Esther McVey FINALLY admits ongoing problems with universal credit

Changes in pipeline as DWP is accused of failing to respond promptly or take expert advice. The welfare secretary Esther McVey has admitted there are continuing problems with the much-criticised universal credit system and signalled that further changes are in the pipeline.

She also said Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) ministers and officials needed to listen more carefully to claimants, campaigners and frontline workers when they reported problems and complaints.

In a speech to the Reform thinktank on Thursday, McVey said universal credit was adapting the welfare system to changing patterns of work and using the latest technology to create an agile service offering “tailor-made support”.

But in an almost unprecedented official admission that not all is going well with the benefit, which is six years behind schedule, she said changes were needed.

McVey added: “And where we need to put our hands up, admit things might not be be going right, we will do.”

McVey said she was working on changes to universal credit including debt repayment, support for the self-employed and benefit payment cycles for working claimants, but gave no further details.

McVey said she had already made changes to the DWP’s position on a number of issues, including reinstating housing benefit for 18-21-year-olds, and exempting kinship carers – where a child lives with a relative or friend who is not their parent – from the two-child limit, although the latter followed a court decision that termed the policy “perverse and unlawful”.

 If Esther McVey’s getting away with it, things must be really bad

This came within hours of the publications of a critical report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that savaged the DWP for its six-year failure to fix system errors in the transfer of claimants from incapacity benefit to ESA.

Tens of thousands of ESA claimants will receive back-payments of £5,000 -£20,000 as a result of what MPs have called a series of “avoidable” mistakes. The DWP was warned of the error as early as 2014, but failed to take action until 2017.

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Killed By My Debt – a sad true story turned into a compelling family tragedy

I remember being in debt for the first time in our married life (25 years), when my disabled husband had all his benefits removed when he was found “fit” for work [2013] by a charlatan ATOS nurse. He was in a catch 22 situation i.e. denied disability benefits even though in constant need of medical care, but, too ill to sign on. We saved for the IB to ESA transition [due to the expose on BBC Panorama] and had our savings but we quickly got through our savings after nearly six months without money. By the time the decision was overturned at appeal we were in serious debt and hadn’t it have been for family we could have had baliffs at our door too. GN


If you haven’t yet seen this dramatisation lifting the lid on the reality of zero-hours contracts and payday loans, you should – but it’s not an easy watch

Chance Perdomo Jerome Rodgers Killed By My Debt.
 Chance Perdomo as Jerome Rodgers in Killed By My Debt. 

Igot a traffic fine the other day. I went in the bus lane because I thought you could at weekends (you can’t); £130, or £65 if I paid immediately, which I did, because I could. OK, there were two; I got another just a few days later. This time for driving into a road where a signpost clearly said I wasn’t allowed to. Another £65 for quick payment, which again I paid. This time, my girlfriend said I was a dick. It was hard to argue: £130 – ouch! It hurt, but I could pay, because I have a job that gives me a regular income. It’s not going to carry on hurting.

When Jerome Rogers got two traffic fines, he couldn’t pay them quickly. Or at all. He wasn’t earning enough as a self-employed courier, delivering blood to hospitals on his motorbike. His income was irregular, often pitiful, once just £18 a week take home, after everything – petrol, insurance, £24 a week to rent the equipment he needed to do the job from the courier company – was deducted.

The quick-pay option expired and the fines escalated: to £390, then almost £800, finally to £1,019. A bailiff came round and eventually clamped Jerome’s bike, his means of making a living. Unable to pay, unable to make money, he was trapped in debt and despair. On 7 March, 2016, aged 20, Rogers killed himself. You might have seen it as a news story, and been shocked and saddened by what it says about the gig economy and the state of modern Britain. With this – a meticulous factual drama, with input from Jerome’s family and a beautiful, utterly believable, portrayal of Jerome by newcomer Chance Perdomo – it becomes something else: a heart-rending personal family tragedy about a young life wasted.

Actually, you might have seen it before: Joseph Bullman’s BBC3 film had been on the iPlayer for a while before this well-deserved BBC1 airing. So watch it again. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. You won’t find it easy, at times it’s pretty much impossible; it gnaws at your stomach and your conscience. But it’s important because of what it says about what’s going on out there.

