Define Irony: Tories pushing for disabled rights on the world stage while ignoring them at home

Hypocrites doesn’t even begin to cut it!


pipx

Although the post of development secretary is one of the easiest in the Cabinet, involving posing as a saviour of distressed people while budgets surge, it is a job wanted by few ministers with an eye on the top job. Most Tories loathe the foolish concept of fixing a target for spending as poverty declines worldwide and know much of the money is wasted. But Penny Mordaunt, who took over the post last November from a predecessor that once sought the department’s abolition, does at least actually believe in the cause.

This week Mordaunt makes her first real mark on the job by hosting what is grandly called the Global Disability Summit in London. The idea, which no doubt emerged from her previous post as disabilities minister, aims to share and showcase ways to assist people who are among the most excluded in societies around the world.

‘Only last year the United Nations condemned Britain’s failure to uphold disabled people’s rights’

If billions are being blown on aid, few voters would quibble with diverting a few crumbs to people with disabilities instead of the usual bunch of self-serving charities, dodgy despots and fat-cat consultants. And unlike many leading Brexiteers, she is at least a competent minister.

Lots of talk, little action

The aid world, of course, loves a good conference. Some leading lights seem to do little more than fly around the world bragging about alleged good works. This is a sector that places emphasis on talking to itself over hard evidence. True to form, Mordaunt has been pointing out that “in the developing world if you live in poverty, you are more likely to have a disability, and if you have a disability, you are more likely to live in poverty”. She says disabled people in poor places are unable to fulfil their potential due to stigma and lack of support, and is seeking to break this “vicious cycle” along with barriers that exclude them.

This is all correct and unarguable. Yet look at the evidence closer to home and it smacks of sickening hypocrisy to see Britain, and this government in particular, position itself as global champions of people with disabilities (and indeed to see Microsoft, a firm notorious for tax evasion that reduces state spending, hailed as a partner in the event).
The reality is that from birth to death, life remains a struggle for most Britons with disabilities – and since taking office in coalition government, the Tories have mostly made matters worse.

‘Culture of indifference’

Only last year the United Nations condemned Britain’s failure to uphold disabled people’s rights across a range of areas including education, health, housing, jobs, transport and social security. The Government’s risible response was to say Britain was “a recognised world leader in disability rights and equality”. Yet its true attitude was seen last week when a cross-party group of MPs criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for a “culture of indifference” after taking six years to correct a mistake that left 70,000 chronically ill and disabled claimants thousands of pounds out of pocket. This was the latest in a string of errors – yet the bungling bureaucrats keep on getting bonuses.

Perhaps the Government should hold a similar conference on links between poverty and disability in Britain? After all, its own equalities watchdog warned those with disabilities are left behind with “very poor” life chances in a report echoing the UN. “Progress has either stalled, or in some cases gone backwards”, said David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Studies have found two-thirds of disabled people living alone are in penury and almost half the people in poverty are either disabled or in a household with someone disabled. And they are more than twice as likely to be in food poverty.

Such a conference could study the bedroom tax, since two-thirds of families hit by this dismal policy include a disabled adult, yet even a Supreme Court ruling of discrimination failed to force decent reform. Another session could be on the corrosive impact of overloading austerity on local government, shattering social care and support services. There could be discussions of why families including a person with disabilities are being hit hardest by fiscal reforms and why more than one million carers live in poverty. Maybe another on how Brexit is hurting those hiring care workers. For balance, a minister could point to a rise in employment levels – although people with disabilities are still far less likely to be in work and far more likely to be low paid, even with good qualifications.

‘Bigotry and paternalistic attitudes towards people with disabilities remain pervasive’

Learning disabilities

There could also be proceedings on people with learning disabilities, since they suffer the worst impact of rising hate crime – all too often to deadly effect. Most say they endure routine harassment, which wounds their confidence and stalls attempts to integrate – and sometimes in places supposed to offer sanctuary. They are rarely employed and regularly dumped in the worst parts of town amid diminishing state facilities. We saw how little they are valued with release of a report earlier this year exposing how dozens die needless deaths each year due to prejudice and indifference in “caring” professions. Ministers were shamefully silent in response.

This reflects wider attitudes. Surveys by Scope and others underline a sad reality: that bigotry and paternalistic attitudes towards people with disabilities remain pervasive. The results can be fatal at worst. Often they lead to loneliness and social ostracisation.

