DWP has sent 150,000 of the ‘fit for work’ letters that ‘risk patients’ health’

EXCLUSIVE: The scale of the problem is exposed after 146,500 people were found ‘fit for work’ in the 13 months since the DWP changed the wording of a controversial letter
“We are not benefits assessors and must never be used as barriers”, doctors said 

Jobcentre chiefs have issued around 150,000 copies of a controversial ‘fit for work’ letter that doctors warn could endanger patients’ health. The huge total ramps up pressure on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) just a day after the letters were blasted by GPs.

The row revolves around the DWP’s treatment of people who are denied sickness benefit Employment Support Allowance (ESA) after being found ‘fit for work’. Each time someone is found fit for work, the DWP sends their GP a standard letter informing them of the decision.

But the wording of this letter changed in 2017 to say GPs “do not need to provide any more fit notes” to their patient – even though these are needed to keep claiming benefits during an appeal.

Campaigners say these new letters leave some claimants stranded without cash, and the Royal College of GPs warned they are “potentially endangering [patients’] health.”

The DWP said it recognises GPs’ concerns, has issued interim guidance and is drawing up a revised letter to be used from this summer. But Mirror analysis of official figures shows huge numbers of ‘fit for work’ letters have already been sent since the new wording launched in August 2017.

Government statistics show people were found ‘fit for work’ 146,500 times from September 2017 to September 2018. The real total is likely to be higher, as figures for the last six months are not yet available.

The DWP has not confirmed the number of letters it sent, but said a letter is generated automatically each time someone is found fit for work. That suggests all 146,500 fit-for-work decisions in that period led to a letter to a GP.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, told the Mirror: “It has become clear that the wording on the current ESA65B letter has had unforeseen consequences – and as this analysis shows, could potentially have affected a significant number of people.”

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard told the Mirror: “As this analysis shows, [it] could potentially have affected a significant number of people” 

She added: “Patients appealing a decision require a fit note to be able to continue to receive benefits. “Without this document, their finances – and ultimately their health – are potentially at risk.

“No GP wants that, and it only serves to threaten the long-standing trust that patients have in their family doctor. “As doctors, our concern is the health and wellbeing of our patients. full guide to 2019 local elections

“We are not benefits assessors and must never be used as barriers for patients to receive benefits when they are entitled to them, as ultimately, this can have a detrimental impact on their health.”

Shadow Minister for Disabled People Marsha De Cordova said: “These figures reveal the shocking scale of the problem caused by these letters.

“It is outrageous that the misleading information sent to GPs in these letters will have wrongly deprived sick and disabled people of social security they should have been entitled to. “The Government must immediately act to scrap the letters and prevent any further harm.”

Raji Hunjan, chief executive of welfare advice charity the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, said: “It is incredibly worrying that potentially thousands of claimants are being denied their disability benefits because the DWP are sending these damaging letters to the claimants’ GPs.


“These letters are pushing people into poverty. “The DWP have the power to put an end to this and we urge them do so with immediate effect.”

Commons Work and Pensions Committee chairman Frank Field said: “Though nearly three quarters of ESA decisions are being overturned by appeals, the DWP still manages to make this disastrous situation worse by sending out hundreds of thousands of the letters that GPs say are putting patients’ health at risk.

“Rather than confusing and dissuading GPs from giving patients the fit notes they need to keep them going while these masses of appeals grind on, perhaps DWP should focus on getting it right in the first place?”

We drew our figure from DWP statistics on the outcomes of ESA fit-for-work tests by month, and a Freedom of Information reply which dated the change to August 2017. 

The numbers peaked in January 2018, when 15,200 decisions were made to find claimants ‘fit for work’. The lowest number was in September 2018 when 7,000 people were found fit for work.

DWP sources accepted some GPs “found the revised letter confusing” and have issued interim guidance. But they stressed only a minority of claimants would be hit by the issue, because the majority do not launch appeals. And they said standing guidance has always been to keep issuing fit notes if someone is appealing a benefit cut.