Killed By My Debt should be played, on a loop, in the offices of Camden council, which issued Jerome’s tickets, and every other local authority that outsources its debt collection to bailiffs. It should be played in the offices of Newlyn, and every other bailiffs company. And at CitySprint the courier company, and every other firm that offers only zero-hours contracts. Oh, and the payday loan companies, too. Yes, there was one of those involved: Jerome got a loan of £250, at 1,081% representative APR – 1,081%! It wasn’t the answer to his problems, of course – payday loans tend not to be; he used that to pay some of the money he owed his stepdad.

There were other factors involved. Such as the suicide websites that Jereome visited; his stubborn pride, which might have prevented him talking to his family about it; and the asthma that prevented him from taking other jobs. Oh God, that scene with him gasping into his radio – part of his courier package – then heaving on his puffer. No laws or rules were found to have been broken. By the bailiff (so chillingly played by Line of Duty’s Craig Parkinson, it’s going to be hard to hear Every Breath You Take by the Police, which he whistles as he approaches Jerome’s front door, ever again without feeling a bit sick). By his company. By the courier firm. But, in a way, that makes this more shocking and disgraceful; that this can be allowed to happen.

I know this really shouldn’t be about me, but bear with it, the comparison is quite revealing. Two men do exactly the same thing wrong (one of Jerome’s tickets was for going in a bus lane, too). For one – the better-off, middle-aged, middle-class, white (although I don’t actually think that’s relevant) one – it is an annoyance, and he gets called a dick by his girlfriend. For the younger man, struggling in his first job, it is the catalyst for a downwards spiral into a hole that gets harder to get out of the further down he goes, and ends up in needless, senseless, desperate tragedy. Jerome texted his girlfriend to tell her that he loved her and she shouldn’t forget him (not in the film, but in the reports), then he went into the woods and took his own life. Any system that allows that to happen – that leads to that happening – is a rotten system.

Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

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Review For PIP Planning And Following Journeys Cases Finally Starts

Since the Review For PIP Planning And Following Journeys Cases Finally Starts I thought I’d add this article on the subject


Mobility – Activity 1: Planning and following a journey

Activity 1 considers a claimant’s ability to follow the route of a familiar or unfamiliar journey as well as to plan and undertake a journey. As with all the other activities, a claimant is to be assessed as satisfying a descriptor only if they can do so reliably.

Descriptors

The descriptors for Activity 1 are –

  1. Can plan and follow the route of a journey unaided. 0 points
  2. Needs prompting to be able to undertake any journey to avoid overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant. 4 points
  3. For reasons other than psychological distress cannot plan the route of a journey. 8 points
  4. For reasons other than psychological distress cannot follow the route of an unfamiliar journey without another person, assistance dog or orientation aid. 10 points
  5. Cannot undertake any journey because it would cause overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant. 10 points
  6. For reasons other than psychological distress cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid. 12 points

Source: Part 3 of Schedule 1 to the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 (SI.No.377/2013) as amended (with effect from 16 March 2017) by regulation 2 of the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (SI.No.194/2017)

NB – the March 2017 amendments made by SI.No.194/2017 to descriptors c, d and f – that added the words ‘For reasons other than psychological distress’ – have been held to be unlawful by the High Court in [2017] EWHC 3375 (Admin). Amendment regulations, in force from 15 June 2018 (SR.No.121/2018), have been issued in Northern Ireland to remove the words from descriptors c, d and f. Until the regulations that apply to Great Britain are amended, the descriptors should be read as if those words are not part of them. For further details, see our case law commentarybelow.


Definitions

Terms used in the PIP descriptors are defined in regulations and, in relation to Activity 2, are –

  • “aid or appliance” – (a) means any device which improves, provides or replaces [the claimant’s] impaired physical or mental function; and (b) includes a prosthesis;
  • “assistance dog” means a dog trained to guide or assist a person with a sensory impairment;
  • “orientation aid” means a specialist aid designed to assist disabled people to follow a route safely;
  • “prompting” means reminding, encouraging or explaining by another person;
  • “psychological distress” means distress related to an enduring mental health condition or an intellectual or cognitive impairment;
  • “unaided” means without – (a) the use of an aid or appliance; or (b) supervision, prompting or assistance.

