered, rather than the more detailed narrative conclusion.

Furthermore, open conclusions are discouraged, to be used only as a “last resort”. Concerns have been raised about the government’s new short-form conclusions and some organisations, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have asked the government to give due consideration to changing the standard of proof required for suicide verdicts. The 2013 reforms also enable the government to suspend an independent inquest into any death in favour of an inquiry, which under the Inquiries Act 2005 can be now be held in secret. 

The House of Commons Health Committee Suicide prevention: interim report Fourth Report of Session 2016–17 says: “Our evidence suggests the need for a more rapid provisional notification of suicide at the time when a suspected death by suicide occurs. We recommend that the Government take action to improve consistency between coroners and to make routine the use of provisional notifications of suicide. Furthermore, we recommend that the standard of proof for conclusions of death by suicide should be changed to the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt.” 

Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules (1984) states that if the Coroner is of the opinion that a death could have been prevented if different action had been taken by a particular person or organisation, he/she may make a recommendation for change. Also, the scope of the coroner’s investigation must be widened to include an investigation of the broad circumstances of the death, including events leading up to the death in question, where this wider investigation is necessary to ensure compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life). The positive duty to protect life implies a duty to investigate unnatural deaths, including but not confined to deaths in which state agents may be implicated.

Hayley has accused the government of having blood on their hands. She said: “People are living in poverty or considering suicide because of these benefits changes. My Mum won’t be the last to die.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are with Mrs Roberts’ family but there is no evidence to suggest any link between her death and her benefit claim.”

There is no evidence to suggest it isn’t, either, without further investigation, which so far, the government have refused to do. There is an established correlation between disability benefit assessments and increased mental health problems, distress and exacerbations of physical illness symptoms, too. While correlation isn’t necessarily the same thing as causation, it quite often implies a causal link, which may only be ruled out following further investigation, rather than political denial.

The DWP has quietly carried out investigations into 60 cases where benefit claimants are said to have taken their own lives. Labour MP Diana Johnson said the figures cast doubt on claims that there is no link between suicide and welfare re-assessments, with the DWP carrying out the internal reviews over the last five years. 

Johnson said: “Ministers have repeatedly claimed there to be no link between suicide and welfare re-assessment whenever figures have come to light.

“This parliamentary answer to me blows this claim out of the water.

“If there was no link, there wouldn’t have been 60 reviews of suicides in the past five years.

“I am appalled that these figures have remained unpublished for so long.”

A written parliamentary question from the Hull North MP revealed that the DWP carried out 15 internal reviews into suicides or alleged suicides of so-called DWP “clients” in 2012/13 alone.

“Families who’ve been left in the dark need to know everything the DWP knows about these cases,” Johnson said.

“Most importantly, we need a welfare system that supports, rather than victimises, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”

Susan’s daughter, Hayley said: “When my brother went to mum’s flat after she died, he found 37p in her purse. Even with DLA she was living day to day, scraping by. She was found dead with the PIP refusal letter placed strategically on a dresser.

“She was a poorly woman and this ­decision tipped her over the edge – she was in a desperate situation. I feel if it wasn’t for PIP and the Tory Government, my mum would still be alive. 

“They failed her like they have failed thousands.”

Susan wrote the 11-page letter criticising the decision and outlining her circumstances but as the DWP turned down her initial appeal within six days, she did not have time to send it. 

Hayley said: “I just want Theresa May to know that her rules and regime are killing the most vulnerable people in society.

“With the election coming up, it is so vital that things change.

“I feel any vote for the Tories is going to lead to more deaths.”

 

If you are experiencing distress and feel suicidal, please don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans have launched a free telephone national helpline number, 116 123. 

People who are going through a difficult time can access the service round the clock, every single day of the year.

This number is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call 116 123.

 

Related

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

Government subverts judicial process and abandons promise on mental health ‘parity of esteem’ to strip people of PIP entitlement

New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today


 

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.

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

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“The fact is that Ministers are looking for large savings at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. That was not made clear in the general election campaign; then, the Prime Minister said that disabled people would be protected.” – [Official Report, Commons, 2/3/16; cols. 1052-58.]

A coalition of 60 national disability charities have condemned the government’s cuts to benefits as a “step backwards” for sick and disabled people and their families. The Disability Benefits Consortium say that the cuts, which will see people lose up to £1,500 a year, will leave disabled people feeling betrayed by the government and will have a damaging effect on their health, finances and ability to find work.

Research by the Consortium suggests the low level of benefit is already failing to meet disabled people’s needs. 

A survey of 500 people in the affected group found that 28 per cent of people had been unable to afford to eat while in receipt of the benefit. Around 38 per cent of respondents said they had been unable to heat their homes and 52 per cent struggled to stay healthy.

The Government was twice defeated in the Lords over proposals to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for sick and disabled people in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from £103 to £73.

However the £30 a week cut is set to go ahead after bitterly disappointed and angry peers were left powerless to continue to oppose the Commons, which has overturned both defeats. The government has hammered through the cuts of £120 a month to the lifeline income of ill and disabled people by citing the “financial privilege” of the Commons, and after Priti Patel informing the Lords that they have “overstepped their mark” in opposing the cuts twice.

The Strathclyde review, commissioned by a rancorous and retaliatory David Cameron, following the delay and subsequently effective defeat of government tax credit legislation in the House of Lords, recommends curtailing the powers of Upper House. Strathclyde concludes in his report that the House of Lords should be permitted to ask the Commons to “think again” when a disagreement on proposed legislation exists, but should not be allowed to veto. MPs would ultimately make a decision on whether a measure is passed into law. The review focuses in particular on the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, in relation to the former’s primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation, and serves to highlight the government’s very worrying increasing tendency towards authoritarianism.