DWP sources accepted some GPs “found the revised letter confusing” and have issued interim guidance”

 A DWP spokesperson said: “We want to ensure that people with health conditions and disabilities get the support they’re entitled to. “‘In the minority of cases where a claimant is found not to qualify for ESA we will advise them on the appeal process. 

“A small minority of claimants do choose to appeal and while our standing guidance has always been clear, we have issued an update to GPs to ensure these claimants get the support they need.

“Where most claimants do not appeal, we will support them to claim other out-of-work benefits.”


Warnings about dying Stephen Smith that were cruelly ignored

MP demands official inquiry into Stephen Smith’s treatment after another pathetic government response
Frank Field writes to Amber Rudd to call for probe into ‘injustice’ of six-stone Liverpool man denied benefits.

Merseyside MP Frank Field has written to DWP Secretary Amber Rudd and called for an official inquiry into how six-stone Liverpool man Stephen Smith was cruelly denied benefits in the lead up to his death.

64-year-old Stephen, from Kensington, died last week after a lengthy battle with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in which he was wrongly denied benefits for nearly two years.

This weekend, the ECHO published two separate doctors’ notes which warned the department about Stephen’s failing health and criticised a decision to find him fit for work and deny him the support he needed.

Now Birkenhead MP Frank Field, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee in Parliament, has written to Ms Rudd to call for an inquiry into how Stephen was treated.

In a letter, shared exclusively with the ECHO, Mr Field writes: “I am writing to request an official inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Stephen Smith.

“You may be aware that Mr Smith, who lived in Liverpool, died earlier this month at the age of 64. His death followed a lengthy dispute with the Department over his claim for Employment and Support Allowance and, in particular, whether he was fit enough to look for work.

“In the weeks leading up to his death, while he was still trying to dispute the status of his claim, Mr Smith developed pneumonia and became severely malnourished. His weight plummeted to just six stone.

“The more details that emerge from Mr Smith’s case, including the seemingly scant consideration given to his doctor’s notes, the more troubled I am by what this man was made to go through and the impact all this had on his health.”

In his letter, Mr Field – who has raised issues with the DWP many times in Parliament – says he fears that without an inquiry, the ‘injustice surround Mr Smith’s case’ could repeat itself in an unknown number of cases involving some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

He adds: “Might you therefore be willing please to initiate an inquiry into Mr Smith’s case and, if so, could it report quickly so that the lessons from this appalling episode can be applied as soon as possible.”

The ECHO has been attempting to reach Ms Rudd for a response to Stephen’s death for some time now, but the DWP has said she will not comment as it is an ‘operational matter.’

Mr Field’s letter follows his own attempt to ask the Secretary of State a Parliamentary question. He asked how many benefits claimants have died within either six or 12 months of being assessed as fit for work.

Ms Rudd did not reply, with a dismissive response instead issued by Minister for Disabled people Justin Tomlinson. It stated: “To provide a reply would require the Department to link together several complex datasets and quality assure the results.




Govt Newspeak

Revealed: Warnings about dying Stephen Smith that were cruelly ignored by the DWP.
Shocking notes from different medics show just how ill Liverpool man was when he was denied benefits in the lead-up to his death.

These are the doctor’s letters that warned of the perilous health of six-stone Stephen Smith – and which were ignored by the Department of Work and Pensions as they continued to deny him vital benefits before his death.

Stephen died last week at the age of 64 having only recently overturned the government’s decision to take him off benefits following a lengthy and draining battle.

In January he had to get a pass out of hospital, weighing just six stone, to battle and defeat the DWP to get his support restored. And after his story – and shocking images of his condition – were published, the department admitted its mistake and awarded Stephen more…

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‘My life’s on hold’ Disabled man has been waiting a YEAR for PIP tribunal

‘My life’s on hold’ – Disabled Neil, 36, has been waiting a YEAR for tribunal into disability benefit application. The 36-year-old, from Longton, claims the Government are too preoccupied with Brexit.

Neil Barker has been in limbo for 14 months as he awaits the final outcome of his disability benefits claim

Disabled Neil Barker says his ‘life is on hold’ after waiting a year for an independent tribunal into his benefits application. The psoriatic arthritis sufferer underwent an assessment for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) on February 12, 2018, but his application was refused.

