‘My picture is proof that healthcare professionals lie in benefit assessments’

A furious disability benefit claimant has produced what she says is the clearest evidence yet that healthcare professionals working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are writing dishonest assessment reports.

CeaJay Clem, from Gloucestershire, has chronic discoid lupus, which has caused a significant facial disfigurement (pictured).

But despite the impact of the condition on her skin, the doctor who assessed her in January wrote in her report that her complexion was “normal” and that she “looked well”.

Clem contacted Disability News Service (DNS) after reading about more than 200 cases in which claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) have described how their assessors from Atos and Capita produced dishonest assessment reports, which have led to them losing their benefits or having them cut.

Clem’s reassessment was carried out by another contractor, Maximus, and was testing her eligibility for the out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).

Because of her condition, she is unable to wear make-up and is highly sensitive to all UV light – which is used in nearly all work places – but she also has complex post-traumatic stress disorder, asthma and other health conditions, and uses a mobility scooter because she cannot walk or stand for long.

She had previously been in the ESA support group, but as a result of what she says was a completely dishonest report, she lost all eligibility for ESA in February, even though the assessor admitted that she had “current firm detailed plans for self-harm”.

She is now awaiting a date for an appeal tribunal.

She said her photograph and report provided “proof positive” that assessors were lying in their reports.

Clem said her report was littered with other lies and inaccuracies.

The reports she has been sent refer to her “skin problem”, “skin condition” and “skin complaint”, and downplay the seriousness of the condition, even though she cannot leave the house for more than 15 minutes without her skin burning.

She said she was “absolutely mortified that a medical professional would lie and downplay my conditions.

“I was expecting to fail on the assessment, it happens, but fail due to deliberate lies? That shook me to my boots and was a total emotional crusher for me.

“It put me into a deep depression and such a state of high anxiety I didn’t know which way to turn. I just wanted to explode.

“I am a very strong-minded woman and it takes a huge amount to upset me and this has almost broken me.

“I dread to think how people are coping with their situation when they maybe don’t have the same strength as me, or have simply just run out of strength.”

Although the decision to find her fit for work was covered widely in the media earlier this year, those stories did not highlight the claims of dishonesty in the assessment report.

A DWP spokesman declined to comment on the honesty of the assessment – as the department has done repeatedly with similar stories – or to say whether DWP would look again at her case.

But he said in a statement: “We expect the highest standards from our assessment providers.

“As you know, all the health professionals are subject to on-going quality audits to ensure they continue to deliver high-quality assessments.

“Should they fall below our required standards, they are stopped from carrying out assessments.

“Decisions are backed by evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.

“Ms Clem has appealed her WCA assessment and this will now be reviewed by an independent tribunal.”

Maximus failed to respond to a request for a comment.


DWP ‘is using lost benefit assessment letters to cut spending’


The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is using lost appointment letters for face-to-face assessments as an excuse for turning down disabled people’s benefit claims, to help it cut spending on social security, it has been claimed.

Concerns have been raised about both the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP) – which helps meet a person’s disability-related costs – and employment and support allowance (ESA), the out-of-work sickness and disability benefit.

The concerns were raised with Disability News Service (DNS) after last week’s report detailing how DWP, and its private sector contractors Atos and Capita, were refusing to launch inquiries into widespread allegations of dishonesty by healthcare professionals paid to carry out PIP assessments.

One leading activist, Roy Bard (pictured), a long-term recipient of disability living allowance (DLA), described this week how his financial support was suddenly removed because he missed an appointment for a PIP assessment he was never told about.

He had been told he needed to apply for the new PIP, which is gradually replacing DLA for working-age claimants.

After DWP initially appeared to have mislaid documents he sent as evidence for his claim – which he sent by recorded delivery – he eventually received a phone call from Atos asking why he had missed his face-to-face assessment.

He told Atos he had never received a letter telling him to attend an assessment, and made the same reply a few days later when Atos called him again.

