Mother of ESA suicide mum-of-nine praises activist for confronting McVey

The mother of a woman who killed herself after her disability benefits were sanctioned has praised a disabled activist who confronted work and pensions secretary Esther McVey about her daughter’s death as she gave evidence to Scottish MSPs this week.

The activist, David*, had told Joy Dove of his plans to question McVey about her daughter’s suicide as the minister was giving evidence to the Scottish parliament’s social security committee on Monday.

Jodey Whiting, a seriously-ill mother-of-nine, from Stockton, took her own life last year after having her employment and support allowance (ESA) sanctioned.

She had her ESA stopped after missing a work capability assessment because she was in hospital being treated for a brain cyst, and never opened the letter telling her about the appointment.

David, from the campaign group Class War Scotland, who was sitting in public seats behind McVey, called out (listen from 52 minutes) as she was replying to a question from an MSP about her government’s policies on social security reform and whether she should apologise to the people of Scotland.

Mother of ESA suicide woman pledges to continue fight for justice

David called out: “What about Jodey Whiting, mother of nine, who committed suicide after her ESA was stopped? “It was stopped because she missed an appointment.” The committee meeting was suspended and David left the hearing.

When the hearing restarted, McVey (pictured giving evidence) responded to the request from SNP MSP Ben Macpherson for her to apologise for the “suffering and distress” caused by her government’s social security reforms**.

But instead of apologising, McVey said: “I am not oblivious to people who are incredibly vulnerable or who are in need, and obviously the gentleman felt he needed to have his points said about something that was very important to him about someone who was very vulnerable but what we aim to do with the money we spend from DWP, which is nearly £200 billion per year… [is]make sure that we reach out to the most vulnerable.

“If anybody does not get that support, it is not through lack of trying because that is what people are employed to do, to reach out and support people.” She said it was important to have “as best oversight as we possibly can, learning from it all the time as best as we possibly can”.

After the meeting, David told Disability News Service (DNS) how Joy Dove had approved his plan to raise her daughter’s case with McVey. He said: “She wants justice for Jodey. “She is looking for answers and a reason why her 42-year-old daughter is now dead because of a Tory system that is purposely designed to hurt and damage people.”

David said he had wanted to ask McVey key questions about Jodey Whiting’s case but had become frustrated with the “stage managed” evidence session and the failure of MSPs to challenge or confront the minister about her government’s failings.

Joy Dove told DNS (see separate story) last night (Wednesday) that she had been delighted to hear how David had confronted McVey, which she saw as the latest step in her campaign for justice for her daughter, which includes a Justice for Jodey petition that demands a change in the law and an inquiry. When she heard the recording of David mentioning her daughter’s name she said she “just felt great”. She said: “I am so grateful to him. I am really pleased he did it.”

McVey’s appearance in front of the committee had to be suspended a second time after she was asked about the so-called “rape clause”, where women must prove non-consensual conception to qualify for tax credits and universal credit for a third child.

McVey argued that DWP’s decision to ask third-party groups to take that evidence from women who had been raped was “providing extra help and support” to them and was “an opportunity to talk about something that they never had before” and was therefore “potentially double support”.

Politicians and campaigners later called on her to apologise for her comments.

During the evidence session, McVey repeatedly resisted attempts by committee members to ask her to confirm that many people would be worse-off under universal credit.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone reminded McVey that Paul Gray, who chairs her own department’s social security advisory body, had said that universal credit would produce “more losers than gainers”.

But McVey said the committee needed to “look at the system in the totale” and consider also “the extra support for childcare costs, the increase we are seeing in the national living wage, the increase we are seeing in personal tax allowance” and “200,000 more people into work” in Scotland since 2010.

McVey’s reluctance may be partly because, in less than two weeks, the high court is due to hear a judicial review of the financial impact of the introduction of universal credit on disabled people with high support needs.

George Adam, an SNP MSP, told McVey that one of his constituents had been sanctioned because he had had a heart attack and was receiving treatment in the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

He said: “You’re saying it’s fit for purpose but these things keep happening, these things keep going on all the time, nothing seems to be changing for people in my constituency or across Scotland.”

McVey said that “vulnerable” people were receiving support from DWP and “people in that situation” would have “full mitigation and they would not have any sanctions” and that “for the vast, vast majority of people it is working”.

She asked for his constituent’s name and address so DWP could support him and “make sure all is now going well” and “find out what went wrong” and “learn from that” and other such cases.

Another disabled activist who attended the committee meeting was Marion Nisbet, of Glasgow Disabled People Against Cuts.