He appealed the decision by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), but this was again refused in April last year. The 36-year-old then applied for an independent tribunal. Yet he has still not been given a date.

Now Neil, from Longton, says his life has been on hold for more than 14 months because he feels the Government is too preoccupied with Brexit to deal with his application.  He said: “Around about 18 months ago when I was at work, I started to have a lot of trouble with my feet and knees. Then I started to get bad psoriasis on my head, which started to spread. I’ve always had psoriasis, but never to the extent I was getting it now.

“I went to see a doctor and I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, which means that I’ve got arthritis in the traditional sense which affects my joints, but it’s linked to psoriasis. I’ve not been able to work since. “The biggest way it affects me is my mobility. I’m not able to get out much and I can’t walk that far without my joints hurting and having to sit down and that obviously limits where I can go.

“Before all of this, I used to enjoy climbing and different activities and now I can’t do anything like that anymore. People can’t see my condition and they expect it to affect people in their 70s and 80s, so I find it difficult.

“A friend suggested to me that I should apply for PIP, so I did, and I was sent for an assessment with Capita. When I was there, I was a bit nervous, but I didn’t think too much about it because I thought I’m telling the truth.”

When Neil received the report stating his application had been refused, he claims he found significant errors within his assessment. He said: “The paperwork said I could lift my arms above my head – but one of my most painful joints is my right shoulder and I can barely lift my arm up.

“There were lots of little things like that which added up to them saying that there was nothing wrong with me. But my doctors are saying that there is. I have to take strong painkillers every day. “If it had been a fair report, it would be a different story. But because it wasn’t, I appealed. The DWP were using the same report so, of course, it was refused again.

“I then applied for an independent tribunal. I was told initially that it would take about 40 weeks, but then it became 53 weeks and now it’s been pushed back to 56. “If I didn’t have my parents, who have let me come back home, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’m just sitting, waiting for the tribunal.


“I’ve always worked and I love being around people. I was independent living on my own and was planning to save up to buy my own house before this. “I worry for the people who are living alone with worse conditions than myself, who are also having their appeals pushed back.”

HM Courts and Tribunals said it is developing a new digital system to speed up the process. A spokesman added: “We understand that delays can be stressful, which is why we continue to appoint more judges and tribunal panel members, are developing a new digital system to speed up the appeals process and are expanding the use of triage sessions in the region.

Too ill to work: not sick enough for benefits

“These sessions give panels the power to resolve appeals without an oral hearing or the need for more evidence to be gathered which help speed up the courts process. “An urgent hearing application can be made in exceptional cases where waiting times are excessive.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We’re committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they’re entitled to. Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the individual, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist. DWP TRANSLATION: We’re committed to DENYING  disabled people the support they’re [NOT] entitled to!

“If a claimant disagrees with their assessment then they can appeal to an independent tribunal, which is entirely separate from the DWP.”


Too ill to work: not sick enough for benefits.

Man who was told he’s not fit for work REFUSED benefits because he’s ‘not sick enough’ Derek Foy, from East Kilbride, Scotland, was told he was not ill enough to receive Personal Independence Payments (PIP) by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

An injured fitness instructor was told he was not ill enough to receive disability benefits the day after his employers dismissed him because he was too sick to work.

Derek Foy, from East Kilbride, Scotland, who uses a wheelchair and crutches, had been off work for about a year before his employer finally let him go because of his health.

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The day after receiving the letter announcing his dismissal he was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that he was not eligible for Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

The father-of-one, 46, who suffers from arthritis , told the Daily Record : “I could not believe my eyes. “It is a ridiculous situation and shows how messed up the whole system is. These benefits ­assessments are nonsense.

“My one was carried out in October and my situation has worsened since then. I was asked humiliating ­questions like, ‘when did I last go to the pub?’ It is pathetic. “It was a slap in the face to be told I am not sick enough to get PIP after being told that I was not fit for work. You could not make it up.”

In September 2017, Mr Foy’s health began to decline with ankle problems, arthritis and tears in his achilles tendon. The following year, he was placed on light duties in an office. He eventually applied for PIP and had an assessment. The father said: “When I was on lighter duties, it got to a point where I couldn’t even do that. I couldn’t really get about in the office.

