Almost £1 million paid in a year in ‘top up’ payments to PIP claimants whose rate was cut or reduced after assessment
ALMOST £1 million was paid out in supplementary payments by the Stormont Executive to cover people whose Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was cut or reduced in the last financial year. PIP was introduced in the north in June 2016 as a replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people aged 16 to 64, with more than 125,000 people gradually being re-assessed to see if they qualify.
A ‘welfare supplementary payment’ was brought in by the Executive to protect those who would otherwise have seen their income reduced or stopped through the changes to DLA and other benefits.
A total of 530 people, who lodged a challenge against their PIP assessment, received payments totalling almost £583,000 during the appeal process. £313,000 was paid to ‘top up’ claimants who received PIP at a lower amount than their previous DLA rate. A further £102,240 was paid to customers who receive another income-related benefit and who were judged to have either no or less entitlement to disability premiums.
One hundred and fifty people, who act as carers for those with a disability, appealed against a cut to their carer’s allowance resulting from an unsuccessful PIP application by the person they look after. They each received an average of £550, totalling almost £82,000. Last year the charity Advice NI raised concerns after more than a third of the 21,000 applicants assessed up until the end of July 2017 were told they were not entitled to the new benefit.
Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of DLA claims and the criteria for PIP payments are much more stringent. Last month The Irish News reported that the Department for Communities (DfC) is advising people on disability benefits who want recordings of meetings to purchase their own equipment.
After a High Court ruling in London in December ruled that changes to PIP were unfair to people with mental health conditions, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Britain subsequently announced it would re-assess every recipient.
The DfC has also announced an independent review of PIP in the north, and earlier this week said that moves to amend legislation following the London hearing “will mirror the approach being taken by the DWP to revisit all PIP cases that may be impacted by this judgment”.
The department has previously said that it is expected that all existing DLA claimants will be assessed by spring 2019.
More than 40,000 people in a range of circumstances received a ‘welfare supplementary payment’ from Stormont during 2016/17, amounting to almost £8.5 million.
The Practice of Rights (PPR) lobby group has called for the introduction of the ‘People’s Proposal’, which would apply human rights criteria before decisions are made.
The group has also urged the Nursing and Midwifery Council and Health Care Professions Council to “issue guidance” on whether healthcare staff working as PIP assessors are acting in compliance with their professional codes.
Andrew Knowlman: DWP taking away only means of transport for author immobile with MND
Andrew Knowlman has been told that he is no longer eligible for the benefit that pays for his specially-adapted Motability minivan, which allows him to leave home.
A wheelchair-bound children’s author with Motor Neurone Disease, who is utterly immobile and fed through a peg into his stomach, is having the only means of transport he can use to leave his care home taken away from him by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Andrew Knowlman, a 50-year-old former businessman who took up writing after he fell ill with MND three years ago, needs a specially adapted minivan to use whenever he wants to leave his residential home in Hemel Hempstead, so he can spend time with family and friends.
“Although I have a terminal illness, in no way do I see my life as being over. I am a dad to my children, and I need the Motability vehicle to enable me to be just that.”
However, the national charity which helps disabled people, Motability, has written to Mr Knowlman saying that they have not been receiving the mobility part of his Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit since August 2016. As it was being used to pay the monthly cost of leasing the vehicle, officials want to take the van back.
“I had the daily living component of PIP removed in August 2016, but the DWP said nothing about the mobility part,” Mr Knowlman told i. “In addition, I received a letter from the DWP in January saying that our existing PIP will be reviewed in April, suggesting that we receive something [but that has not been the case].”
Although disabled people living in care homes are entitled to the mobility benefit, Mr Knowlman has his care paid for under NHS Continuing Healthcare(NHSCH), given to people who have significant ongoing healthcare needs, meaning his benefit is being stopped.