The cuts to ESA and proposed and probable cuts to Personal Independent Payments (PIP), take place in the context of a Tory manifesto that included a pledge not to cut disability benefits.

Yesterday in the House of Lords, independent crossbencher Lord Low of Dalston warned: “This is a black day for disabled people.”

Contrary to what is being reported, it won’t be only new claimants affected by the cuts to ESA. Firstly, it may potentially affect anyone who has a break in their ESA claim (and that could happen because of a reassessment with a decision that means needing to ask for a mandatory review), and secondly, those migrated onto Universal Credit will be affected. The benefit cap will also cut sick and disabled people’s income if they are in the ESA WRAG.

Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Grey-Thompson said she was bitterly disappointed that this “dreadful and punitive” part of the Bill was going ahead.

Parliamentary procedure had prevented her putting down another amendment opposing the move, which will have a harsh, negative impact on thousands of people’s lives.

Already facing a UN inquiry into grave and systematic abuses of the human rights of disabled people, Cameron remains completely unabashed by his government’s blatant attack on a protected social group, and the Conservatives continue to target disabled people for a disproportionately large burden of austerity cuts.

The Government have been accused of failing to fulfil their public sector equality duty. Under the Equality Act 2010, the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies on the elimination of discrimination, the advancement of equality of opportunity and the fostering of good relations. This is shameful, in a very wealthy first-world democracy.

The “justification” the Tories offer for the cut of almost £120 a month to the lifeline support of people judged to be unfit for work by their own doctors AND the state, is that it will “help people into work”. I’ve never heard of taking money from people who already have very little described as “help” before. Only the Conservatives  would contemplate cutting money from sick and disabled people, whilst gifting the millionaires with £107, 000 each per year in the form of a tax “break”.

Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t “incentivise” anyone to find a job. It will just make life much more difficult. The government have made the decision to cut disability benefits because of an extremely prejudiced ideological preference for a “small state” and their antiwelfare agenda. There are alternative political choices that entail far more humane treatment of sick and disabled people. The fact that ministers have persistently refused to carry out a policy impact assessment indicates clearly that this measure has got nothing to do with any good will towards disabled people, nor is it about “helping” people into work.

The cut simply expresses the Conservative’s contempt for social groups that are economically inactive, regardless of the reasons. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors, and by the state via the work capability assessment. Simply refusing to accept this, and hounding a group of people who are ill, and who have until recently been considered reasonably exempt from working, is an indictment of this increasingly despotic government.

I can’t help wondering how long it will be before we hear about government proposals to cut the financial support further for those in the ESA support group. There does seem to be a recognisable pattern of political scapegoating, public moral boundaries being pushed, and cruel, highly unethical cuts being announced. Social security provision is being dismantled incrementally, whilst the Conservative justification narrative becomes less and less coherent. Despite the arrogant moralising approach of Tory ministers, and the Orwellian rhetoric of “helping” and “supporting” people who are too ill to work into any job, or face the threat of starvation and destitution, none of this will ever justify the unforgivable, steady withdrawal of lifeline support for sick and disabled people.

Baroness Meacher warned that for the most vulnerable the cut was “terrifying” and bound to lead to increased debt.

Condemning the “truly terrible” actions of the Treasury, she urged ministers to monitor the number of suicides in the year after the change comes in, adding: “I am certain there will be people who cannot face the debt and the loss of their home, who will take their lives.” Not only have the government failed to carry out an impact assessment regarding the cuts, Lord Freud said that the impact, potential increase in deaths and suicides won’t be monitored, apart from “privately” because individual details can’t be shared and because that isn’t a “useful approach”.

He went on to say “We have recently produced a large analysis on this, which I will send to the noble Baroness. That analysis makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying—however you die—and the fact that someone is claiming benefit.”

Actually, a political refusal to investigate an established correlation between the welfare “reforms” and an increase in the mortality statistics of those hit the hardest by the cuts – sick and disabled people – is not the same thing as there being no causal link. Often, correlation implies causality and therefore such established links require further investigation. It is not possible to disprove a causal link without further investigation, either.

Whilst the government continue to deny there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation, which warrants further research – an independent inquiry at the VERY least. But the government are hiding behind this distinction to deny any association at all between policy and policy impacts. That’s just plain wrong.

Insisting that there isn’t a “causal link” established, whilst withholding crucial evidence in parliament and from the public domain is what can at best be considered the actions and behaviours of tyrants.

 

Related reading

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

Thatcher’s policies condemned for causing “unjust premature death”

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

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

A Critique of Conservative notions of “Social Research”

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

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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Benefit sanctions: Britain’s secret penal system – Dr David Webster

Benefits claimants are subjected to an ‘amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system’, writes Dr David Webster of the University of Glasgow.

Few people know that the number of financial penalties (‘sanctions’) imposed on benefit claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts. In Great Britain in 2013, there were 1,046,398 sanctions on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, 32,128 on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, and approximately 44,000 on lone parent recipients of Income Support. By contrast, Magistrates’ and Sheriff courts imposed a total of only 849,000 fines.

Sanctioned benefit claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts. The scale of penalties is more severe (£286.80 – £11,185.20 compared to £200 – £10,000). Most sanctions are applied to poor people and involve total loss of benefit income.

Although there is a system of discretionary ‘hardship payments’, claimants are often reduced to hunger and destitution by the ban on application for the first two weeks and by lack of information about the payments and the complexity of the application process. The hardship payment system itself is designed to clean people out of resources; all savings or other sources of assistance must be used up before help is given.