“When I was doing the outdoor activity job, I was hillwalking, climbing, skiiing and mountain biking. “I really enjoyed it. I don’t have any problem with my employers saying I can no longer work there – they are just following procedures.

“I have an issue with the DWP telling me I can get to work when I clearly can’t. The whole system is set up for people to fail.”

It came after Scottish National Party Member of the Scottish Parliament Kevin Stewart said benefit ­claimants with sight and hearing loss were being ‘humiliated’ by welfare chiefs.

DWP officials said an independent tribunal upheld their decision earlier this month. They also said that if his ­condition had worsened, he may be assessed ­differently in a new claim.

A spokesman said: “We would urge him to contact us to discuss other disability benefits he may now be eligible for having left work, and with any changes in his condition.”

Mr Foy received a dismissal letter from his employer last Monday.


DWP blasted by doctors over “fit” for work letters that endanger patients

Senior doctors have written to Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd about the ‘fit notes’

Doctors have hit out at the DWP for ‘endangering patients’ health’ with fit for work letters. Both the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the BMA have written to Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd.

GPs have been told they no longer need to issue “fit notes” for patients whose claim for a sickness and disability benefit has been rejected. But it does not make clear that if the claimant is challenging the decision in relation to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) they still need the medical evidence from their doctor.

The DWP said it recognised the concerns raised and was discussing changes. DWP TRANSLATION: WE HAVE BEEN EXPOSED OVER STEPHEN SMITH et al AND HAVE TO APPEAR TO BE DOING “SOMETHING”

Head of the RCGP Prof Stokes-Lampard said the guidance does not clearly indicate that “there are exceptions to this wording, including if a claimant is appealing against the decision”.

“Without a fit note from their GP, claimants who are awaiting the outcome of their appeal will not be able to receive ESA. “They would therefore have to seek Universal Credit or Jobseekers’ Allowance, and subsequently try and meet the work-seeking requirements of those benefits, potentially endangering their health in the process.

The guidance – letter ESA65B – instructs the claimant’s doctor that “you do not need to provide any more fit notes … for ESA purposes”. “As such, the College is deeply concerned about the potential impact of this on doctors and their relationships with potentially vulnerable patients.”

The correspondence was released by the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, which had asked the RCGP and British Medical Association whether they had agreed to the wording of ESA65B.


Ministers told the committee that DWP officials “engaged with” the BMA and RCGP “to ensure that the revised wording was fit for purpose”. “Agreement on the final wording of the revised ESA65B was obtained via the regular meetings DWP holds with both organisations,” then minister for disabled people Sarah Newton said in February.

The BMA said it “does not have the authority to clear, approve or otherwise sign off any DWP correspondence or policies and would see this as being clearly outside of our remit”. The RCGP said there was “some ambiguity about what was said in the referenced meeting with the DWP” and the department did not keep written records of the discussions.

Man who was told he’s not fit for work REFUSED benefits because he’s ‘not sick enough’

A DWP spokesman said “clear guidance” had now been issued to GPs and talks were taking place about a revised version of the ESA65B letter. The spokesman said: “We have regular discussions with the BMA and RCGP to ensure we deliver effective support to disabled people and those with health conditions.

“The wording of this letter was discussed as part of these meetings, as both organisations confirm, as was the release of the final letter.

“Of course we recognise the concerns of GPs which is why we are discussing a revised letter with the BMA and RCGP and have issued clear guidance for GPs in the meantime.”



Warnings about dying Stephen Smith that were cruelly ignored

Revealed: Warnings about dying Stephen Smith that were cruelly ignored by the DWP.
Shocking notes from different medics show just how ill Liverpool man was when he was denied benefits in the lead-up to his death.

These are the doctor’s letters that warned of the perilous health of six-stone Stephen Smith – and which were ignored by the Department of Work and Pensions as they continued to deny him vital benefits before his death.

Stephen died last week at the age of 64 having only recently overturned the government’s decision to take him off benefits following a lengthy and draining battle.