She also confronted McVey at the end of the session about the many deaths of disabled people who had been found fit for work through the work capability assessment, and her comments about the rape clause.

She said: “She didn’t turn around. She just totally ignored everything.”

After the evidence session, Macpherson and Adam spoke to activists holding a small demonstration outside the Scottish parliament, which the user-led grassroots network Black Triangle helped to organise.

A spokesman for Black Triangle said the protest had been organised to show McVey that disabled people had been “stripped of the support they require to survive by this brutal system”.

And he said that McVey and her government had shown themselves to be “steadfastly unmoved” by the comments of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which concluded last August that their cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused a “human catastrophe”.

The spokesman said: “It’s been eight years since Paul Reekie took his own life following a DWP-Atos work capability assessment (WCA).

“Sadly, the system has not changed for the better – it has become even more draconian.

“They are forced into semi-starvation, destitution and many – like Jodey Whiting – are driven to the ultimate tragedy, suicide.

“The entire, lethal disability assessment system – both the WCA and personal independence payment – must be scrapped in their entirety, along with universal credit, which must be seen as the final phase of their ‘welfare reform’ programme.”

*He has asked for his full name not to be used

**In November 2016, McVey’s predecessor, Damian Green, refused three times to apologise or even acknowledge the distress and harm caused by cuts and reforms, “particularly [through]the work capability assessment, sanctions and cuts and the wider austerity agenda”, when he appeared in front of the same committee.

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‘I’m owed £5k as I can’t access disability assessment centre’

‘I’m owed £5k as I can’t access assessment centre’

A WOMAN has lost out on more than £5,000 in disability benefits… as she cannot access her local assessment centre. Jaki Whyte, from Colchester, has been out of work for 10 years as she is disabled.

In order to claim her Employment and Support Allowance she needs to attend the assessment centre in Colchester. However the centre in Wellington Street came under fire recently for its inaccessibility.

See this FOI 

Why is There No Disabled Access or Parking at Capita’s Birmingham PIP Assessment Centre

Hundreds have signed a petition for the centre to be made accessible by wheelchair users, as it has a 5ins step to the entrance. Jaki has been asking for a solution for the past two years.

She said: “It has affected me badly, in June the department for work and pensions classed me as fit to work as I am failing to attend appointments, but the reason is because I cannot get into the building and have to be manhandled in.

“It’s a matter of life or death for people like me, it’s so important.”

The DWP registers someone as fit to work if they do not register their presence at the assessment centre.

As Jaki has an electric mobility scooter, she cannot get inside the building. Because of this, her attendance has not been registered and she is now owed more than £5,000 in benefits. She has been trying to find a solution for the past two years.

She said: “I have been asking for a ramp there since 2016, I have suggested other venues but they refuse. “They class you as not attending even if you are sat outside the building, I have asked them to come and do an assessment outside in the car park but they will not do it.

“They also say I’m not sick enough for a home visit, but this has adversely affected my mental health.” She has asked her GP to apply for a home visit twice, but nothing has come from her requests. She has now been without benefits for 43 weeks.

She has been offered appointments at the centre in Chelmsford, but explained she cannot get there. Jaki has also suggested the DWP use the PIP centre in Hawkins Road, which has disabled access, but she was told there would be health and safety issues.

A DWP spokesman explained all of its Centres for Health and Disability Assessments comply with the Equality Act and where a centre is not directly accessible from street level, this is made clear before a person’s appointment.

The authority has also promised it will ask the assessment provider to revisit what else can be done to make the building more accessible. A spokesperson said: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring disabled people get the right support that they need.

“All our centres meet legal accessibility requirements, but we go further and can arrange to meet at more accessible sites nearby or discuss whether a home visit would be appropriate.”

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Cancer sufferer launches petition over ‘unfair’ benefits system

Brave cancer sufferer from Derby launches petition over ‘unfair’ benefits system

Thousands of pounds have been raised for cancer-stricken Sue Hodgkinson - a popular face in the Chaddesden area
Brave Sue Hodgkinson is now fighting the Government as well as cancer 

A popular Derby woman suffering from cancer has launched a petition in a bid to change the law over a benefit system deemed “totally unfair”. Sue Hodgkinson is undergoing chemotherapy after suffering from non-hodgkin lymphoma – a condition which can cause certain blood cells in the body to go haywire. Her condition is serious but not terminal.

But despite facing months away from work due to her illness, Ms Hodgkinson told the Derby Telegraph she has been left having to survive on just £89 per week via sick pay payments.