Decisions on guilt are made in secret by officials who have no independent responsibility to act lawfully; since the Social Security Act 1998 they have been mere agents of the Secretary of State. These officials are currently subject to constant management pressure to maximise penalties, and as in any secret system there is a lot of error, misconduct, dishonesty and abuse.

The claimant is not present when the decision on guilt is made and is not legally represented. While offenders processed in the court system cannot be punished before a hearing, and if fined are given time to pay, the claimant’s punishment is applied immediately. Unlike a magistrate or sheriff, the official deciding the case does not vary the penalty in the light of its likely impact on them or their family. If the claimant gets a hearing (and even before the new system of ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ only 3 per cent of sanctioned claimants were doing so), then it is months later, when the damage has been done.

‘Mandatory reconsideration’, introduced in October 2013, denies access to an independent Tribunal until the claimant has been rung up at home twice and forced to discuss their case with a DWP official in the absence of any adviser – a system which is open to abuse and has caused a collapse in cases going to Tribunal.

Yet the ‘transgressions’ (DWP’s own word) which are punished by this system are almost exclusively very minor matters, such as missing a single interview with a Jobcentre or Work Programme contractor, or not making quite as many token job applications as the Jobcentre adviser demands.

How did we get to this situation? Until the later 1980s, the social security system saw very little use of anything that could be called a sanction. Unemployment benefits were seen as part of an insurance scheme, with insurance-style conditions. Any decision on ‘disqualification’ (as it was called) from unemployment benefit was made by an independent Adjudication Service, with unrestricted right of appeal to an independent Tribunal. The maximum disqualification was 6 weeks, and those disqualified had a right to a reduced rate of Supplementary Benefit assessed on the normal rules.

‘Sanctions’ are almost entirely a development of the last 25 years.

[“Conditionality” has been a part of welfare to some degree since its inception. However, the Coalition made sanctions a key part of welfare conditionality as a part of their welfare “reforms in 2012, considerably increasing their severity, timescale and frequency. My insert. KSJ].

The British political class has come to believe that benefit claimants must be punished to make them look for work in ways the state thinks are a good idea. Yet the evidence to justify this does not exist. A handful of academic papers, mostly from overseas regimes with milder sanctions, suggest that sanctions may produce small positive effects on employment. But other research shows that their main effect is to drive people off benefits but not into work, and that where they do raise employment, they push people into low quality, unsustainable jobs.

This research, and a torrent of evidence from Britain’s voluntary sector, also shows a wide range of adverse effects. Sanctions undermine physical and mental health, cause hardship for family and friends, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to Food Banks and payday lenders, and to crime. They also often make it harder to look for work. Taking these negatives into account, they cannot be justified.

Benefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system, but lacks its safeguards. It is time for everyone concerned for the rights of the citizen to demand their abolition. 


David Webster’s written and oral evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into Benefit Sanctions beyond the Oakley Review is available on the Parliament.uk website and and his other papers on sanctions are available via Child Poverty Action Group.

This article first appeared on Monday, 26 January, 2015 on the  Centre for Crime and Justice Studies site. You can read the original here

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Sanctions are founded on Tory psychobabble. You can’t “incentivise” people by starving them

Department of Department of Work and Pensions officials admit to using fake claimant’s comments to justify benefit sanctions

As predicted, Mandatory Review has effectively destroyed independent Tribunals

IDS_nSection 102 and Schedule 11 of the Welfare Reform Act, (Clause 99) is the (State) power to require revision before appeal. People who wish to challenge a benefit decision will no longer be allowed to lodge an appeal immediately. Instead, the government introduced mandatory revision or review stage, during which a different Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker will reconsider the original decision and the evidence and, if necessary, send for more information.

Many of us have campaigned since 2012 to raise awareness of Clause 99. During the Consultation period, I wrote a set of responses to the government’s proposals, which many people used as a template for their own responses.  I remember that we ALL RAISED THE SAME CONCERNS.

In summary, the main concerns were that basic rate Employment Support Allowance was to be withdrawn during the mandatory review period, leaving sick and disabled people with no money to live on, whilst the DWP reconsidered their own “fit for work decisions” that were wrong.

I know that our consultation responses were ignored by the government. The changes were introduced anyway, despite our grave concerns. Since October 2013 people have to apply for mandatory review separately before they can lodge an appeal. We were also very worried that no time limit was established for the DWP to undertake and complete the mandatory review. Our concerns were fully justified, as it’s emerged that people are waiting 7-10 weeks for the mandatory review decision. Meanwhile, these people cannot appeal. And have no money to live on.

An added concern is that this system as it stands demands such a lot from people who may be very vulnerable, seriously ill and/or have mental health problems. Their difficulties are exacerbated by cuts in legal aid for welfare rights advice and cuts in local authority grants. There is a significant contraction of the availability of help for those who need it the most from advice agencies.

A Benefit Sanctions Briefing was released on 18 February 2015 by the Department of Work and Pensions, comprising of an update of sanctions statistics up to the end of September 2014, and for the first time it also included the outcomes of Mandatory Reviews (or sometimes called “reconsiderations.”)

Dr David Webster, Senior Research Fellow at Glasgow University, said: “The Mandatory Reconsideration system (MR), introduced on 28 October 2013, has fundamentally changed the whole appeal process, introducing additional steps and a new Jobcentre Plus structure. MR has cut the proportion of Job Seekers Allowance sanctions which are challenged by claimants from about one third (33%) to about 20-25%. Employment Support Allowance sanction challenges have returned to below their pre-MR level, at about 45%.