Bard then received a letter telling him his DLA had been stopped, and that his PIP claim had been cancelled.

When he complained, he was told a text message reminder had been sent to his phone, but the mobile number it was sent to does not belong to him.

Following an appeal – through DWP’s mandatory reconsideration process – he was told that DWP had overturned the decision to cancel his PIP claim, but would still not reinstate his DLA. He was told to wait for another assessment appointment.

This decision meant he lost about £560 a month in DLA and severe disability premium, even though DWP had overturned its original finding that he had no good cause for missing the assessment.

Bard, a leading member of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said his mental health had been seriously affected by the way his PIP claim had been dealt with, and he told DWP that this “amounts to maladministration and it has caused me considerable harassment, distress and alarm”.

Soon after DNS contacted DWP about his case, Bard was told that his DLA had been reinstated and a new PIP assessment arranged for next week.

But his case is not a one-off.

Graeme Ellis (pictured), who founded the Lancaster-based social enterprise Here2Support, has told DNS that he received eight cases similar to Bard’s last week, some of them relating to PIP, and some affecting ESA claimants.

All eight said they had had their benefits removed for not attending a face-to-face assessment, even though they had not received an appointment letter.

In the last month, Ellis has been receiving one or two such cases a week, but last week that “just shot through the roof”.

He believes these cases demonstrate a fresh DWP attempt to cut social security spending.

Previously, he said, a claimant of disability benefits would be given another assessment if their appointment letter had gone missing.

Now, said Ellis, they are finding – like Bard – that their claims are being cancelled.

He believes that appointment letters are being sent out, but that DWP is being more “strict” if the letters go missing and claimants fail to turn up to their assessments.

He said: “They are just dismissing the fact that people are saying they have not received the letter.

“It’s about saving money. They see a way of knocking somebody off benefits.”

He also pointed to another case as further evidence of a new, even harsher DWP regime.

A woman who had not left her home in five years because of severe agoraphobia was denied a home PIP assessment – after years of claiming DLA – and then had her benefits removed when she failed to turn up to an assessment centre for her appointment.

Ellis traces the start of a stricter ESA regime to April this year, and the implementation of controversial cuts of nearly £30 a week to payments made to new ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group.

Because a cancelled claim means someone has to start a new claim – even if they had previously been receiving ESA – DWP can then treat them as new claimants and cut their benefits by nearly £30 a week if they are placed in the WRAG.

A DWP spokeswoman said the department was “not aware of multiple examples” of cases like Bard’s.

She said: “We’ve made enquiries, and we are not aware of this being a widespread issue.”

She said that suggestions that DWP was using such incidents as a way of forcing disabled people on ESA to make new claims and accept lower benefits if placed in the WRAG were “unfounded and not true”.

She added: “[Bard] was sent a letter asking him to attend a face-to-face assessment.

“Although a text message was sent to the number that we held for [him], further checks show that the assessment provider did not give sufficient notice for the assessment, so they’ve been asked to arrange a new appointment.

“As the case had not been dealt with correctly on this occasion, we’ve informed [Bard] that his DLA will be reinstated.

“The mobile number that the text message was sent to was a number we had held for some time.

“As [Bard] has now stated that this is not his number, it has been removed from our records.”

She added: “Every year we send out millions of letters, and fortunately incidents like this are rare.

“When an administrative error does occur, we take action to ensure the claimant does not lose out on their benefits, as we have in [Bard’s] case.”


ANOTHER PIP ATROCITY: PIP report ignored near-fatal attacks, overdoses and blackouts

Recordings prove PIP report ignored near-fatal attacks, overdoses and blackouts

A nurse failed to mention a disabled woman’s near-fatal asthma attacks, accidental overdoses and repeated blackouts, in one of the clearest examples yet of a dishonest benefits assessment report, secret recordings have revealed.