In January he had to get a pass out of hospital, weighing just six stone, to battle and defeat the DWP to get his support restored. And after his story – and shocking images of his condition – were published, the department admitted its mistake and awarded Stephen more than £4,000 in backpay that he had been wrongly denied for so 

Sadly, he never had the chance to use it – and that money is now being used to pay for his funeral.

Now, the ECHO can reveal the doctor’s letters that were issued to the DWP on Stephen’s behalf, warning about his failing health and how this could be affected if he was found ‘fit to find work.’

Stephen Smith 

Two letters, from two different doctors, sent in October 2017 and January 2018, were ignored by the department as it continued to block Stephen’s benefits and force him to continue exhausting battle, which he eventually won earlier this year.

‘He could not walk 20 metres without pain or exhaustion’

After Stephen’s ESA benefits were stopped following a work capability assessment in Spring 2017, he appealed the decision and included a full examination report from Dr Terence Crowley of Rodney Street, Liverpool.

In his report, Dr Crowley lists the various serious health issues Stephen had, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cervical spondylosis, osteoarthritis and the fact he had been fitted with a urinary catheter because of ongoing urinary issues, which he was heading for surgery on.

In the Doctor’s opinion summary, he stated:

“Mr Smith has multiple well-established and formally diagnosed medical problems, primarily chronic onstructive pulmonary disease, cervical spondylosis, osteoarthritis of the knee and benign prostatic hypertrophy with a history of chronic urinary retention.

“He is prescribed medication in respect of each of these and his urinary problems necessitate the use of a catheter and future surgery.

“These medical conditions adversely impact upon his mobility and upon the activities used to assess eligibility for ESA and PIP. The nature of these chronic problems is such that they will worsen over time and mean that his mobility and functionality is impaired on a daily basis.

“Mr Smith will be in pain on standing and at the commencement of walking. Whilst on the balance of probability, he would be able to walk 20 metres, in my opinion, he could not mobilise a distance of twenty metres repeatedly without needing to stop due to pain and breathlessness.

Stephen Smith was taken off ESA benefits despite a range of serious health problems

“It is my opinion that not only could Mr Smith not walk 20 metres without pain or exhaustion, he coult not do it repeatedly or within a reasonable time period.

“In terms of cooking, his very limited respiratory tolerance, and his difficulties with lifting means that in practical term anything other than straightforward microwave cooking is likely to be beyond his physical capabilities.

“The need to monitor and change his catheter requires medical input and it would therefore be reasonable to describe Mr Smith as requiring assistance with toilet needs.

“The identified restrictions affecting Mr Smith’s mobility and daily living activities have been present for more than three months and, given the nature of his medical complaints, are likely to remain beyond the next nine months.”

Despite this stark assessment of Stephen’s health and warnings about how it could deteriorate from a qualified doctor, the DWP continued to find him fit to find work and block him from receiving his full benefits.

Three months later, of January 23, 2018, another doctor’s assessment was issued to the DWP as Stephen and his friends desperately tried to get the decision overturned.

The second note, from his GP, Doctor P Sivabalan of the Edge Hill Health Centre was unequivocal in its disagreement with the decision of the DWP.

The letter stated:

“I am this patient’s General Medical Practitioner and the custodian of the primary medical records they have accumulated during their lifetime in the UK.

“Following a recent Work Capability Assessment this patient, in contradiction of my own knowledge of the patient over time, clinical assesment and medical certification, was found fit for work related activity.

“Because of my patient’s health condition there would be a substantial risk to my patient’s health if he were found not to have limited capability for work related activity.

“I am of this opinion because Mr Stephen Smith has severe COPD, multiple joint osteoarthritis affecting many joints, prostate issues and difficulty passing urine (patient is still on a catheter).

“In my opinion he has significant difficulty with mobility and daily activities.”

“I disagree with the outcome of your assessment and support my patient in his appeal against your decision.”


Despite the unequivocal opinions of two qualified doctors, including the GP who knew Stephen’s conditions better than anyone, the DWP continued to deny him the benefits he needed.

His battle would continue for another grueling 12 months in which his health – as predicted by the doctors – deteriorated badly, leading him to develop pneumonia and see his weight drop to just six stone.