The independent element in the system offered by Tribunals has been effectively destroyed, completely in the case of Employment Support Allowance and almost completely for Job Seekers Allowance, where only 0.14% of sanction decisions are now being taken to a Tribunal.

MR has had no overall impact on the proportion of Job Seekers Allowance sanctions overturned, which remains at about 13%. But the proportion of Employment Support Allowance sanctions overturned has fallen from about 35% to about 20%.

The most disturbing possibility is that Employment Support Allowance claimants’ medical conditions are rendering them unable to cope effectively with the phone calls made to them by DWP officials at home during the MR process.”

He also said: “Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) Reconsiderations and Appeals: The revised DWP statistics show much lower claimant success rates at both internal DWP reconsideration and Tribunal appeal. However, success rates for the few who appeal to a Tribunal have risen and successful Tribunal appeals are at an all-time high. For a claimant prepared to go all the way in the appeal process, the probability of overturning a sanction is now 51%.

Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants have higher success rates than JSA claimants at reconsideration and appeal.

In 2013 their reconsideration success rate was 56.1% and their appeal success rate was 26.1%. A higher proportion of ESA claimants than JSA claimants ask for reconsideration. This proportion has been rising rapidly, from below 10% up to March 2011, to over 40% during 2013.

The proportion appealing to Tribunals is lower, only about 1%. In 2013 there were 8,428 reconsiderations or appeals where the claimant was successful in overturning an ESA sanction.

The big surge in ESA sanctions during 2013 was due to penalties for failure to participate in work-related activity. By December 2013 this reason accounted for 87% of ESA sanctions, the other 13% being for failure to attend a work-related interview.

This is in contrast to the experience under the Labour government, when the only reason for sanction was failure to attend an interview [without good reason], and there were no sanctions in relation to work-related activity.

Dr David Webster has submitted evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into benefit sanctions.

Many of the key issues with the mandatory review can be seen summarised herehere and here. Sheila Gilmore and Dame Anne Begg have covered these extensively during the ongoing Work and Pensions Committee ESA inquiry, as well as during the course of the many separately tabled debates.

Clause 99 – Mandatory Review – was undoubtedly introduced to make appealing wrong decisions that we are fit for work almost impossible. Sick and disabled people are effectively being silenced by this Government, and the evidence of a brutal, dehumanising, undignified and grossly unfair system of “assessment” is being hidden.

It also hides the crass unfairness and terrible consequences of Tory draconianism – the using of behavioural modification techniques in the form of benefit sanctions that have now been integrated into welfare “conditionality” criteria, and imposed on people who are already struggling materially, some of who are sick and disabled.

Most of those people claiming benefts do so through no fault of their own. To punish people by removing all of their income – and thus their only means of meeting basic survival needs – so arbitrarily, is obscene in a so-called civilised society.

The only way for a tiny group of people to become obscenely rich is for huge masses of others to be kept chronically poor. The tories have spent five years lying to us about who “deserves” what, but the bottom line is this: almost every tory policy has intentionally resulted in money being taken from the poorest or money being handed to the [already] wealthiest and most powerful. (See: Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor and ‘We are raising more money for the rich’ revisited: some thoughts.)

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Clause 99, Catch 22 – The ESA Mandatory Second Revision and Appeals

Clause 99, Catch 22 – State sadism and silencing disabled people

Clause 99, Catch 22 and Penning is telling lies

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Sanctions misery for tens of thousands of families this Christmas

Pregnant and sanctioned just in time for christmas… Sanctioned and frozen to death….The latest news from Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre.

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Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Commitee

Benefit sanctions are not fair and are not helping people into work

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for the memes.

David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public

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Lord Freud, a Conservative Welfare Reform Minister, has admitted comments he made that some disabled people are  not worth” the full national minimum wage”  were “offensive”, after they were disclosed by Ed Miliband during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday afternoon. The Labour leader has called on the Tory peer to resign. Cameron called for a full apology from Freud.

He has since apologised after slipping up and suggesting that disabled people are “not worth” the national minimum wage and some could only be paid “£2 an hour.” Cameron says the comments made by Lord Freud at the Tory conference do not represent the views of government. However, his austerity measures and the welfare “reforms” tell us a very different story.

Cameron betrayed his anger at being challenged when he once again alluded to his severely disabled late son, Ivan, and his late father, as he told Miliband that he would take no lectures on disabled people.

This is not the first time that the prime minister has used his son in anger, as a tactic designed to cause others emotional discomfort, deflect criticism and to avoid answering difficult questions regarding this government’s harsh and punitive policies towards disabled people.

The Labour leader quoted Freud, saying: “You make a really good point about the disabled. There is a group where actually, as you say, they’re not worth the full wage.”

Amidst cries of “outrage” and “shame” from the Labour benches, Mr Miliband said: “To be clear about what the Welfare Reform Minister said, it’s very serious. He didn’t just say disabled people weren’t worth the minimum wage, he went further and he said he was looking at whether there is something we can do, if someone wants to work for £2 an hour.”

He added: “Surely someone holding those views can’t possibly stay in your Government?”

Cameron said: “Those are not the views of the government, they are not the views of anyone in the government. The minimum wage is paid to everybody, disabled people included.”

Clearly very angry, the prime minister added: “Let me tell you: I don’t need lectures from anyone about looking after disabled people. So I don’t want to hear any more of that. We pay the minimum wage, we are reforming disability benefits, we want to help disabled people in our country, we want to help more of them into work. And instead of casting aspersions why doesn’t he get back to talking about the economy.”  

Once again, note the rhetorical diversionary tactics that Cameron used.