A video recording of the assessment also shows that the nurse lied about the way disabled activist Catherine Scarlett made her way from a stairlift to a reclining chair to begin the assessment.

Scarlett had been so distrustful of the personal independence payment (PIP) system that she made both video and audio recordings of her face-to-face assessment, which was carried out at her home in Yorkshire in May.

She says the recordings and assessment report prove she was right to do so.

They show how the nurse – employed by the government contractor Atos Healthcare – repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of what she was told by Scarlett.

This allowed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to lower her entitlement from the enhanced rate to just the standard rate for the daily living element of PIP, although she was allowed to stay on the enhanced rate for mobility.

At one point, Scarlett is heard on the recording telling the nurse that on several occasions she had accidentally double-dosed the powerful opioid pain medication Tramadol, but the nurse translates that in her written report as “occasionally forgets to take her medication”.

Scarlett also tells the nurse that she cannot read for long periods “because I black out”, but this ends up in the report as “she can read although she doesn’t read for long due to concentration”.

When Scarlett describes how she has previously experienced “near-fatal asthma attacks”, the nurse writes this up in her report as episodes of being “wheezy and short of breath”, which “comes and goes”.

And when the nurse asks her if she has ever thought of taking her own life, Scarlett tells her that she has felt like ending her life “lots of times” and that she experiences “impulsive urges to commit suicide and things like that”.

This is translated as “she has had thoughts of not wanting to be here”.

Scarlett is also furious that the nurse suggested that she did not need to carry out a physical examination if that meant she would be “wiped out for the week”.

When Scarlett agreed and said she was “not really” keen on having the examination, the nurse was able to use her decision to decline the physical tests to justify relying instead on an inaccurate description of how she claimed she saw Scarlett “grip and operate a crutch in each hand” as she was walking from a chairlift to her seat, in order to play down her need for support for bathing and dressing.

DWP later admitted – when it eventually overturned its original findings – that she lacked the necessary grip and strength in her right hand and arm “to be able to dress yourself reliably and in a timely manner”.

The video clearly shows Scarlett walking with a stooped posture, leaning heavily on the crutches, and flopping into the chair, but not touching its arms.

But the nurse writes this up as: “She walked from the bottom of the stairs to her specialist reclining chair using a crutch in each hand. She walked very slowly with normal posture.

“She lowered herself into the chair by putting her hands on the chair and lowered herself into it.”

Scarlett believes that her case, and many others she has been passed by other disabled people through social media, show that DWP is “colluding” with Atos in order to cut people’s support.

She said: “I have been shocked at the effect on my mental health and the thoughts it has brought up for me and can understand why it pushes so many people completely over the edge.

“I’m lucky to have strong family, friends and professional support that keeps me going but so many people aren’t as lucky and so are very vulnerable to devastating mental health deterioration and the consequences of that.

“The whole system needs fully investigating and changing to protect those people.”

Following the decision to reduce her support, a mandatory reconsideration (MR) – DWP’s own internal review process – endorsed that decision, although the department finally agreed last month to return her daily living to the enhanced rate when she appealed against the MR decision.

In that decision, DWP accepted that Scarlett did after all need help to dress and take a bath.

For technical reasons, DNS was not able to share the video recording with Atos and DWP, but the audio recording was shared with their press offices.

DNS originally agreed to omit the allegations connected with the video recording so that DWP would comment on the evidence provided solely by the audio recording.

But this morning, after agreeing to this and asking for extra time to produce a response – the audio recording was originally sent to DWP and Atos on Tuesday afternoon – a DWP spokeswoman failed to comment on any of the evidence contained in the audio recording.

Instead, she merely pointed out that Scarlett’s PIP entitlement was eventually restored, after she appealed, to the daily living enhanced rate.

She also repeated previous DWP statements about the “strict quality standards” required of assessment providers, and the “on-going quality audits” that assessors are subjected to, as well as mentioning the complaints procedures available to PIP claimants.