Source: Regulation 2 and Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 (SI.No.377/2013)

See also DWP guidance on the ‘planning and following a journey’ activity from the Personal Independence Payment assessment guide for assessment providers (part 2).


Case law

Commentary: A three-judge panel in [2016] UKUT 531 (AAC) (the MH case) considered the meaning of ‘to plan and follow a journey’ (descriptors c, d, and f) which had been subject to conflicting interpretations in earlier cases – [2015] UKUT 344 (AAC)[2015] UKUT 386 (AAC), and [2015] UKUT 694 (AAC). The panel held, in a decision dated 28 November 2016, that the descriptors could be met by a person experiencing overwhelming psychological distress. To reverse the effect of this ruling, the government amended the PIP Regulations from 16 March 2017 to explicitly exclude psychological distress as a means of meeting descriptors c, d. and f.

However, in December 2017, the High Court ruled in [2017] EWHC 3375 (Admin) that the March 2017 amendments were unlawful and should be quashed and, in a written statement in the House of Commons on 19 January 2018, the Work and Pensions Secretary announced that ‘after careful consideration’ she had decided not to appeal the High Court’s judgment and would implement the three-judge panel decision in MH. The Minister for Disabled People has stated in written answers on 30 January 2018 that anyone owed arrears as a result of the MH case would be paid either from the date of their claim or the date of the judgment, whichever is later.

In [2016] UKUT 420 (AAC) Judge Jacobs confirms that, although the DWP guidance on Activity 1 defines a journey as being a ‘local’ journey, the legislation does not state this and there is therefore no requirement for the descriptor to be assessed in relation to a local journey.

[2017] UKUT 480 (AAC) confirms that a ‘SatNav’ is not an orientation aid unless it has been specially designed or modified to assist the disabled.

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Man denied ESA and told he is ‘fit for work’ despite needing new hip and knee after horrific crash

Lee Horsfall has had his benefit claim stopped and says he cannot work as he waits for an operation.

A Grimsby man has spoken of his frustration, after his benefit payments were stopped because he was “deemed fit for work” despite needing a new hip and knee.

Lee Horsfall, 29, of Orchard Drive, has suffered a string of problems with his leg, hip and back after he was involved in a motorcycle collision in 2006, where he suffered broken bones and severely damaged nerves.

Since then he has had to have numerous operations to try and fix the problems that arose after the crash, but none have managed to give him back the standard of living that he once had, and a replacement hip and knee are now his only option.

Lee says that a month ago he was told that his Employment and Support Allowance had been stopped, after he had been deemed “fit for work”, something that he says could not be possible because at a recent interview he had showed that he is just not physically capable of working.

The Department For Work and Pensions has now reinstated his benefit, but Lee is frustrated that it happened in the first place. He is not able to stand or sit for long periods of time, and is “constantly up and down” as he has to adjust himself in order to stop being in pain.

He says that he regularly gets a “burning pain” in his lower back and hip when he stays in the same place for too long, and walking also causes him a lot of difficulty, needing to use crutches to move short distances, and a wheelchair for longer ones.

Lee is also on a large number of painkillers to help him cope with the pain, including fentanyl patches, which can be highly addictive if used over a long period of time. He said: “I really cannot believe that I was taken off my claim and told that I am fit to go and work, when I struggle to do some of the most basic things around the house

“Due to my collision I have been struggling for the past decade, and I would gladly work if I could, but I am just not able to. “I need crutches to move about the house, and if I am going any distance I need to use a wheelchair, and because I cannot sit down for long periods of time I don’t know how I could do any desk work.

READ MORE
Ex-serviceman facing eviction after receiving just £84 Universal Credit for one month

“I am also on so many different painkillers to cope with my problems, that I have further doubts that I will be able to work properly until I get a new hip and knee and I am able to live my life pain free.”

Lee says that he would love to be able to work if he could, as before his crash he used to work numerous jobs, and after leaving school immediately started working.

He continued: “As soon as I left school when I was younger I started working, I loved it, but now it is just something that I am physically not able to do.

