Woman told her benefits were being cut in CHRISTMAS DAY letter – while another is ‘living on biscuits’
North East MPs have highlighted shocking failures in the administration of Personal Independence Payments. A woman from Durham received a letter dated CHRISTMAS DAY saying her benefits had been cut, it has emerged.
The unwelcome Christmas present was revealed by MP Laura Pidcock, who said it symbolised the “callousness” of a new benefits system for people with disabilities or severe illnesses. She led a House of Commons debate on the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a benefit for people aged 16 to 64 who have trouble performing everyday tasks or with getting around.
Among the cases highlighted were one who was told on Christmas Day her money is being slashed and a woman in Wearside who is “living on biscuits”. And a Government Minister admitted there had been problems with the way the benefit was administered since it was introduced in 2013.
Sarah Newton, the Minister for Disabled People, said: “There are problems – I readily acknowledge them, and we are working hard to fix them.” Claimants can receive up to £141.10 a week, though in many cases the payment is much less. But they have to go through an assessment procedure designed to test what they care capable of doing.
Ms Pidcock, Labour MP for North West Durham, said the procedure was “complex and exhausting” and often led to the wrong result. She launched an appeal in January for people to contact her with their experiences of PIP and said she was “absolutely deluged” by the response, receiving more than 600 emails and 1,500 messages on Facebook and Twitter.
Ms Pidcock said: “The Government need to realise what a cruel and callous system they are putting people through and the knock-on effect that has on our constituents.
“People are falling further into depression and self-harm, having suicidal thoughts and becoming reliant on food banks. All of those things are harmful for our society.” Many people had been told they were no longer entitled to funding for Motability cars which they depended on, she said.
“Here is a symbol of that callousness: a few weeks ago in my surgery, one of my constituents showed me a decision letter telling her that she was no longer entitled to PIP—her lifeline. The letter was dated 25 December – merry Christmas from the DWP. That is far from the most shocking story.”
After filling in a form, claimants are then invited to a medical assessment carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions by a private firm such as Atos Healthcare or Capita Business Services. But some claimants are convinced the tests are flawed. “Many feel as if they have been lied about in their reports – that is all part of the same inadequacies.”
If a claimant is denied PIP they can challenge the decision and eventually take it to a tribunal. But claimants are forced to go through months of stress to reach this stage, even though tribunals find the assessors have got it wrong in 68% of cases.
Other MPs also spoke out in the debate to highlight what they said were deep flaws in the system. North Durham Labour MP, Kevan Jones, also highlighted apparent injustices. He said: “A constituent was given PIP from 2016, and when his condition worsened he put in an application for the higher rate and, after an assessment, had his entire PIP taken away.”
Washington and Sunderland West Labour MP, Sharon Hodgson, highlighted the case of a constituent whose benefit had been removed.
“Since failing her PIP assessment six weeks ago, she has been living on biscuits. Despite the cold weather in the North East – it has been freezing – she has been unable to put her heating on.”
Sarah Newton, responding for the Government, said she would look at the cases raised by MPs if they gave her the details. [“sure” she will]
But she insisted the Government was not cutting funding for disabled people. [I have no words!]
She said: “Every single year since 2010, the coalition Government and now the Conservative Government have spent more and more money, and we are committed to spending more. [Jackanory, Jackanory, Jackanory, Jackanory,]
“Expenditure on the main disability benefits has increased by more than £4.1bn in real terms since 2010 and is set to reach a record high of more than £23bn this year. It will continue to grow each year to 2022.”