Miliband responded: “I suggest, if he wants to protect the rights of disabled people, he reads very carefully what his welfare minister has said because they are not the words of someone who ought to be in charge of policy related to disabled people.

“In the dog days of this government the Conservative party is going back to its worst instincts – unfunded tax cuts, hitting the poorest hardest, now undermining the minimum wage. The nasty party is back.”

In the Guardian said: We are in the climate of the Work Programme  and  employment and support allowance travesties, in jobseeker’s allowance sanctions and personal independent payment delays.

Coerced, free labour and a shrinking, ever conditional benefit system. Freud has not spoken out of turn, but encapsulated Conservative attitudes to both disabled people and workers: pay them as little as possible and they will be grateful for it.

The Tories are not content with forcing disabled people into work. They want to pay them a pittance when they get there. I suppose we can thank Freud. The government has been producing enough measures that infers disabled people are slightly less than human. He’s finally said it out loud.”

I couldn’t agree more. Freud’s comments are simply a reflection of a wider implicit and fundamental Social Darwinism underpinning Tory ideology, and even Tim Montgomerie, who founded the Conservative­Home site has conceded that: “Conservative rhetoric often borders on social Darwinism…and has lost a sense of social justice.”

Of course the problem with such an ideological foundation is that it directly contradicts the basic principles that modern, western democracy was founded on, it is incompatible with our Human Rights Act, which enshrines the principle that we are each of equal worth. And our Equality Act, introduced by Labour to ensure that people are not discriminated against on the grounds of their disability, gender, age and a variety of other protected characteristics.

Sam Bowman, research director of the Adam Smith Institute, has said that Freud was “shamefully mistreated” by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

The Adam Smith Institute – a think tank that promotes Conservative “libertarian and free market ideas”, minarchism and claims it is:“known for its pioneering work on privatization, deregulation, and tax reform, and for its advocacy of internal markets in healthcare and education, working with policy-makers”  – has, perhaps unsurprisingly, defended Lord Freud’s disgraceful comments regarding striving disabled workers.

Mr Bowman said: “His (Freud’s) point was that the market value of some people’s wages is below the minimum wage. This is often true of the severely disabled and can have appalling consequences for their self-esteem and quality of life.”

He added: “To point out that someone’s market value is less than minimum wage has nothing to do with their moral value as human beings.”

I beg to differ. We have a government that claims meritocratic principles define those who are worthy and deserving of wealth.We have a government that generates socially divisive narratives founded on ideological dichotomies like strivers and skivers. We have a government that systematically disregards the human rights of disabled people. Their very policies define the moral value they attribute to the poor, disabled people and the wealthy, respectively. This defence is based on a false distinction, because the Tories conflate market value and moral value explicitly, their policies are evidence of that.

The think tank president, Madsen Pirie,  once said: “We propose things which people regard as being on the edge of lunacy. The next thing you know, they’re on the edge of policy.”  

This group of neoconservatives brought you the fundamentals of Thatcher’s poll tax, the Adam Smith Institute was also the ideological driving force behind the sales of council house stock. If you need any further convincing of their Tory credentials, then their proposals that the National Health Service should establish an internal market with hospitals buying the use of facilities from other districts and from the private sector ought to be sufficient.

The Institute has always been a fierce critic of the NHS, it thinks that the government should only regulate healthcare and that healthcare should be privately funded and privately provided by private sector companies. The Adam Smith Institute said: Congratulations to the new Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, for what could be the biggest revolution in the UK’s state-run National Health Service for 60 years. 

Also recommended by this group of privatisation vultures was an internal market system for UK schools that would have (reduced) state funds to follow students to independently run academic institutions. This approach to school funding is now Coalition policy. Following the Institute’s call for the use of private businesses by local governments, many council-run local services, such as waste collection and cleaning, were contracted out. Additionally, local governments are now required to solicit competitive bids for local services.

And it was this group of Hayek-worshipping, pro-exploitation neofeudalists, who don’t declare their funding sources, that called for a radical shake-up of welfare policy, which would make work requirements absolutely central to the benefits system. These proposals subsequently became Tory policy.

And who could forget their peddling of unfettered free markets and trade as an objection to fair trade?

In the UK and elsewhere, such Conservative neoliberal ideas have drastically changed how states operate. By heavily promoting market-based economies that highly value competition and efficiency, such neoliberalist economies have moved countries to retrogressively adopting Social Darwinist philosophies to prop up free market “logic”. 

Bourdieu (1999) contends that neoliberalism as a form of national governance has become a doxa, or an unquestioned and simply accepted world-view.(See also Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man.)

Harvey (2005) is not surprised that the ideas of capitalism have been infused into political, social, and cultural institutions at state-level. By placing a mathematical quality on social life, the neoconservatives have encouraged a formerly autonomous state to regress into penal state that values production, competition, and profit above all else, and social issues and consequences are increasingly disregarded.

Tories view their brand of economics as a social science that is capable of explaining all human behaviours, since all social agency is thought to be directed by a rationale of individualistic and selfish goals. And the focus on the individual means that ideas related to concepts such as “the public good” and realities such as “the community” are now being discarded as unnecessary components of a welfare state.

Unsurprisingly, then, high unemployment, gross inequality, and increasingly absolute poverty are increasingly blamed on individuals rather than on structural/economic constraints.

Tory economic policy is designed to benefit only a very small class of people. Such a world-view also makes it easier to justify the thought that some people are deserving of much more than others because, after all, it is a common refrain that we are all responsible for our own destinies. (See the just-world fallacy.)