An Atos spokesman refused to comment on the evidence at all.

He said: “We’re informed we won’t have access to the video which accompanies the audio without which the points raised cannot be looked into as verification is simply not possible.”

Scarlett’s case is one of 22 that have been passed to Labour MP Neil Coyle (see separate story), who has pledged to take up concerns about allegations of dishonest assessment reports when parliament returns from its summer recess next month.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been investigating since last November claims that healthcare professionals working for Atos and Capita have been lying in their assessment reports.

DNS has now compiled more than 200 cases in which PIP claimants say their assessors produced dishonest reports.

The investigation shows that assessors – most of them nurses – have repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

But DWP, Capita and Atos have all refused to launch inquiries into the claims of widespread dishonesty.


AND THE PIP ATROCITIES GO ON AND ON: PIP investigation 200 cases of dishonesty

PIP investigation: 200 cases of dishonesty… and still DWP, Atos and Capita refuse to act. The government and its private sector contractors are refusing to investigate claims of widespread dishonesty in the benefits assessment industry, despite Disability News Service (DNS) collecting more than 200 such cases.

The cases have been compiled during a DNS investigation into allegations that healthcare professionals working for outsourcing giants Capita and Atos have been lying in personal independence payment (PIP) assessment reports they have written for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Eight months after the investigation began, DNS now has a database of more than 200 cases in which disabled people have described – in varying levels of detail – how assessors lied in their written reports.

But this week, DWP, Atos and Capita all refused to launch an investigation into the claims of widespread dishonesty.

In one of the latest cases passed to DNS, a woman disabled as a result of stage three breast cancer has described how she requested a copy of her assessment report after she was told that she had been turned down for PIP and had been awarded zero points (a claimant needs eight points for the PIP standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate).

IDS and Chris Grayling face a criminal case from a leading human rights lawyer

She said she was “utterly shocked” when she read the report because it was “full of complete lies”, including the assessor stating that her daughter takes her shopping every week, when she lives in Northern Ireland and her daughter has lived in England for the last 16 years.

Another claimant said of her PIP assessor: “She lied 11 times on the report despite my sending in a large amount of letters/documents outlining my conditions and support from specialists.

“She asked my carer questions, too, and wrote the opposite of most of the things we told her.”

A third claimant, who stayed in his wheelchair throughout his PIP assessment, was said by his assessor to have got up from the wheelchair and walked about.

He said the report was “just a pack of lies”, and included “results for tests not done” and “test results falsely reported”. He said he planned to report the nurse assessor to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Another claimant described how her nurse assessor stopped the PIP assessment halfway through, as she said she did not want to cause her any pain or discomfort.

She said: “She never ever asked was I in pain. When I received her report through the DWP, she lied through her teeth from beginning to end. She said that I stopped the assessment. I got 0 points.

“I have osteoarthritis, and have had one hip replaced, I have osteoporosis in my lower back, I have severe bladder problems, and need a pad on 24/7.

“I also told her that I have a growth on my liver, but she failed to mention this at all.”

A fourth claimant has told DNS: “Having produced the most incredible work of fiction since Harry Potter, my complaints to Atos have been all but brushed off like a flea on an elephant.

“While awaiting their ‘second level investigation’ and the outcome of my tribunal, I have now been prescribed anti-depressants and the trauma of it all has broken me.

“As a former healthcare professional of nearly 30 years, the thought that a fellow ‘professional’ could treat a human being in such a degrading way and lie through their teeth about them leaves me aghast.

“Even the NMC didn’t want to know, which I found shocking. The damage to my mental, physical and emotional wellbeing can’t be measured.”

DWP has confirmed again this week that it does not believe there is any dishonesty among its PIP assessors, and that it is not planning to launch an inquiry.

In a statement, a DWP spokeswoman said: “As we’ve previously made clear, assessment providers must adhere to strict quality standards regarding staff recruitment and training.