Ms Hodgkinson, who was diagnosed with the cancer in January, says she has to wait around three months to find out whether she is entitled to a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which would give her extra financial comfort each week.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claimants have to satisfy a qualifying period of three months in order to receive a benefit payment. However an application can be fast-tracked should someone have a terminal illness.

Fortunately, Ms Hodgkinson – who lives in Spondon – has been given remarkable support from the community who have raised an incredible £4,000 in just a matter of weeks to help support her financially.

But the 61-year-old has described her situation as a “disgrace” and has launched a petition which calls for anybody undergoing chemotherapy to be automatically entitled to PIP so they receive financial help much sooner than the three-month waiting period.

Her petition has so far gained almost 1,000 signatures and needs 10,000 to force a response from the Government.

“I have worked for 50 years, paid taxes and insurance – it seems ridiculous that I have to wait that long. “This petition is not just about me but for anybody who suffers from cancer. “Everyday there are lots of people being diagnosed with cancer, it’s just totally unfair.

“Anyone who suffers from cancer should automatically get some kind of benefit and not just lose their wages.”

Ms Hodgkinson’s close friend Jo Andrew said: “Sue’s friends support her view that there is an injustice in the benefit system and feel quite strongly that the Government’s Personal Independence Payment (PIP) should be made available to people diagnosed with cancer and receiving chemotherapy.

“The system is particularly harsh for those in employment as, until the three-month period has elapsed, many of those in this position are expected to live on statutory sick pay (SSP). It is simply impossible to cover the additional costs associated with debilitating effects of cancer, whilst receiving SSP.”

Helping fight Sue’s corner is Derby North MP Chris Williamson who said he had every sympathy for her. Mr Williamson said on his Facebook page: “I’ve been deeply touched and incensed by this campaign. “Sue has been hung out to dry by this Tory Government but thankfully people in her community have stepped in to support her. Others in the same circumstances may not be so lucky.” .

Car thieves strike
The Derby Telegraph contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for its response to Sue’s petition but insisted they could only fast-track the PIP application process to people with terminal illnesses.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that people living with cancer and terminal illnesses get the support they need through this difficult time. “That’s why we have put special measures in place, to ensure those with terminal illnesses can fast track their PIP claims and get support in a matter of days.

“PIP is a non means tested benefit and for those who are unable to work due to cancer or terminal illness, they may also be eligible for Employment Support Allowance as an income replacement.

To see the petition visit – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/215775.

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Just how Ill do you have to be to claim Attendance Allowance?

Anger over woman’s benefit refusal appeal defeat

pipx

An elderly West Norfolk woman is being denied care support because benefit rules do not properly support her needs, campaigners say. A county court judge has upheld a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions not to pay attendance allowance to Joan Buckley, who has severe arthritis.

But Mrs Buckley’s supporters believe the rules are not being applied consistently and should be changed to ensure she, and others in a similar position, get the care they need. Her neighbour, Ruth Ashton, who supported her appeal, said the current criteria are “appalling.”

She added: “She doesn’t want the money to go on a spending spree. It’s to pay for people to help her.” Under current benefit rules, attendance allowance is paid to people aged 65 and over who have a disability that is severe enough to require either care for the patient, or for them to be supervised to ensure their or others’ safety.

The allowance is paid at two different weekly rates, according to the severity of a patient’s disability. Miss Ashton, of Gaywood, said Mrs Buckley’s condition is so serious that it makes everyday tasks difficult and had also led to several accidents at her home before council officials agreed to the installation of a wet room on safety grounds.

However, a judgement, issued following a tribunal hearing in Lynn last Wednesday, concluded Mrs Buckley was not entitled to payments because “the statutory conditions for this benefit are not satisfied.”

But Miss Ashton said the decision applied an excessively narrow definition of care needs which was not applied to all cases. She said: “I know of three subjects who have been awarded attendance allowance which has not considered their personal care needs.”

She added that she was considering taking the case to advice services such as Citizens’ Advice and local politicians.

A government information page on the payments said: “Attendance Allowance helps with extra costs if you have a disability severe enough that you need someone to help look after you. It doesn’t cover mobility needs.”

However, elderly and disability rights charities stress that applicants can still apply again in future, particularly if their need for support increases.

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Government takes small step over risk of NHS care home discrimination

The government has taken a small step towards addressing the discrimination faced by service-users with complex healthcare needs who risk being forced into institutions.