For millions of our fellow citizens the most basic aspects of everyday life from education to entertainment, from housing to healthcare, from transport to work, are a struggle. Instead of pontificating to the planet as self-proclaimed global leader on disability, ministers should rectify their mistakes and work harder to bring all Britons with disabilities in from the cold.

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Disabled comedian left trapped on board train after it leaves

Tanyalee Davis taken 50 miles out of way, days after she was ‘harassed’ over using a disabled space on another train

Tanyalee Davis with hosts Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langford on ITV’s This Morning show after the first incident.

A comedian who felt “harassed and humiliated” for using a disabled space on a train for her mobility scooter, prompting an apology from the operating company, has had yet another bad experience on the railways.

Tanyalee Davis was en route to York for a show and, although she had already spoken to staff to ensure she would be helped off the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) train, no one came to assist – meaning she had to stay on board until Darlington, 50 miles away.

Canadian-born Davis, 47, who has a form of dwarfism, was ordered to vacate the disabled space on a GWR train earlier this week.

“The train guard came and talked to me and said: ‘I’ve already rung, York knows that you are arriving,’” she said in a video posted to her YouTube channel.

He told her not to panic and that if no one was there to help her, he would come to assist her.

“So we get to York, I’m waiting and nobody’s coming and some people get off and I just assume that the guard will be coming and all of a sudden the train doors close and now I’m off to Darlington.

“The guard on this train is lovely, I don’t know his name but he’s lovely. This is not a beef against the guard, he did everything he could possibly do.

“But this is the problem. The platform staff, he’s rang them, and they were like: ‘What, oh my God, we thought she got off the train.’

“Anyway, oh, another day, another try, you know, and I’ve gotta be on stage in an hour and now I’m going to be an hour out of my way. It’s been a rough day.”

She thanked everyone for the outpouring of public support throughout the week and apologised for not being able to reply to all of the thousands of messages.

The guard was “mortified” and apologised personally and, when she finally arrived at York station, staff were “over the top apologetic” and gave her two bottles of wine.

Luckily, Davis made it to her gig.

A spokesman for LNER told the BBC: “We are very sorry for the unacceptable experience Ms Davis had whilst travelling with us.

“We are fully investigating the incident to understand what went wrong and to ensure that lessons are learnt for the future.”

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Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths?

Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths? Labour, the SNP and Greens demand answers.

Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths? Labour, the SNP and Greens demand answers.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing allegations of a “cover-up” over the deaths of welfare claimants, possibly linked to its controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The DWP: covering up its role in people’s deaths?

As the website Disability News Service (DNS) has been investigating and documenting, the DWP is facing a possible scandal. Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Green Party are all demanding answers from the department. Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the situation had “all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up”.

It involves the DWP’s alleged failure to hand crucial evidence to the head of two independent reviews into the WCA. The missing evidence includes, according to DNS, two coroners’ reports that:

followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013… Each warned of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Missing reviews

The WCA is the process the DWP uses to decide whether claimants are ‘fit-for-work’ and therefore entitled to certain benefits. It has been dogged by controversy; not least when a study by Oxford and Liverpool universities found that an “additional” 590 people taking their own lives was linked to the WCA process.

The DWP allegedly also failed to give Dr Paul Litchfield, who published reviews into the WCA in 2013 and 2014, its own internal peer reviews. These, as John Pring from DNS noted:

must be carried out by civil servants into every death ‘where suicide is associated with DWP activity’.

One of the aims of these reviews is to ‘determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved’, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems told DNS they would be writing to work and pensions secretary Esther McVey over the matter. The SNP said it would be “seeking answers” from the department.

The DWP says…

The department told DNS:

As we’ve previously said, this was an independent review, and DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request.

Any evidence used was referenced in the review.

A “deliberate cover-up”

But the situation has left Bartley incensed. He told DNS:

If the [department] failed to show Dr Litchfield vital documents linking the [WCA] with the deaths of benefit claimants, [the] DWP are clearly implicated in a cover-up.

If he was shown them but didn’t mention them in his reports, then so was he.

This has all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up over the fatal impact of the assessment on sick and disabled people.

Theresa May awarded Litchfield a CBE in June.

So, has the DWP intentionally covered up its involvement in claimants’ deaths? Currently, there are certainly more questions than answers.

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Watchdog’s ‘issues of concern’ over regulator’s treatment of PIP complaints

PSA logo

A regulator has been told there are “issues of concern” about the way it deals with complaints against health and care professionals, including those who write dishonest benefit assessment reports.