“They must demonstrate that their health professionals meet all of our requirements before they are approved to carry out assessments.

“All the health professionals are subject to on-going quality audits to ensure they continue to deliver high-quality assessments.

“Should they fall below our required standards, they are stopped from carrying out assessments.”

She said that Atos and Capita have their own complaints systems, which signpost complainants to the Independent Case Examiner if they remain dissatisfied with the final response.

Capita has also refused to order an inquiry into the claims.

A Capita spokeswoman said in a statement: “Our assessors are healthcare professionals who are committed to delivering high-quality and accurate reports throughout the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland in line with Department for Work and Pensions and [Northern Ireland] Department for Communities guidance.

“If someone is unhappy with the assessment service we have provided, they are welcome to contact us by phone, text phone, email or post so that we can look into their concern and understand what we are doing well as well as where we need to do things better.”

Atos has also refused to launch an investigation into the claims of widespread dishonesty by its assessors.

An Atos spokesman said: “We pride ourselves on providing a professional, compassionate and high-quality assessment service using the criteria as laid out by government and we will always investigate when and if complaints are made.

“Should any evidence be found of an assessment which does not meet our high standards then we will of course act promptly.”


Government’s UN response ‘exposes failings on disability convention’

The government has ignored key evidence that demonstrates widespread breaches of the UN disability convention, according to disabled people’s grassroots groups and organisations that are working together to expose its failings.

They spoke out after the government submitted its response to concerns raised earlier this year by a UN committee, which described where it had questions about whether the UK may have failed in its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The UK government’s 168-paragraph response to the “list of issues” produced by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) is the latest step in a process that will see it examined in public in Geneva next month on how it has implemented the convention.

But disabled activists and campaigners who have been working to highlight the UK’s breaches of the convention said this week that the government’s defence of its position was “poor quality” and lacking in evidence.

Ellen Clifford, a spokeswoman for the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) – a national anti-cuts network of user-led organisations – said the government had claimed in its response that its policies were having a positive impact on disabled people, without providing any evidence for those claims.

She said the government had claimed that the Care Act 2014 was “helping to overturn traditional approaches to disability in health and social care by placing greater power in the hands of service users, including disabled people”, when there was substantial evidence to show that the act was not being implemented.

There is no mention in the government’s response of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) own evaluation of the closure of the Independent Living Fund, in which it had found that some former recipients had experienced a loss of support, a greater reliance on unpaid care and a negative impact on their physical and mental health after it closed.

Only last week, Disability News Service reported how leading figures in the disability movement had described how the concept of disabled people using personal assistants had been severely damaged by years of austerity and government policies that have “degraded” the support mechanisms designed to enable independent living.

Clifford pointed also to the second paragraph of the response, where the government claimed that it “embraces the social model of disability”.

She said there was substantial evidence to show the government was instead influenced by the discredited biopsychosocial model of disability in its welfare reforms, by the psychiatric model in mental health services, and by the medical model in the use of assessment and treatment units for people with learning difficulties, all of which had caused harm to disabled people and led to breaches of the convention.

Clifford said the government’s response overall was “just a list of policies” and “doesn’t deal with any of the substantive issues” raised by the UN in its list of issues.

She said: “It just doesn’t present a picture of the experiences of Deaf and disabled people in the UK in 2017.”

Dr Rosalind Tyler-Greig, human rights policy and engagement officer for Inclusion Scotland, said the government’s response “once again demonstrates its refusal to engage with many of the most important issues affecting the lives of disabled people”.

She pointed to “telling” omissions, including the government stating that it spent nearly £17 billion on personal independence payment (PIP) and disability living allowance (DLA) in 2015-16, compared to £11 billion in 2006-07, but ignoring new figures – reported last week by Disability News Service – that showed more than half of those previously eligible for the higher mobility rate of DLA had lost that eligibility after being reassessed for PIP.