Last month, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wrote to 13 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) as the first step in a potential judicial review of their policies on long-term NHS funding for care outside hospital, known as NHS continuing healthcare (NHS CHC).

But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) now appears to have quietly altered key guidance on NHS CHC, making it harder for CCGs to continue to discriminate against disabled people receiving such funding.

Concerns about the policies of more than 40 CCGs were first raised in January 2017 by Fleur Perry (pictured), herself a recipient of NHS continuing healthcare.

Her research showed that many CCGs had drawn up policies suggesting they would move disabled people eligible for NHS CHC out of their homes and into institutions against their wishes, even if the cost of a homecare package was only slightly more expensive than residential care.

These concerns were subsequently taken on by EHRC, which believes that “blanket” policies that have imposed “arbitrary” caps on funding and fail to consider the specific needs of individual patients are “a serious breach” of the Human Rights Act, the CCGs’ public sector equality duty and DHSC’s own NHS CHC framework.

But Perry has now spotted that DHSC has made a minor, but significant, change to its framework document, which is due to come into effect in October and is the first new version for six years.

In the new version, DHSC warns CCGs that while they can “take comparative costs and value for money into account, they must not set arbitrary limits on care at home packages based purely on the notional costs of caring for an individual in a home, if this does not represent a personalised approach or an accurate appraisal of the cost of meeting the assessed needs of the individual concerned”.

There was no mention of arbitrary limits in the 2012 edition of the guidance.

Imposing such “arbitrary limits” is “incompatible” with the principle of personal health budgets, which were “developed to enable people to live independently, work or participate in society”, says DHSC in the new version of the guidance.

Perry said the change to the framework represented progress although it fails to address all her concerns and is “not a solution”.

She said: “It’s great that arbitrary cost-caps are not supported by the new national framework.

“However, this does not prevent care at home costs being effectively capped at the cost of a local care home by some CCGs.

“It does not prevent a person being moved away from their home on the sole basis of small differences in cost. This is a step forward, but not a solution.”

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “It is encouraging to see that the Department of Health and Social Care recognise the importance of an individual’s circumstances when arranging care packages.

“We hope that CCGs take note and amend their NHS Continuing Healthcare policies accordingly.

“Removing arbitrary caps on funding for NHS CHC will go a long way to improving many disabled people’s ability to live independently.”

A DHSC spokeswoman said: “We have updated the national framework to ensure the process for accessing funding is clearer so people with the highest and most complex health and care needs get the care they deserve.”

The department believes the change makes it clear that the starting point for agreeing a NHS Continuing Healthcare care package and the setting where services are to be provided should be the individual’s preferences.

But it believes this is not a major departure from the 2012 guidance, which also highlights the importance of an individual’s preferences.

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Disabled People Are Hit Hard By A Benefits System Which Continues To Unravel

The system needs a complete overhaul [YOU THINK]

BLACK TRIANGLE

Almost a third of assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are not ‘up to scratch’, according to recent figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

This revelation follows a series of problems with the benefits system, which are causing unacceptable levels of stress to disabled people across the UK. A DWP report published last month identified errors in the payment of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that could affect 75,000 disabled people. This has created an unnecessary burden on recipients, who have to navigate a broken system to receive payments that are a lifeline for disabled people and their families. The assessment can take several months, taking a toll on applicants’ physical and mental health.

Many disabled people can and want to work but for some it is not possible. Vital ESA payments are essential to their independence, and many say that not receiving the financial assistance they need makes it harder to move into work once they are ready. Disabled people’s day to day costs are significantly higher, from higher heating bills, travel costs, and paying for adjustments to their home. The news that thousands of disabled people have been short-changed on financial support they are entitled to will hit particularly hard.

pipx

Disturbingly, it seems errors such as these are becoming routine. The news in February that the cost of PIP and ESA appeals amounts to a staggering £108.1 million since October 2015 added a new twist to the sorry saga of a fundamentally flawed system.

The government recently U-turned in its approach to PIP claims and announced it would not appeal the High Court ruling that the changes to PIP regulations, introduced in March 2017, were discriminatory. This means the government will review 1.6 million claims to identify those who will now be in line to receive higher allowances – estimated to be around 220,000 people. But these people have spent the year since the regulations came into effect struggling to make essential journeys. This is, of course, part of a greater review of 1.6 million benefit claims.

Too many people have been put through the lengthy and distressing appeal process – waiting to hear if they were entitled to payments they need. Many who have been discriminated against through inaccurate judgements have not appealed. After a gruelling assessment process, many do not have the energy or resources to face what can be an overwhelming process.