It was at this point in January this year that he faced the shocking challenge of leaving hospital in an emaciated state to take on the DWP at a tribunal.



Universal Credit sparks massive rise in rent arrears

Almost two thirds of claimants rely on advance loans while they wait for Universal Credit.Image result for universal credit

Rent arrears have seen a massive spike since people have gone on to Universal Credit, it has emerged. The new welfare scheme has left families struggling to pay for the cost of a roof over their head – and then getting behind on rent payments as a result.

The Department for Work and Pensions is insisting many people had already racked up rent debts before they were switched over to Universal Credit. But it admits almost two thirds of claimants are now relying on advance payments – loans given by the DWP to tide people over while they wait for their first Universal Credit payout.

For many, these loans are the only way to survive during the five-week wait for Universal Credit after a first claim, or if the eventual payments are not enough to live on. Such loans are then repaid through deductions from the Universal Credit, trapping claimants in a cycle of further debt.

DWP bosses faced questions from members of the Scottish Parliament after it was revealed rent arrears have increased by an estimated £5.7 million in areas where Universal Credit was first rolled out.


The Department has defended Universal Credit [QUELLE SURPRISE] despite a sharp rise in people left unable to pay their rent in the parts of Scotland where the benefit was first launched.

Although it said staff had “done an awful lot” to address problems with the new benefit, roughly 15 per cent of people’s first payments are still late or wrong.

Addressing members of the Holyrood’s Social Security Committee about housing issues for Universal Credit claimants, Derek Kilday from the DWP in Scotland argued payments are “in a much, much better place now” compared to when the system was launched.

Mr Kilday explained that, for the past few months, 85 per cent of people on Universal Credit are getting paid correctly and on time. But he said: “It was a long way south of that 85 per cent a few months ago – and a year or two ago – which I think is part of that history and problems that people are rightly talking about.

“A fair proportion of that other 15 per cent will be people who haven’t provided the information we need to verify something or haven’t been willing to sign a claimant commitment.”

Committee convener Bob Doris raised questions about research by local authority umbrella group Cosla, looking at rent arrears in East Lothian, Highlands, Midlothian and East Dunbartonshire – where Universal Credit was first introduced in Scotland. “In the two years from March 31 2016, it was estimated that rent arrears increased by 26 per cent,” Mr Doris said.

He was asked what the officials blamed for the rise of the debts. Mr Kilday responded: “We do know that a lot of these people – especially in the areas you mentioned – arrived with pre-existing rent arrears before they went on to Universal Credit.”

Richard d’Souza, head of the Universal Credit engagement division, set out some of the ways it has tried to improve the situation for people moving on to the benefit, such as extending the repayment time for any advanced payments from 12 to 16 months.

He said: “What I think we did find, in particular in the early stages of Universal Credit rollout, was that there were some issues in terms of implementation that did lead to some difficulties so we’ve done an awful lot to address them.

“Now, we’ve really promoted advances – people can get a 100 per cent advance, pretty well from the first day of the claim of their full Universal Credit entitlement, and something like 60 per cent of people are taking that up.

“If you look back two or three years, it was a much, much smaller percentage and it was only a 50 per cent advance, so that sort of thing has really helped to enable people to pay their rent up front.”

He said there was also a “real mishmash of information” in the social housing sector, adding “it took us a long time to verify that information which led to delays in payments and so that caused problems.”

Peter Searle, DWP policy director for working age benefits, said: “Sanctions is an absolute last resort – all our people in Scotland know that, they understand that.” He also revealed no sanctions from Scottish job centres are now applied without being checked and approved by a manager.

Earlier, Universal Credit was branded ‘shambolic’ for pushing thousands of people into rent arrears. Problems have arisen because the new welfare payment includes a housing component for tenants to use for paying their rent.

Under the previous system, tenants received housing benefit – an obvious payment for rent that was usually paid straight to landlords. But the payment has now been lumped in with Universal Credit.

Families who have to wait weeks for their first UC payout or whose payments are reduced (to clear previous arrears on rent or utility bills) or cut (if they fail to stick to the rules) have found themselves getting behind on rent payments.