Mr Knowlman said if he was living at home, with full time nursing care, his costs to NHSCH would be about three times greater – yet he would still have been entitled to the mobility benefit. Motability staff were due to take Mr Knowlman’s minivan away last week, but have given him until 9 March to convince the DWP to close what friends call “an absurd loophole” in the PIP system.
Mr Knowlman, who can only communicate using an “eye gaze” computer, said: “The Motability vehicle is the only way I can attend events at my children’s school, be away from the care home and be in nature.
“It is the only way to watch my children ride their bikes, play golf and music, watch Watford FC and travel easily to hospital appointments. Although I have a terminal illness, in no way do I see my life as being over. I am a dad to my children and I need the Motability vehicle to enable me to be just that. This is a very distressing situation.”
William Allen, a friend whose children go to the same school as Mr Knowlman’s and who set up the petition, said: “A specially adapted minivan enables Andrew to maintain active parenting by visiting his kids’ school and take trips to local places where he can feel the wind on his face, see the sun in the trees and smell the blossom in the air. In the final stages of his life, for Andrew this is the best it gets to feeling alive.
“As well as being heartless, in view of the recent court ruling on the inequalities in the application of PIP, this is a highly questionable position to take and needs to be urgently reconsidered.”
Disability organisations have long viewed the introduction of PIP, which replaced the Disability Living Allowance in 2013, as a thinly veiled exercise in cost cutting.
Mr Allen said: “The difference getting out of the home makes to Andrew’s quality of life is incredible. Just yesterday he was able to watch his son playing in the puddles. He can get out into the community, people he knows come up to him and say hello.
“Most people who have MND are on anti-depressants because of their situation but Andrew isn’t. Getting around with the van is crucial for his mental health. No one has done anything wrong, but this is just an absurd loophole that needs to close.”
Ms Newton told i: “We are committed to supporting those with disabilities and long term health conditions, and are spending more than ever before on disability benefits. When someone is in NHS Continuing Healthcare all of their care needs are funded through that, including their mobility needs.
“I have asked Department of Health colleagues to look into his case.”
Barbara Strensland was granted lifetime support in 2012 but must be reassessed
A multiple sclerosis sufferer has described the “dehumanising” process of being re-assessed for disability benefits six years after being granted lifetime support.
When mother-of-one Barbara Stensland was diagnosed with MS she was told she would receive a disability living allowance for life. Now six years later the 44-year-old has described the “inhumane” process of “proving” what she can’t do after receiving a letter in October to say she must be reassessed. Diagnosed in 2012, Barbara originally went to bed in her Cardiff home as normal but woke the next day unable to talk properly or walk properly.
When she took herself to hospital, the first thought was that she was having a stroke.
As one of 100,000 people in the UK with the condition, Barbara is one of thousands applying for a personal independence payment (PIP) to allow her to support herself alongside her work.
Barbara said: “The hardest part apart from the financial implications is that we build ourselves up after diagnosis and with the process of PIP assessments you need to write down anything you can’t do. “It’s a uniquely depressing process. You literally have to break yourself into little pieces and that’s opposite to what we do, we just pick ourselves up as best we can.
“The process is completely inhumane. It’s dehumanising and vicious.”
Barbara’s assessment follows weeks after the government’s announcement on January 30 that 1.6 million disability benefit claims will be reassessed after criticism over “distrust” in the PIP system.
On Wednesday, MPs on the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee warned there was evidence that the companies carrying out assessments -– Atos, Capita and Maximus – have produced reports “riddled with errors and omissions”.
Barbara, who will receive the decision about her PIP application in six weeks, said: “The government gave me that allowance and has now taken it off. MS is incurable.
“I get people do need to be reassessed over a period of years but what I don’t agree with is doing that to people with Parkinson’s or MS or all those conditions which are incurable.
“MS is progressive, it’s a fluctuating condition which is really important.”
Barbara, who runs her own inspirational MS blog about living with the condition, added: “They send you these forms and it’s like 15 essays about how awful my life is. It took me all through Christmas and I had a lot of help from people that others don’t always have.