Freud’s comment was not a momentary lapse, nor was it unrepresentative of Tory views more generally. He is the contemptuous architect of the grossly punitive Tory Bedroom Tax that disproportionately affects households of disabled people. The Tories endorsed Freud’s discriminatory policy proposal, and savagely ridiculed the UN rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, when she pointed out, very professionally and reasonably, that the policy contravened human rights.

He is the same government minister that rejected suggestions that austerity policies have led to an increase in food bank use – making the jaw-droppingly astonishing suggestion that food bank charities are somehow to blame. This former investment banker and peer told the Lords that the increase in the usage of food banks was “supply led”.

He said: “If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly, food from the food banks is a free good and by definition with a free good there’s almost infinite demand.”

Poverty reduced to individual neoliberal motivational formulae. Yet it is the government that are responsible for policies that create and sustain inequality and poverty.

In the wake of the longer wait for unemployment benefits introduced by George Osborne, a massive increase in the use of cruel benefit sanctions, the introduction of the mandatory review, during which benefits are not payable to disabled people, Freud also rejected suggestions by leading food bank operators that delays in benefit payments drove demand for emergency food aid.

Such brutal, dehumanising and inequitable treatment of our most vulnerable citizens cannot be regarded as an exceptional incident: the Tories have formulated policies that have at their very core the not so very subliminal message that we are worthless and undeserving of support, basic honesty and decency.

Social Darwinism, with its brutalising indifference to human suffering, has been resurrected from nineteenth century and it fits so well with the current political spirit of neoliberalism. As social bonds are replaced by narcissistic, unadulterated materialism, public concerns are now understood and experienced as utterly private miseries, except when offered up to us on the Jerry Springer Show or Benefit Street as spectacle.

The Tories conflate autonomy (the ability to act according to our own internalised beliefs and values) with independence (not being reliant on or influenced by others). Tories like Freud have poisoned the very idea that we are a social species, connected by mutual interdependencies that require a degree of good will, kindliness and willingness to operate beyond our own exclusive, strangle hold of self-interest.

The time has come to ask ourselves what possible benefit to society such a government actually is – what use is an authoritarian, punitive state that is more concerned with punishing, policing and reducing citizens than with nurturing, supporting and investing in them?

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Tory Values Explained In One Easy Chart

Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23

tory cuts
That we live in times when a government can withhold information about the impact of its policies on sick and disabled people, the poorest and the vulnerable is extraordinary, and certainly reflects the fact that we are no longer a democracy.

We knew in 2012 that an average of 73 sick and disabled people were dying after they had their lifeline benefits withdrawn. But now the government refuses to provide us with information about deaths since then. It’s my own belief that this refusal is because the truth will be horrifying and that even those that supported benefit cuts originally will raise their objections when they learn the truth. We cannot claim to be a civilised society when our government policy is killing some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Well done Mike Sivier, for standing up against an increasingly authoritarian government, and good luck from your fellow campaigners.

From Vox Political: Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23.

“The only way the public can judge whether this has worked, or whether more must be done to prevent unnecessary deaths, is by examining the mortality statistics, but these have been withheld”. 

Yes, just like the toxic clause 99 – mandatory review – silences those wishing to appeal, also hiding evidence from the public eye. The Tories are showing form here.

 In a so-called democracy, ALL campaigning is both essential and part of an inbuilt safeguard against authoritarianism.

Vox Political: Case proven? Government stays away from benefit deaths tribunal

Related:

The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst the Disabled.
Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy

Clause 99, Catch 22 – The ESA Mandatory Second Revision and Appeals

552733_435687149834152_88095195_nSection 102 and Schedule 11 of the Welfare Reform Act, (Clause 99) – Power to require revision before appeal.

If anyone left in doubt that this Government’s policies are grossly unfair, and are intentionally punishing sick and disabled people – some of whom are amongst the most vulnerable of our citizens – you need look no further than Clause 99 for verification. Currently, claimants who are found fit for work can continue to receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) at the basic rate by immediately lodging an appeal if they think the decision is wrong. ESA will then remain in payment until the appeal is decided.

That is all set to change, however, under Clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Bill, intended to be effective from April 2013 – and according to the Department for Work and Pensions, from October 2013 that includes ESA and DLA decisions. Under the new rules, claimants who wish to challenge a benefit decision will no longer be allowed to lodge an appeal immediately. Instead, there will be a mandatory revision or review stage, during which a different Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker will reconsider the evidence and, if necessary, send for more information, before deciding whether to change the original decision.

There will be no time limit on how long this process may take. The requirement for a mandatory review/revision before proceeding with appeal applies to all DWP linked benefits. During the review, no ESA will be payable, not even the basic rate. However, once the review is completed, those wishing to appeal may claim basic rate ESA again, up until the tribunal. It’s important that people know to request this continued payment from the DWP, once they have lodged their appeal. 

The ludicrous claim from Government is that this “simplifies” the appeal process, and  “the changes will improve customer service by encouraging people to submit additional evidence earlier in the process to help improve decision making. Resolving any disputes without the need for an appeal will also help ensure that people receive the right decision earlier in the process.”

Call me a cynic, but I don’t believe this is the genuine reasoning behind clause 99 at all. The successful appeals to date provide a growing and substantial body of evidence that the Work Capability Assessment isn’t fit for purpose. People are being wrongfully denied their claims for ESA. Mandatory review will make it very difficult for people to continue with an appeal, since their lifeline income will end for an indefinite period until the review is completed and they can proceed with appeal.