Some vulnerable claimants have failed to realise that UC included their old housing benefit payments and that they needed to pay their rent themselves. As a result of all the confusion and problems, calls have now been made for the housing element of Universal Credit to automatically go to landlords.


Universal Credit – 7 things you need to know

1. What is Universal Credit?

2. Universal Credit calculator – how much you will get

3. Universal Credit eligibility and how to apply

4. How often is it paid and how the online account works

5. Universal Credit contact numbers if you need help

6. How to change your payments if you’re struggling

7. What to do if your Universal Credit payments are cut


Number of children in absolute poverty across UK hits 3.7 million

The number of children in absolute poverty across UK hits 3.7 million after increases of 200,000 in a year. Campaigners say ‘avoidable’ rise in absolute child poverty is result of cuts to benefits and tax credits.

The Resolution Foundation warns that the proportion of children living in relative poverty is on course to hit 37 per cent

The number of children living in absolute poverty across the UK has increased by 200,000 in a year – to a total of 3.7 million. New government data shows that while the rate of absolute child poverty had been gradually falling since 2012, it is now rising again.

The figures will come as an embarrassment for ministers, who last year responded to a rise in relative poverty by highlighting that absolute poverty rates – their preferred measure – had fallen.

Campaigners said the main drivers of the increase were cuts to benefits and tax credits, which have hit working families with more than two children particularly hard. The figures show that among children in poverty there has been a rise in those who live in working families – up from 69 per cent to 72 per cent in a year.

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There has also been an increase in the risk of poverty for children in larger families, with the number of households with three or more children up from 33 per cent in 2012 to 43 per cent. Overall, across the whole population, 100,000 more people are living in absolute poverty, with the figure now standing at 12.5 million.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said the figures highlighted the “devastating impact of austerity on families across the country”. “The government must wake up to these figures, end the benefit freeze and stop the rollout of universal credit which is pushing people into poverty,” she added.

Research carried out for the Child Poverty Action Group to coincide with the publication of the figures found that the four-year freeze on children’s benefits alone would lead to average loses of £240 per year for families with children.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the charity, said: “Despite high employment, today’s figures reveal that 70 per cent of children living under the poverty line have at least one parent in work. That is not an economy that is working for everyone.

“The increase in child poverty in working families was widely anticipated and could have been avoided. But the government chose not to, missing another opportunity to do the right thing for children and families despite the fact that the freeze had already achieved its planned savings. “At this critical point in the UK’s history, we need to step back and ask what kind of country we want for our children.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the figures were ”unacceptable” and branded poverty a “scar on our nation’s conscience”. “Until today, the government has been hiding behind absolute poverty, but even that defence is starting to weaken,” he said.

“Families are looking to the government to immediately address problems of low pay, high rents and a weakened social security system. Child poverty can be solved if given the attention it needs.”

A study by the Resolution Foundation last month found that child poverty risked hitting a record high by 2023-24 unless the government implements substantial changes to universal credit and other benefits.

The UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights warned in November that policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty, and that Brexit was exacerbating the problem.

A government spokesperson said ministers were “looking at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances”. “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government, and we take these numbers extremely seriously,” the spokesperson said.

“Employment is at a record high, wages are outstripping inflation, and income inequality and absolute poverty are lower than in 2010. “But we know some families need more support, which is why we continue to spend £95bn a year on working-age benefits.”


Pensioners are ‘dying early’ due to £3.1bn unclaimed food and heating benefits

Damning report by Age UK reveals sad truth about pensioners who do not realise they are entitled to Pension Credit.

Britain’s poorest pensioners are “dying early” because £3.1billion of benefits go unclaimed. Many are forced to ration their food and heating because they do not realise they could be getting Pension Credit – worth around £49 a week for every eligible household.

It ensures couples have at least £255.25 a week to live on and single pensioners £167.25. But many are said to be unaware of it – or find the paperwork too hard.

Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams said two in five eligible people miss out. Complex forms and a sense of shame are some of the reasons Age UK say pensioners do not claim.
She said: “Older people don’t claim for a number of reasons – lack of awareness, ­difficulty filling in long, complex and ­intrusive forms, and a sense of shame at being so hard up in the first place.”