“The woman doing the assessment came to my house and it was 55 minutes of constant questions. She would ask one question in one way and a little bit after she would ask the same question in a different manner.
“With the cognitive problems I have and I had my mother there and it wasn’t pleasant for her.” Barbara’s diagnosis comes after her father died at the condition at the age of 35 in 1978.
She said: “After I was diagnosed I had two years of absolute hell – I had a two year pity party. That’s life and it could be worse but to have to prove to the government that I have MS is hard mentally. “Now my son has gone to university I have more time to think.”
Through documenting her journey online and through her blog Barbara has been contacted by countless other MS sufferers in the same situation. She said: “People can’t see the pain or the chronic fatigue – so many people can’t see what the problem is. “I thought the assessment went quite well but others who have had it have warned me not to celebrate too early.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “Assessments are a necessary part of the benefits system, and 76% of PIP claimants tell us that they’re happy with their overall experience.
“We recognise symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis can fluctuate over time, and regular reassessments mean we can ensure people with degenerative conditions get the help they need as their condition changes.
“Decisions for PIP are made after careful consideration of all the evidence provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.
“Under PIP, 29% of claimants receive the highest rate of support compared to 15% under DLA, and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”
The tweet – which has now been removed – continues to be the source of much fury on the social media platform
A Conservative party Twitter account has caused outrage after publishing a message saying parents who cannot feed their children on £10 a week “don’t know how to feed their children well”.
The now-deleted tweet sent by the Bath Conservative party last night (February 17) also called parents unable to make-do on such a budget “dysfunctional”.
The tweet also refers to Jack Monroe, a British food writer and hunger relief campaigner, who has published extensively on how to feed a family on a very limited budget.
It reads: “If absolutely-not-a-Tory Jack Monroe could feed herself & her child for £10 a week – not easily, but adequately – most people can”.
The message was sent to Green MP candidate Dom Tristram in response to a tweet about free school meals but it caught the attention of the 29-year-old writer who was not happy to see her work mentioned.
The best-sellling author was quick to respond, tweeting: “It was YOUR policies that left me hungry, cold, almost homeless, mentally ill, still recovering 6 years later. 1 in 4 mums in poverty. Thousands dead after being declared ‘fit to work’. I’m not your poster girl.”
Speaking after the Twitter spat, the parent-of-one said: “My first response was no, just no.
“In 2011 I was working in a 999 control room and I had just had a young child and I couldn’t work the shift system, in the end, I resigned.
“I ended up living in poverty for two years, the recession had hit and I was applying for jobs but getting nowhere.
“The benefit agencies deemed I made myself unemployed and I was in rent arrears because of it,” Jack added.
“I ended up living on £10 a week with me and my young son and I ended up writing about it on my blog because I wanted to help other people,” the 29-year-old told the Bath Chronicle.
“That came from a painful experience so to see Bath Conservatives using me as a role model was shocking.
“The point is nobody should have to do that. It made me angry because I was in the position I was in because of the Conservative policy.
“When I saw it I was raging with fury but it’s infuriating that it’s from a faceless account,” Jack said.
After the Bath Conservative account deleted the tweet it issued an apology, saying: “Yesterday an ill-judged comment was made on our Twitter account re the challenge of food poverty.
“The content didn’t accurately reflect our views or approach & we apologise for any offence caused.
“We continue to seek ways to reduce the blight of child poverty in our city.”
However, refusing to let it lie, Jack challenged the author of the Tweet to practice what they preach. “I am offering the social media person from Bath Conservatives an opportunity to quite literally put their money where their mouth is,” Jack wrote.
“Identify yourself, and live on just £10 a week for 3 weeks running. I’ll help you write recipes. You’ll eat a lot of beans and rice.
“You shouldn’t have to cheat, as you believe it is ‘adequate’. Do it, with no money for drinks, nights out, socialising, no friends to cook you meals, nothing but the £10 you think is so easy to live on.