You will also have to appeal directly to HM Courts and Tribunal Services – this is known as “direct lodgement” – as DWP will no longer lodge the appeal on your behalf. DWP has agreed with the Tribunal Procedure Committee to introduce time limits to stipulate how long DWP has to respond to an individual appeal. The DWP is currently discussing what these time limits might be with the Tribunal Procedure Committee. That is assuming, of course, that people manage to circumnavigate the other consequences of this legislation.

From 1 April 2013 you will not be able to get Legal Aid for First-tier Tribunal hearings. Legal Aid will still be available for appeals to the Upper Tribunal and Higher Courts. See appealing to the Upper Tribunal against a first tier tribunal decision here: legal aid act 2012 for more information. So much for the right to a fair hearing.

There are some serious implications and concerns about these changes. Firstly, there is no set time limit for DWP to undertake and complete the second revision. Secondly, claimants are left with no income at all whilst they await the review, and until appeal is lodged. The DWP have stated that there is “no legal reason” to pay a benefit that has been disallowed during the review period. The only choice available seems to be an application for Job Seekers Allowance. (JSA) or Universal Credit. However, we know that people in situations where they have been refused ESA have also been refused JSA, incredibly, on the grounds that they are unavailable for work, (and so do not meet the conditions that signing on entails) or they are unfit for work, because they are simply too ill to meet the conditions.

We know of people who have had their application for JSA refused because they attend hospital for treatment once a week and so they are “not available for work” at this time. Furthermore, the minimum waiting period for a new claim to be processed is 6 weeks. That’s 6 weeks with no income at all.

Moreover, there is some anecdotal evidence of people being told by the DWP that in order to claim JSA, they must first close their original claim for ESA, since it isn’t possible to have two claims for two different benefits open at the same time. DWP are also telling people that this means withdrawing their ESA appeal. However, you have the right to appeal.

Another grave concern is that although most people on income related ESA are automatically passported  to maximum Housing and Council Tax Benefit, from the time that the claim ends, (and for whatever reason), eligibility to housing benefit and council tax also ends. 

However, I would urge people in this situation to contact the Housing Benefit office promptly to explain the situation – the DWP automatically contact the Council to tell them when someone’s eligibility for ESA has ended. It is always assumed that the person claiming has found work when their DWP related benefit eligibility ends.

You can still claim for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit because you have a low income, or nil income, but you will need contact the Benefits Section, and will need bank statements to demonstrate that this is true, and also, any other evidence you may have, such as your notification letter from DWP, evidence of your tenancy and ID. If you have no income as a result of your ESA being stopped, ask for a nil income declaration form. (Like this one, for example)

You may also apply for discretionary housing payments if you are likely to become homeless, and if there is a shortfall between your Housing Benefit, and rent costs. It’s also payable sometimes when you have legal costs. It’s certainly worth asking your Local Authority if you qualify for payment. There are limited funds available.

I am informed that when an appeal is pending, providing the Housing Benefit Office is informed of this, there should be some support towards rent and Council Tax. However, this is going to place further strain and difficulty on people who are ill and disabled. Housing Benefit is calculated by taking the work activity or support component of ESA into account, and currently, when basic rate ESA is payable up to appeal, some claimants are not necessarily eligible for the maximum Housing Benefit awards.

It’s therefore possible that Housing Benefit entitlement will be lower, with no basic rate ESA being payable after April 1st. I would urge people to contact their Local Authority as soon as you know your ESA award has ended, because otherwise they will simply close your Housing Benefit and Council Tax claim.

The FOI.

I can confirm that there was no risk analysis or risk register in respect of clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Bill. I sent an FOI to DWP that asked about these issues, together with questioning that Clause 99 contains no reference to a time limit on ESA reconsiderations, although it makes them mandatory. I asked :-

1) When is the intended implementation date?

2) As yet no decisions have been made regarding ESA payment levels
during the reconsideration period which could be indefinite. Can you
give an assurance that this will be announced BEFORE
implementation?

3) What data will you collect so that the effects of this
legislation can be accurately analysed subsequently?

4) Where are the risk assessment, impact analysis and risk register
that show the effect this will have on claimants whose benefit
payments could be affected indefinitely?

The response informed that the planned implementation date is April 2013, and “the DWP will conduct a  formal public consultation in line with the Government’s code of practice on consultation. This does not include publishing a risk register or conducting a risk analysis. This is because all aspects of the proposed changes are considered during the consultation process and in the impact assessment and equality impact assessments related to the changes”. There are no plans to introduce a time limit, or to retain payments of basic rate ESA throughout the second revision and leading up to appeal.

The DWP published consultation document “Mandatory consideration of revision before appeal” that could be accessed via the DWP web site under the heading “Consultations”. The consultation concerned issues relevant to the implementation and operation of the appeals reform provisions in the Welfare Reform Bill and invited comments on the draft regulations. I worked on raising awareness regarding the issues that the Government’s draft raised, as well as prompting and garnering responses to the consultation.

I can also confirm that the Government response to the consultation did NOT take into account any of the concerns we raised collectively, in particular, regarding the lack of a time limit on the DWP to produce the mandatory review, and the withdrawal of basic rate ESA to those awaiting the review outcome .

So, the consultation was evidently a sham, nothing more than paying lip service to an increasingly perfunctory democratic process. Given that basic rate ESA is exactly the same amount per week as JSA, we need to ask ourselves why the  Government have withdrawn the ESA safety net for those wanting to appeal DWP decisions that they are fit to work. Why introduce another layer of DWP bureaucracy to the appeal process, and why is it the case that there is need for a second revision, if the first response is based on robust procedure and decision making, and yields accurate and fair outcomes?