And where the government states that legal aid “continues to provide access to justice for people in the most serious cases”, Tyler-Greig said that many disabled people with housing, employment or social security concerns “now find themselves priced out of justice” because of the UK government’s legal aid reforms.

She added: “The government claims to have embraced the social model of disability.

“However, this statement is merely a case of lip service and there is little evidence to support it.”

In Scotland, she said, there had been progress in dealing with the impact of austerity, with the Scottish government promising “a different and non-discriminatory approach to social security”.

But she said the delivery of social care “remains a significant concern in Scotland, and there is little in the state response to address this.

“Inclusion Scotland is working with a range of partners to ensure that this UN process provides the appropriate levers to drive progress for disabled people in Scotland as well as in the UK.”

There is also anger about the government’s continued failure – repeated in its response to the list of issues – to address the recommendations made by the UN committee following a separate inquiry into breaches of the convention.

That inquiry – taken under article six of the convention’s optional protocol – found last year that the UK government was guilty of “grave” and “systematic” breaches of three specific articles of the human rights treaty.

Most of those breaches – under articles 19 (independent living), article 27 (work and employment) and article 28 (adequate standard of living and social protection) of the convention – were caused by policies introduced by Conservative DWP ministers between 2010 and 2015.

The government said last November that the inquiry report presented an “inaccurate” picture of life for disabled people in the UK, and dismissed all 11 of its recommendations.

And in this month’s response to the list of issues, it says only that it “maintains the position of its response” to the article six inquiry and planned to “further showcase [its]commitment to progressing the rights and lived experience of disabled people” through the examination of its overall record on implementing the convention.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which played a key part in persuading the UN to carry out the article six investigation, is to meet with the UN committee next month in Geneva to discuss progress in following up the results of the inquiry, which is a separate but parallel process to the routine examination.

DPAC has already told the committee that it believes “rights are regressing even further” since the publication of the inquiry report, including through further cuts to social care, concerns about DWP’s new health and work conversation, and the “utter disaster of universal credit”.

Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, said: “The message is very much that this isn’t over yet, and I will be speaking about the UN inquiry in the European parliament in September to MEPs and hammering home how shamefully the Tories have behaved.”

ROFA and other organisations that visited Geneva in March to give evidence to the committee about the UK’s breaches of the convention – including Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and Disability Rights UK – are now working on a joint response to the government’s response, and have until the end of this month to submit it to the committee.

Picture by Natasha Hirst: Representatives of ROFA and DPOs including Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland in Geneva in March


The Violence of Austerity

Disabled people ‘forced into dangerous workfare that breaches health and safety laws’

Disabled people are being subjected to dangerous violations of health and safety laws after being forced to take part in government workfare programmes, according to new research published this week.

The analysis of first-hand accounts of benefit claimants forced into unpaid work by the Department for Work and Pensions is one of 24 short essays collected in The Violence of Austerity*, a new book that details the “devastatingly violent consequences” of the government’s austerity policies.

Academics, journalists and campaigners show in the book how austerity policies have led to destitution, eviction, power supplies being cut off, the seizure of possessions, homelessness, deportation and hunger.

In one chapter, Jon Burnett and Professor David Whyte, one of the book’s editors, analyse more than 500 individual accounts written by benefit claimants who took part in workfare schemes between 2011 and 2015 and left descriptions of their experiences on the Boycott Workfare website.

Whyte, who is professor of socio-legal studies at the University of Liverpool, and Burnett, who works at the Institute of Race Relations, found that 97 of those accounts raised concerns about health and safety issues.

Many clearly involved illegal activity, with 36 of the 97 health and safety concerns taking place in retail stores or warehouses run by charities or social enterprises, and others in hospitals, recycling or waste disposal plants, and profit-making retailers.

As part of their exploitation, welfare claimants were often forced to complete physical labour at an intense pace, and were discouraged from taking rest or lunch breaks, with some even refused access to food or water.