“After all, in your own words, ‘anyone can do it.’” Twitter users who have had similar experiences to the the blogger joined in pointing out the flaws in the ill-informed tweet.
Michelle O’Doherty responded to the twitter thread saying: “I was one of those parents who couldn’t afford to feed their children, not long ago.
“I am neither indolent nor dysfunctional.
“I’ve worked at least 2 jobs at a time my whole adult life. I find their attitude towards people like me disgusting”
Another Twitter user said: “How horrific they would use your hardship to promote its merits then give themselves a huge pat on the back, they’ve weaponised hunger & they’re unashamed & gleeful.”
Still furious at being included in the Conservative party’s “audacious” tweet, Jack has written a blog post explaining the anger in being upheld as an example for hard-hit families to follow.
Jack writes:”The secret nobody lets you in on, is that poverty can happen to anyone. I was a well brought up, if working class, girl who went to my local Grammar school […] yet I still found myself, through a series of unpredictable but all-too-ordinary events, living in absolute poverty.
“Yes, I managed to just about not die, living on £10 a week in 2011, when stock cubes were 10p for 10 (35p now), cooking bacon was 67p (£1.50 now), kidney beans were 17p (now 35p) etc. Bath Conservatives claim that anyone can do it, now, 7 years later, when most basics food products from ‘the good old days’ have sharply risen in price or all but vanished,” the writer added.
“But you won’t even start to experience the daily grind of living in poverty,” Jack said speaking to the person who wrote the Bath Conservative tweet. “Poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, or unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off.
“Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one Weetabix and says ‘more mummy, bread and jam please mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread and jam.”
Mr Holland said he bought the prescription for her when he found out, but her health quickly deteriorated.
“Friday night, things escalated and she ended up in the ICU,” Mr Holland said. “The doctors got the blood culture back and they had to put her dialysis early Saturday.”
Ms Holland, who had a 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, died the next morning, on 4 February.
Her husband added: “I have to be strong for the kids, but it’s still surreal, it hasn’t all set in.
“We’ve been together a long time, over half my life. She’s my best friend, my soulmate, my everything.”
Dr Jeffery Hands, the administrator in charge of the local school district Weatherford ISD, said: “This is a sad time for our WISDfamily, especially for those who knew Ms Holland as a friend and colleague. Heather was an outstanding educator.”
Groundbreaking Demos study reveals ‘culture of disbelief’ about disability among jobcentre staff leads to money being docked
Disabled people receiving state benefits have been hit with a million sanctions in less than a decade, according to alarming new evidence that they are being discriminated against by the welfare system.
A comprehensive analysis of the treatment of unemployed disabled claimants has revealed that they are up to 53% more likely to be docked money than claimant who are not disabled. This raises serious concerns about how they and their conditions are treated.
The findings, from a four-year study by academic Ben Baumberg Geiger in collaboration with the Demos thinktank, will cause worry that a government drive to help a million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years could lead to more unfair treatment.
Sanctions – the cutting or withholding of benefits – are applied as a punishment when claimants infringe the conditions of their payments by, say, as missing appointments or failing to apply for enough jobs.
While the sanctions regime has been championed by the government as a means of encouraging people to take a job or boosting their chances of finding one, most experts consulted as part of the Demos project concluded that conditionality has little or no effect on improving employment for disabled people. There was also widespread anecdotal evidence that the threat of sanctions can lead to anxiety and broader ill health.
The study found that disabled claimants receiving jobseekers’ allowance – given to people who are out of work – were 26-53% more likely to be sanctioned than claimants who were not. Those hit by sanctions reported that the disparity arose because jobcentre staff failed to take sufficient account of their disabilities.
However, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said it did not recognise these figures: “If someone has a health condition, we work with them to reduce what they need to do, and people are always supported to meet the requirements of a tailored claimant commitment, which they agree with their work coach. This sets out what is expected of them in return for the support they will receive. Sanctions are only used when someone has failed to meet these requirements without good reason – this is in a minority of cases and people are given every opportunity to explain why they have failed to do so before a decision is made.”