We have to consider these issues in the context of the mounting human cost of a benefits system that continues to unravel.

The change in PIP regulations created a discriminatory distinction between people with physical disabilities and people with mental health conditions. When the regulations were announced, the Government claimed that psychological distress was not enough reason alone to score enough points under the “planning and following a journey” criterion to receive the higher mobility rate of PIP of £58 a week. This made even those whose mental health conditions prevented them from leaving their house alone ineligible.

Whilst we welcome the government’s decision to extend the review and cover all claimants, we can’t overlook the huge strain that the change in regulations put on disabled people over the last year. The Government’s actions in that time have been unjust and discriminatory towards disabled people with mental health conditions, while a lack of an over-arching strategic vision is all too apparent. The system needs a complete overhaul, so it is robust and can accurately and fairly assess whether people need ESA and/or PIP.

Although disabled people can now expect to receive the payments they are entitled to, quick fixes and a change of regulation will not resolve a system that repeatedly discriminates against people who feel they are an easy target for punitive, unjust measures. The further mistakes which have come to light over the last two months will serve only to validate people’s distrust in a seemingly shambolic system.

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Isle of Man set to scrap its ‘fitness for work’ test

 

BLACK TRIANGLE
I can’t wait until it happens in the mainland UK

Ministers on the Isle of Man are to scrap their version of the UK government’s much-criticised “fitness for work” test, prompting calls by disabled activists for the UK government to follow their lead.

The decision, announced to members of Tynwald, the Isle of Man* parliament, follows years of criticism of the assessment on the island, mirroring concerns raised repeatedly and publicly in the UK.

The statement by Treasury minister Alfred Cannan followed a report by Tynwald members into what is known on the island as the personal capability assessment (PCA), which is based on the UK’s work capability assessment (WCA).

In the UK, there has been nearly a decade of evidence that the WCA is unsafe, inaccurate, unfair, and lacking in empathy, while it has been repeatedly linked with the deaths of claimants.

In November 2015, public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford showed in a study that, across England, the process of reassessing incapacity benefit claimants through the WCA between 2010 to 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides, 279,000 additional cases of self-reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of a further 725,000 anti-depressants.

Concerns arose on the Isle of Man after a new scheme was introduced to reassess most of the island’s 2,000 long-term claimants of incapacity benefits through a face-to-face PCA, firstly through a pilot programme in 2012-13 carried out by Atos, the outsourcing giant which was itself being heavily criticised at the time for its role in the assessment process across the UK.

The Isle of Man reassessment scheme was then taken on by another company, Dependability Ltd, which eventually had its contract terminated after it emerged that some of the assessments were not being carried out by registered healthcare professionals.

Just as in the UK, there were criticisms of the “tick box” nature of the assessment process, the failure to deal fairly with claimants with fluctuating conditions such as ME and multiple sclerosis, and the use of unqualified and unsympathetic assessors.

An independent review of the PCA, published in December 2016, reported “widespread” criticism, with concerns about the qualifications of assessors, and an “oversimplified” assessment which was unsuitable for those with more complex impairments.

The review added: “Many people believed that they had been treated with a lack of respect and that the system lacked compassion.”

It recommended the replacement of the PCA by a new “holistic multidisciplinary assessment” that would be “supportive” of the claimant and “based on trust and compassion underpinned by clear, open and honest communication”, with claimants “fully involved in developing a realistic return to work plan”.

A report by a committee of members of Tynwald that supported the recommendations of the independent review was approved by the parliament last November.

Cannan has now told the parliament that ministers are “minded to implement” the “complete removal of the existing personal capability assessment process” and replace it with a new “holistic approach”.

Any decision to change the relevant regulations will need to be approved by members of Tynwald later this year.

A spokesman for the Scottish-based, user-led grassroots network Black Triangle praised the Isle of Man government for taking the decision to scrap the PCA.

He said: “We warmly congratulate them. They have done what any humane government would have done and it is now absolutely essential that the UK government follows suit.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman declined to comment on the Isle of Man government’s decision.

But she said in a statement: “We are committed to ensuring that people with health conditions get the right support that they need, and work capability assessments ensure that everyone gets the benefits they are entitled to.

“If a claimant’s condition changes then we will consider any new evidence presented by the claimant’s GP or medical professional.

“Anyone who disagrees with the outcome of their assessment can appeal the decision.”

*The Isle of Man is not part of the UK or European Union, but is a crown dependency with its own parliament and government, although under the supervision of the UK government

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