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) agreed in January to look at concerns about the way regulators deal with complaints about nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics who carry out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments for the outsourcing giants Capita and Atos.

It agreed to act after being contacted last year by disabled activist Mark Lucas, who has twice appealed successfully against the results of what he believes were dishonest PIP assessments.

Hundreds of disabled people have come forward over the last 18 months to tell Disability News Service (DNS) how assessors working for Atos and Capita wrote dishonest PIP assessment reports on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Many also raised concerns about the apparent refusal of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to take their complaints about these assessments seriously.

Only this week, Lucas received an email from HCPC, explaining that it would not take any further action over his complaint about an occupational therapist who had assessed him for PIP.

He believes the assessor deliberately downplayed the seriousness and frequency of his seizures, but HCPC told him it did not believe this had happened and even if it had, “it would be considered a minor error, which would not be capable of amounting to an allegation of impaired fitness to practice”.

Lucas has twice been found ineligible for PIP following assessments, but on both occasions was later awarded eligibility for the PIP standard daily living rate after appealing to a tribunal.

Frustrated at HCPC’s failure to take another complaint about a PIP assessor seriously, he contacted PSA – which reviews the work of the regulators of health and care professionals – last year.

PSA incorporated Lucas’s concerns into its annual review of HCPC, which found this month that the regulator was meeting only four of the 10 required standards for the way it deals with complaints against healthcare professionals, including those who carry out PIP assessments.

Last year, before Lucas contacted the regulator, PSA had reviewed 100 complaints made to HCPC, including a small number relating to PIP assessments.

David Martin, PSA’s concerns and appointments officer, said the 2017-18 review “concluded that there were issues of concern about the HCPC’s process across all of its activity”, in relation to fitness to practise.

These concerns include the way it deals with the initial stages of the fitness to practise process, and how it determines if there is a “case to answer” against a health and care professional.

Among PSA’s concerns are that HCPC makes it too difficult for complaints about a healthcare professional to be accepted into the fitness to practise process, while other cases are closed at the initial stage instead of being referred to an investigating committee panel.

Martin said HCPC had confirmed that PIP assessment work “should be considered in the same way as any other professional activity of its registrants” and that its procedures “require it to fully consider the concerns it receives about PIP assessors”.

He said: “The HCPC was clear that it considers registrants, acting as PIP assessors, are exercising their professional judgement.

“It therefore considers that allegations of misconduct or lack of competence when carrying out PIP assessments could constitute a fitness to practise concern to be investigated in accordance with its usual process.”

He said HCPC was now “undertaking an action plan” to address the concerns PSA has raised about its fitness to practise processes, and that PSA would probably review further HCPC cases in detail over the next couple of years.

A similar annual review by PSA of NMC is due to be published later this year.

An HCPC spokesman said: “The PSA audited a sample of 100 of our cases as part of their review of our yearly performance review in 2016-17.

“While a small number of these cases related to PIP, the audit was not specifically looking at HCPC’s handling of PIP cases.

“HCPC registrants who are employed in assessor roles are recruited because of their skills and experience as registered health professionals. Therefore, their work and conduct needs to comply with our standards.

“If in the course of conducting a PIP assessment a concern is raised regarding a registrant’s fitness to practise, ie lack of competence or misconduct, then this will be investigated following the same robust and thorough processes and applying the same tests as concerns raised in relation to any other area of a registrant’s practice.

“We have also provided input into the PSA’s review into how regulators approach fitness to practise concerns in relation to PIP assessments and have confirmed our view that the PIP assessment process requires the registrant to employ their professional competencies.

“This year we continued to meet the majority of the PSA’s Standards for Good Regulation.

“Although we did not meet all the standards relating to fitness to practise, the PSA has acknowledged our on-going work to improve our performance in this area and stated that we have made ‘significant progress during this review period’.

“We continue our programme of improvement work to address the issues that were previously identified.”

But Lucas was heavily critical of PSA’s efforts to address his concerns.

He said PSA was “a joke” and a “toothless quango”.

He said: “I am not happy with the way PSA have treated me and it is behaviour that I have been subjected to on many occasions over the last few years.”

Lucas said that complaints processes are “designed to abuse” disabled people because they first “promise the earth”, then “forget” the complaint, and finally “communicate the result from the complaint in a letter with preapproved techniques of neutralisation and consolatory phrases like ‘we realise you will be disappointed’”.