Of course we know that the outcomes are neither fair, accurate, or based on robust decision making. We know that some 40% of appeals for ESA were successful in 2011 and that this percentage rose to around 80% when claimants had representation at appeal. That is pretty damning evidence against this Governments’ claims that the system is working, and that many disabled people “can work”.

It’s likely that Clause 99 has been introduced to make appealing wrongful decisions that we are fit for work almost impossible. Sick and disabled people are effectively being silenced by this Government, and the evidence of a brutal, dehumanising, undignified and grossly unfair system of “assessment” is being hidden.

More than 10,600 people have died following being told they were “fit for work”, and this presents a significant statistical increase (from 310 deaths over the same period amongst incapacity benefit claimants) that correlates with the current system, and it is astounding that our Government have failed to address this. Instead, they have made the system even more brutally punitive, dehumanising and grossly unfair.

Clause 99 is simply an introduction of an additional obstructive layer of Kafkaesque bureaucracy to obscure the evidence of this. This Government is oppressive and certainly bears all of the hallmark characteristics of authoritarianism.

We need to be pressuring the government for the introduction of a time limit (on both legal and humanitarian grounds) as currently there is none. I did enquire to see if DWP had any internal rules or guidelines yet regarding a time limit but so far they have not. We also need to be pressuring for basic rate ESA to continue. That was a major part of the consultation response, too.  

Meanwhile, legal challenges to this unfair and totally unacceptable addition to the Welfare Reform Bill will be going ahead.

Government’s response to the public consultation.

The DWP published a short mandatory consideration of revision before appeal – Government interim response to public consultation which stated that the Department did not propose to make any significant changes to the draft regulations included in the consultation document as a result of the comments received.

The Government’s final response to the consultation included the following:

  • There is to be no time limit for the completion of mandatory reconsideration of decisions.
  • No decision has yet been made with regard to paying ESA pending reconsideration but other benefits may be available to claimants where ESA has been disallowed.
  • It was confirmed that housing benefit and council tax benefit will not be included in the mandatory reconsideration process.
  • Where a person makes a late application for revision, the Department will be removing the requirement that an application for revision cannot be granted unless it has merit, and removing the regulation which requires that, in deciding whether an extension of time is reasonable, the decision maker cannot take into account the fact that the individual misunderstood the law or was ignorant that they could request reconsideration.

In considering a late application for revision, the decision maker will look at whether it is reasonable to grant the application for an extension of time, and what the circumstances were that meant that the application could not be made within the one month time limit.

The decision maker will still consider whether an any time revision can be made, or whether the decision should be superseded when considering a late application for revision as they do now.

Where a request for reconsideration is made out of time, and the decision maker refuses the application to revise the original decision, the effect of the draft regulations is that there can be no appeal as the Secretary of State must consider whether to revise the decision before an appeal can be made.

Update: No basic rate ESA will be payable whilst people await the mandatory review, to challenge wrongful decisions. No appeal can proceed until that has been done by DWP, there is no time limit on DWP to undertake the review.

Lord Freud speaking in the Lords about  basic rate ESA an the mandatory review :-

I turn now to ESA. At the moment, if someone appeals a refusal of ESA, it can continue to be paid pending the appeal being heard; this is not changing. What is changing is that there can be no appeal until there has been a mandatory reconsideration. So there will be a gap in payment. In that period—and I repeat that applications will be dealt with quickly so that this is kept to a minimum—the claimant could claim jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit. Alternative sources of funds are available. Of course, he or she may choose to wait for the outcome of the application and then, if necessary, appeal and be paid ESA at that point.”

Later he said:

Under the current position, there is a voluntary process whereby people can go for reconsideration and the ESA is not payable until the decision is taken to go formally to an appeal.”  Lord Freud (Source: Hansard)

GL24  and Appeal information.

From April, you will need to send your GL24  appeal form (DWP leaflet “if you think our decision is wrong”) or a letter directly to HM Courts and Tribunal Services.

How to appeal by letter.

 The appeal must contain:

  • the appellant’s name, address and National Insurance number
  • enough information to identify the decision under appeal (benefit claimed and date of decision);
  • the grounds for the appeal;
  • if late, the special reasons for lateness and/or why the appeal has a good chance of success;
  • the appellant’s signature (or the signature of a person with written authority to act on their behalf).

Update: Guidance on revision and handling appeals for benefits
Note 3: The guidance comes into effect
from 8.4.13 for PIP and from 29.4.13 for
UC, JSA and ESA.

Decision Makers should note that mandatory reconsideration is being
introduced from:
8.4.13 for PIP
29.4.13 for Universal Credit
28.10.13 for JSA and ESA.

However, we are still hearing about cases where the mandatory review is being used already, and this ought to be challenged on the grounds that DWP have provided dates when clause 99 is to be implemented, and so ought to be working to that legal timetable.

The revision process applies to:
1. UC, PIP, JSA and ESA
2. decisions on credits
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/adma3.pdf

Further reading:

Further information from Rethink

ESA – Appeal statistics – before the MOJ spin!

Who is accountable and legally liable for the well-being of those deemed “fit for work”?

Step by step guide to appealing a ESA decision: Good Advice Matters

Sign the WOW petition – a call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

It’s a call for an  immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.

Help –  potential sources of funding from Charities and Trusts that help people out of poverty and debt:
United Utilities
3000 benevolent funds
Directory of National food banks
Representing yourself in Court

The LawWorks Clinics Network is a nationwide network of free legal advice sessions which LawWorks supports. Clinics provide free initial advice to individuals on various areas of law including social welfare issues, employment law, housing matters and consumer disputes – List of LawWorks clinics

“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” –  Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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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