All of them faced the threat of having their benefits sanctioned if they refused to follow orders.

One wrote: “Hard labour on feet all day heavy lifting despite my medical conditions.

“Out of eight that started, only three remain after working all day in the heavy rain and getting soaked and chilled to the bone.”

Another claimant who challenged the unsafe working conditions was “sacked” and given a six-month benefit sanction.

The authors analysed the accounts and found 64 “concrete allegations of breaches of health and safety law at 43 different workplaces”.

Often this related to the failure to provide protective safety equipment, for example from chemicals and dust, or carrying out heavy lifting and manual handling tasks without proper risk or health assessments, sometimes despite health conditions that had been brought to the attention of the supervisor.

One claimant described the “hard labour” he carried out from 9am to 5pm, and added: “I told them of my backpack pain and they just ignored it, they didn’t care.”

Another said: “I can’t stand or walk for more than 10 minutes and have severe stomach illness that means when I eat I’m in agony half an hour until 4 hrs after. They may as well have sent me a death sentence.”

Whyte and Burnett conclude: “The testimonies analysed in this chapter reveal how workfare, as a form of forced labour, effectively permits employers to breach health and safety laws with impunity.”

It is not clear how many of the claimants whose comments they analysed were disabled people, but Whyte has told Disability News Service (DNS) that he believes “a large number have ongoing health problems and have disability issues”.

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said: “Any specific allegations of unsafe working practices need to be reported to HSE through the proper channels** so we can look into them.

“HSE does not hold any specific guidance relating to work by, or workplaces employing, benefit recipients who are required to work as a condition of their status as claimants.

“Such persons or workplaces would be treated no differently to any other category. HSE would expect the approach to health and safety to be the same in all cases.”

He added: “Any allegations of this sort are taken very seriously and would be considered on a case by case basis.”

John Pring, editor of DNS, has also written an essay for the book, on the impact of welfare reforms on disabled people, and describes how the current and previous governments have refused to conduct basic research on the impact of their “reckless and ill-evidenced” policies.

He says that for every policy “there is testimony from friends or family of the harm caused to individual disabled people who have been powerless to protect themselves, have had their freedom catastrophically affected, and have seen their dignity, health, choices and ability to control their own lives restricted in a way that can only be described as damaging and violent”.

But he also describes how disabled people have fought back, through protests and campaigns, petitions, legal actions, their own high-quality research, and through Disabled People Against Cuts’ complaint to the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Another of the essays is by the award-winning social affairs journalist and author Mary O’Hara, who writes about the links between austerity and a rise in mental distress and suicides.

She describes how, after 2010, jobcentre workers began speaking out about “an increasingly punitive regime that was adding to the mental stress of both claimants and workers”, with one telling her: “It was very distressing to have customers literally without food, without heat, without resources – and these are unwell [and]disabled customers.”

Other chapters also describe the violence imposed on disabled people by austerity policies, including David Ellis’s essay on The Violence of the Debtfare State, which tells how the UK has seen “the normalisation of pervasive debt as a means of replacing the living wage and sufficient welfare provisions”.

He discusses the relationship between debt and mental health problems, and points out that estimates suggest that “half of British adults with problem debt also have mental health problems, including stress, anxiety, depression and even suicide attempts”.

And in his second essay, Jon Burnett describes how “two forms of institutionally produced hatred – hatred targeted at migrants and hatred targeted at welfare claimants – have become closely interlinked by ‘austerity politics’”.

He says this has “become apparent in a relentless barrage of headlines about migrant hordes, supposedly exploiting public services and undercutting wages, and the British benefit ‘cheats’ supposedly too idle to work and abusing the welfare state”.

He points to a survey published by the Disability Hate Crime Network in 2015, which found that “scrounger rhetoric” was highlighted by “around one in six of 61 disabled people who described being verbally or physically assaulted in disability hate crimes”.