He said: “This experience of the last few years has given me anxiety over making complaints.

“I have spent much time and written many letters, but it is all for nothing because organisations like the PSA are just for show.”

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A note from the [DNS] editor:

For nine years, Disability News Service has survived largely through the support of a small number of disability organisations – most of them user-led – that have subscribed to its weekly supply of news stories. That support has been incredibly valuable but is no longer enough to keep DNS financially viable.

For this reason, please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support its work and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their organisations.

Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please remember that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring, and has been from its launch in April 2009. 

Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…

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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Disability claimants owed £340m after DWP blunder

Disability claimants owed £340m after DWP blunder, say MPs

‘Indifferent’ department tried to shift the blame and took six years to correct error

Protest.
A Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) protest at Westminster.
A cross-party group of MPs has criticised the Department for Work and Pensions’ “culture of indifference” after it took six years to correct a major error which left chronically-ill and disabled benefit claimants thousands of pounds out of pocket.

An estimated 70,000 claimants were underpaid by between £5,000 and £20,000 between 2011 and 2016 because the DWP failed to ensure they received the correct amounts when moving them from incapacity benefit on to the employment and support allowance (ESA).

The cost of fixing the error, which a public accounts committee’s (PAC) report said stemmed from a string of avoidable management failures, will cost the DWP at least £340m in back payments to claimants and £14m in administrative costs.

The report criticised the DWP for rushing into the transfer without taking legal advice or making basic checks, brushing aside evidence that people were being underpaid, and ignoring warnings from its own policy advisors that it should pause and fix the process before proceeding.

Even after it became formally aware of its error in 2014, the department failed to act, initially attempting to pass the mistake off as being the fault of claimants. After years of “inertia” it began to put in place a repayment plan in 2017, and then only after receiving advice that it had a legal responsibility to act.

The report concluded the DWP’s lack of urgency in taking six years to start to address the error indicated “a culture of indifference” towards people being underpaid.

Meg Hillier.
 The Labour MP Meg Hillier says thousands of people have not received money essential for living costs because of government’s ‘blinkered and wholly inept handling’ of claims. 

Meg Hillier MP, the chair of the PAC, said the episode pointed to “weakness at the highest levels” of DWP management: “Thousands of people have not received money essential for living costs because of government’s blinkered and wholly inept handling of ESA.”

The ESA failure was overseen by the Tory former secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith, who was in post for all but the last few months of the period covered by the report. The current secretary of state, Esther McVey, was a DWP minister between 2013 and 2015.

Although it accepted it had got the process wrong and apologised, the DWP has insisted it will not pay compensation to affected claimants, and will limit back payments to 2014, a cut-off point which would deny claimants up to £150m in lost benefits. That decision is being challenged through the courts.

The department told MPs it accepted it should better understand its legal obligations. The report drily noted: “Our view is that this continues to underplay its moral obligation to act promptly and comprehensively to make good its mistakes when they occur.”

The report said the DWP must learn from the mistakes it made during the ESA transfer in order to not repeat them when its starts a major programme of transferring 3 million claimants from existing benefits onto universal credit from July 2019.

It added the department must act urgently to “address a management culture which does not proactively and systematically act on intelligence from its frontline and fully address mistakes when they first occurred”.

The national association of welfare rights advisers wrote to the the DWP in 2014 to alert them to what its frontline advisors had realised was a “systematic” error. It told MPs the DWP could be “unconstructive” when confronted with legitimate concerns by outside organisations.

The DWPs “abysmal” communications with claimants exacerbated the scale and impact of the error, the report noted. Letters to claimants were often “incomprehensible,” and the department’s most senior official, Peter Schofield, admitted to MPs that even he did not understand some of the letters that went out.

The DWP error related to claimants who were awarded contributions-based ESA, when they may also have been entitled to income-related ESA. The forms sent to claimants did not make it clear they could be better off if they were eligible for the latter award. As a result they may have missed out on premium payments.

ESA is an unemployment benefit paid to people with limited capability to work because of disability or illness. About 2.4 million Britons receive ESA, and in 2016-17 the total expenditure was £15bn.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We take the issue of underpayments very seriously and have actively taken steps to put this right as quickly as possible, to ensure people get the support they are entitled to.

“We have recruited 400 extra staff and have already started making payments – over £40m so far. We have continued to provide regular updates to both PAC and the House in regards to the progress of these repayments, and will continue in this stead.”

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