The new study found that more than 900,000 JSA claimants who report a disability have been sanctioned since May 2010. People who claim a different benefit, employment and support allowance, and have been placed in a work-related activity group – which requires them to attend jobcentre interviews and complete work-related activities –can also be sanctioned. The research found that more than 110,000 ESA sanctions have been applied since May 2010.
The findings have caused alarm among charities, many of which have dealt with cases in which disabled people complained of poor treatment and a lack of understanding.
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: “Punitive sanctions can be extremely harmful to disabled people, who already face the financial penalty of higher living costs. There is no clear evidence that cutting disabled people’s benefits supports them to get into and stay in work.
“Sanctions are likely to cause unnecessary stress, pushing the very people that the government aims to support into work further away from the jobs market.”
Polling for the Demos project found that while the public often supported the imposition of sanctions for disabled people, they did not back the way in which they were applied in practice.
A majority thought that disabled people’s benefits should be cut if they do not take a job they can do, but they were less supportive of sanctioning for minor noncompliance, such as sometimes turning up late for meetings. Even those who supported sanctions preferred much weaker punishments than those the government uses.
The research recommends a reduction in the use of so-called “benefit conditionality” for disabled people and a strengthening of the safeguards to ensure disabled people are not unfairly punished.
Polly Mackenzie, director of Demos, said it was now clear that the benefits system isn’t working for disabled people: “Conditionality is important in any benefits system, but when disabled people are so much more likely to be sanctioned, something is going wrong. Jobcentre advisers and capability assessors too often have a culture of disbelief about disability, especially mental illness, that leads them to sanction claimants who genuinely could not do the job they are being bullied into applying for.
“We need to think again about how we assess work capability. Employers also need to be better at adapting to disabled people’s needs so that more jobs can be done by people with fluctuating conditions.”
This follows a damning report by the National Audit Office in 2016, which found that there was no evidence that sanctions were working. It also found a failure to measure whether money was being saved, and that the application of sanctions varied from one jobcentre to another.
‘There’s no room for compassion’
Nina Grant, 32
Nina Grant has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic collagen defect that causes chronic pain, fatigue and frequent joint injuries. She was sanctioned in 2016 after she informed the Department for Work and Pensions that she was carrying out what the department specifically describes as “permitted work” while on disability benefits. “I only found out about the sanction when I checked my bank balance and realised the payment hadn’t gone in as usual.”
After she complained, her benefits were reinstated. “They didn’t apologise. They didn’t offer any explanation. If I hadn’t called them, it could have gone on for months. It made me feel like I was being punished for trying to contribute while disabled, and scared that they were going to use that as an excuse not to pay me.”
The Londoner is reliant on a wheelchair outside her home, and finds it extremely painful even to use a pen most days. “I understand that people exploit the system, but this government treats disabled people with utter contempt.”
Josie Evans, 42
Ten years ago Josie Evans was working as a nurse when she suddenly went into anaphylactic shock. After 41 further life-threatening attacks, she has been diagnosed with idiopathic anaphylaxis, which means she is extremely allergic to more than 100 antigens and triggers.
She relies on disability benefit to pay her rent and buy food but was sanctioned in 2016 after failing to send in a form on time: “The document was 20 pages long and I was in too much pain to write, because my hands were swollen from a recent allergic reaction I’d had.”
She explained this and was told she could take her time. Ten days later, a letter arrived from her landlord saying her housing benefit had not been paid. She discovered all her disability benefits had been stopped because the form had been late. “I was scared. I knew I’d need to buy food in the next 48 hours, and I can’t use a food bank because of all my allergies.”
It took weeks for her benefit to be reinstated, and she had to borrow money from her family. “It was so stressful it brought on an allergic attack. The people who work at the DWP simply do not understand the reality of what it’s like to be disabled. There is no room for compassion.”