Whyte and his co-editor Vickie Cooper, a lecturer in criminology at the Open University, conclude in their introduction to the book: “Where the state once acted as a buffer against social practices that put people at risk of harm and violence and provided essential protection for vulnerable groups, the contributions to this book show how the withdrawal of state support has the most devastating of consequences for vulnerable people.”

They add: “The violence of austerity is not delivered by ‘street gangs’ or by the individuals that are typically the focus of public anxieties and tabloid moral panics.

“The violence of austerity is delivered by smartly dressed people sitting behind desks.”

*The Violence of Austerity is priced £16.99 and published by Pluto Press

More than half of the people who use foodbanks are disabled

Foodbank study suggests disability benefits should rise

The authors of a major new study have called on the government to launch an inquiry into whether disability benefit payments should be increased, after finding more than half of the people who use foodbanks are disabled and unable to work.

The report, which looks in detail at the profiles of people receiving emergency food assistance, found the proportion of disabled people using foodbanks was three times higher than the national proportion of disabled people among low-income households.

The study says that foodbank-users are mostly from groups heavily affected by the government’s welfare reforms: disabled people, lone parents, and large families.

It says the study’s results may suggest that “current welfare support for disabled people is insufficient to ensure that such individuals are not left destitute”, and that they are particularly at risk of “deep poverty and severe food insecurity”.

And it warns that further cuts to the real terms value of benefits – a freeze on many benefits is set to last until 2020 – “will only serve to exacerbate the problem of food insecurity”.

The report, Financial Insecurity, Food Insecurity, And Disability, was carried out by the anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust and academics from the universities of Oxford and King’s College London, and is the biggest nationwide study of foodbank use yet to be carried out.

It found that more than two in five foodbank-users were claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) – the out-of-work sickness and disability benefit – and most were in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), for those sick and disabled people found able to take steps towards employment.

Almost three times more WRAG claimants use foodbanks than the proportion in the general population.

But the proportion of those in the ESA support group using foodbanks was lower than in the general population.

The study also says that claimants subject to benefit sanctions – such as those in the WRAG or claiming jobseeker’s allowance – are more likely to use foodbanks.

The authors say that the high proportion of WRAG claimants using foodbanks was “particularly a cause for concern” because the research was carried out before the government implemented its latest cut to disability benefits, when it reduced weekly payments to new claimants in the WRAG by nearly £30 a week, in April this year.

They add: “This may result in even more ESA claimants having to use food banks.”

The authors conclude that benefits are now too low to ensure that many claimants can afford their basic needs, particularly disabled people.

The Trussell Trust called for a review of the financial support provided for those in the WRAG, and for a renewed commitment to efforts to support disabled people into work.

The authors also found that nearly two in five people using foodbanks were waiting for a benefit payment, with most waiting between two and six weeks, although a fifth had been waiting seven weeks or more.

A third of these delays were for people waiting for ESA payments, usually – again – those in the WRAG.

The study involved more than 400 households that had been referred to 18 foodbanks across England, Scotland and Wales.

In all, more than one in five of all respondents said they had slept rough in the past 12 months or were currently doing so, while more than half had gone without heating for more than four days in a month, had been unable to afford essential toiletries, and/or had been unable to afford appropriate clothes for the weather.

… the point at which people use a foodbank suggest they are at desperation and have nothing left 

Researcher Dr Rachel Loopstra

The authors conclude: “The severity of poverty observed and what it means for people’s ability to acquire sufficient and adequate food is a serious public health concern.”

Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK, said: “More than half of food bank users are disabled people or those with a long-term health condition.

“The initiative by Trussell Trust shows that society is reaching out to them, but they must wonder why there is a government denying them adequate social protection.”

The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 428 food banks which provide three days’ nutritionally-balanced food and support to people in crisis, all of whom will have been referred by a professional such as a social worker, health visitor or school liaison officer.