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George McNamara, of charity Independent Age, warned of two ­million pensioners “living in poverty and more just above the breadline”. Pensioner Eve Freer, 79, said the cash gave her “peace of mind that money is coming so you don’t need to turn your central heating off or sit in the dark or go hungry”.

Eve, of Droitwich, West Mids, said: “A lot of people out there are ­possibly under great hardship because they’re not being well informed.”

Labour MP Chris Ruane, who obtained the figures, said: “It would allow the poorest pensioners in the country to have confidence to switch on ­heating when they need it and buy food they need for a healthy lifestyle.

“Without this funding, many of them will not be doing that and will be dying early. “The Government must identify people missing out and give them what is theirs.”

Pensions Minister Guy Opperman said: “The Government is committed to ensuring older people receive the ­support they are entitled to.” TRANSLATION: WE MAKE CLAIMING ANY BENEFIT SO HARD TO CLAIM WE HOPE YOU GIVE UP OR DON’T BOTHER IN THE FIRST PLACE.

To claim Pension Credit, call 0800 99 1234 or ask at pension centres, Jobcentres or Housing Benefit offices


Man paralysed down one side stripped of benefits and told he is fit to work

Steve Smith has no feeling down the left side of his body but has recently been deemed capable of work.

A dad-of-two left paralysed down one side of his body following a major stroke has been stripped of his benefits after being told he is fit to work. Steve Smith, 55, was holidaying in Turkey 11 years ago when he unexpectedly suffered a debilitating stroke and brain haemorrhage.

He spent six weeks in hospital abroad, with surgeons having to cut away at his skull and operate on his brain but Mr Smith was left partially paralysed with poorer cognitive functions. After flying back to England, Mr Smith, who has no feeling down his left side, was given a year to recuperate by his employers but after his condition failed to improve he was made redundant.

Mr Smith, who lives in Orchard Park, has been claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) but last month he received a devastating blow.

During a Work Capability Assessment, the soon-to-be grandad says he was told he is now fit to work and on March 31, he would no longer receive ESA. “I’m not able to work,” Mr Smith said. “I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to manage.

“I was told that I am capable of doing some type of work but to me, I just can’t. It was a bit of a shock and when they told me I was just thinking, ‘well what can I do?’ “I can’t lift boxes unless they’ve got a handle on them and I wouldn’t be able to do it with just one hand.

“During the day I spend most of the time looking at myself. If I had to go to work for eight hours a day I wouldn’t have time to look after myself and I would just deteriorate. “I can barely cope doing little menial things. There just wouldn’t be enough time in the day with all the travelling and I would need to get someone to do my shopping.”

The stroke also left Mr Smith with no peripheral vision and he says he is paralysed from head to toe down the left side of his body. He worked from the age of 16 up until he had a stroke aged 44 and did a variety of jobs, including working in construction and being a park ranger.

Although Mr Smith was keen to return to a normal working life after his stroke, his condition has not improved and he now thinks it will be impossible for him to ever work again.

“I think it’s just beyond me to work,” he said. “I would maybe last a couple of days and not even that potentially. It just wouldn’t be possible and it would affect me too much. “I’ve always worked and I’ve had a good working history from 16 to 44. I’ve done some good jobs and some hard jobs but now it’s a struggle.

“It’s a strange condition I’ve got. Every day I think ‘will I ever get back to normal?’ But then I wake up the next day and I’m still the same. “You’ve just got to get on with it. There has been no improvement, I’ve stayed the same and I’ve just got to get used to managing it.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been in contact with Mr Smith and the government department is supporting him with claiming JSA. He will continue to receive Disability Living Allowance and is not required to claim Universal Credit.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “Work Capability Assessments look at what people can do, rather than what they can’t. TRANSLATION: AS LONG AS YOU CAN BREATHE YOU ARE “FIT” FOR WORK!

“Our assessments are carried out by medical professionals but if someone disagrees with the decision, they can appeal to an independent tribunal.” MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS MY A**