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Woman whose body is riddled with tumours and cannot work is denied PIP

Pearl Kelly is awaiting a decision from a tribunal about whether to overturn the decision by the Department for Work and Pensions to cancel her benefits payments

A disabled woman who suffers from a rare condition that causes tumours to grow all over her body has had the benefits she relies on stopped by the government. Pearl Kelly, 21, has a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis. It causes benign tumours to grow along her nerves all over her body.

In order to treat the condition she has had around 20 operations over the past 15 years and her first operation when she was just five-years-old. When she was eight-years-old doctors fused her spine to help fight the rare genetic disease. The operation stopped her from growing taller than 4ft 2 (127cm). Pearl, from Orrell Park, in Liverpool, also suffers from other health conditions including a curvature of the spine, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and heart problems, the Liverpool Echo reports.

The young woman said she cannot walk without using crutches and also suffers from poor mental health . All of these factors, she said, means she is unable to work.

She has now been told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has stopped paying her personal independence payment (PIP) – a benefit awarded to people to help them with the added costs of disability. Pearl, who has contested the decision, said she needs the benefit, worth around £450 a month, to help with the costs of travelling to hospitals across the North West.

She is now waiting to appear before a full appeal tribunal when she hopes to overturn the decision. Pearl said: “I am an out-patient at several hospitals across Liverpool and Manchester. I have to use public transport to travel some fairly long distances. Sometimes my appointment might be first thing in the morning so I have to travel at peak times.

“And there are the cups of coffee and snacks while I am waiting around. Just the odd coffee and a biscuit. Although I receive another benefit I need the PIP money too.” Pearl said she has spent a year filling out massive forms to become eligible for the PIP benefit.

She said: “I first applied in April 2015 and became eligible in March the following year. Some of the forms I had to fill out were nearly 60 pages long.” Athough the benefit is not means tested, claimants are medically assessed by private companies who employ health professionals. Claimants need to secure eight points to be eligible for the benefit.

Pearl said: “I have found the whole process bewildeirng. I am someone that can can’t walk from one room to another without becoming short of breath. How can they say I am not eligible.” She also said that her childhood was complicated by her illness and that bullies made things worse. “I hated school because of the bullying. I was picked on because I was different. In the end though I just felt sorry for the bullies because they were so ignorant. ”

As a teenager she relied upon crutches to move around but still managed to get 11 GCSEs at grade C or above at Walton secondary Archbishop Beck. The school played its part by offering her assistance upstairs, helping carry her bags and providing extra comfy chairs. Pearl later spent two years studying at Hugh Baird College but missed large chunks of the course to poor health.

Pearl said that she was determined to fight the DWP. She said: “I need this money and I think I am entitled to it. I get out of breath walking from one room to another and cannot walk without crutches.

“Travelling around the North West on public transport is stressful and expensive. I need help. I am obviously hoping that the decision will be overturned at a tribunal later this year.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “PIP takes a much wider look at the way a person’s health condition or disability impacts them on a daily basis. The quality of assessments has risen year on year since 2015, but one person’s poor experience is one too many.

“We’re committed to continuously improving assessments and have announced we’re piloting the video recording of PIP assessments with a view to rolling this out widely. Under PIP 30% of claimants receive the highest rate of support, compared to 15% under DLA (Disability Living Allowance).”

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Man says he’s being denied ‘vital’ benefits because he isn’t disabled enough

Derby man says he’s being denied ‘vital’ benefits because he isn’t disabled enough
The Department of Work and Pensions says Martin Hargreaves is fit enough for work

Martin Hargreaves says his ESA has been cut but he is not fit enough for work.

A 52-year-old disabled Derby man claims he is being denied the benefits he needs to survive. Martin Hargreaves, from Alvaston, says he struggles to walk and has hearing and vision problems, which mean he is unable to work.

But he claims his Employment Support Allowance has been cut following an assessment in April which concluded he was fit enough to find employment, and he says as a result he no longer has enough income to survive on. He said: “At the moment I’m going to food banks and living off them because I’ve got no savings

“I’m very angry about it.”

A Department for Works and Pensions spokesman said decisions for the Employment Support Allowance are made after consideration of information from the claimant and medical evidence and that people can appeal.

Mr Hargeaves says that his disabilities are much more debilitating than found during his assessment. He said: “The only time I go out is when I go shopping every two weeks when I got paid the Employment Support Allowance.

“I can’t do the things I used to do before. They’re saying I can go out on my own but I can’t. “When I go out I fall over all the time, even with help.

Martin's stairlift.

“When I was born my feet went inwards instead of going outwards. Now its really affecting me as I get older because it’s harder and harder to walk. “I can’t walk without using my frame, I can’t get up and down the stairs without a lift and I can’t get in and out of the bath without a machine to help me.”

Mr Hargreaves said he used to receive both a Personal Independence Payment, which aids disabled people, and Employment Support Allowance,which supports people who cannot work. But he received a letter on May 22 from the DWP informing him that his Employment Support Allowance had been stopped because he was deemed fit for work.

He says he is now eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance, but he feels he would be unable to claim this as he would have to actively seek jobs he cannot do due to his disability.

He now says he cannot afford to pay his bills. He said: “My carer used to cost me £300 per month on top of all my bills like gas and electricity, which costs me around £70, water which costs me £20, taxes and all the rest of it.

“I now get £454 per month for Personal Independence Payments and that’s it. “It’s not enough to live on because I have to pay my bills and everything on top of that. I need a carer to help me bathe and walk but I can’t afford to pay for one anymore.

“I’m actually in debt to the council by about £200 for my taxes because I just haven’t been able to pay for them.

“I’m a broken man now. I have nothing.”

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MPs shouted their fury at Sarah Newton as she said: Stop saying disabled people face a ‘hostile environment’

Stop saying disabled people face a ‘hostile environment’, Tory benefits chief demands
MPs shouted their fury as Sarah Newton made the shameless claim in the Commons – despite more than 100,000 people winning appeals to get PIP

How this vile witch has the gall to lie so blatantly beggars belief

Disabled people don’t face a “hostile environment” and MPs should all stop saying so, a Tory minister has demanded. MPs shouted their fury as Sarah Newton made the shameless claim in the Commons – despite more than 100,000 people winning appeals to get disability benefit PIP.

Since PIP launched in 2013, benefit changes have also forced more than 75,000 people to give up their specially-adapted Motability cars.  Shadow Disabilities Minister Marsha De Cordova said the UN had found “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights” in the UK.

The Labour MP added today: “This government’s policies have created a hostile environment causing grave violations on disabled people.” But Ms Newton suggested people losing their cars should complain to the Motability charity – not the government.

Benefit changes have also forced more than 75,000 people to give up Motability cars 

The Tory minister said: “We have very strong protections for people with disabilities in our country. WHAT THE ****ING HELL HOW MANY LIES CAN SHE TELL!!!! 

“I honestly ask all members opposite, please do not use this language of hostile environment. It is simply not the case. “And the very people that need all of our support are put off from seeking it and coming forward. “Really, I would ask them to stop saying things which they know are not true.”

It came despite an MP warning a constituent was forced to borrow thousands of pounds when she lost her Motability car because the DWP cut her benefits. She obtained a new car – only for the DWP to reverse its decision and give her benefits back.

Yvette Cooper said: “Frankly it is outrageous that she should lose all of her savings because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) screwed up.”

Yvette Cooper said: “Frankly it is outrageous that she should lose all of her savings”

Yet Ms Newton tried to blame the problem on Motability – not the DWP. She told MPs: “If any member has a constituent that’s facing losing their Motability car, I suggest they call Motability. “Motability are sitting on very very considerable reserves.

“They are a charity, and they are able to make discretionary payments to enable people to keep their cars while they’re going through appeal.”

MPs have previously slammed £2.4billion in reserves and bumper pay of up to £1.7million at the charity’s parent firm.

But Motability Operations chair Neil Johnson insisted much of the £2.4billion ‘reserves’ were not reserves at all because they were locked up in cars. “There’s not a bank account sitting there with £2.4billion in it,” he said. Mr Betts added: “We buy and sell 650 cars a day, 7 days a week.

“That means we’re turning over £14million a day and if that starts to go wrong that can very quickly start to escalate into something quite bad.”