In Memoriam

The Tories must be very proud of the fall out from their welfare “reforms”

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

Hypocrites doesn’t even begin to cut it!


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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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The Universal credit IT system is ‘broken’

Tell us something we don’t know!


Universal credit IT system ‘broken’, whistleblowers say, service centre staff say glitches are having harmful effect on huge number of claimants.

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Universal credit is so riddled with design flaws and process faults that it is practically guaranteed to generate mistakes and delays that would push vulnerable benefit claimants into hardship, according to whistleblowers.

One said: “The IT system on which universal credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims.”

He said the system was overcomplex and prone to errors that affected payments and often proved slow to correct. “In practical terms, it is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants.”

Mistakes and delays can add on average an extra three weeks to the formal 35-day wait for an initial benefit payment, pushing claimants into debt, rent arrears, and reliance on food banks. Campaigners warn that the problems could get worse next year when more than 3 million claimants start to be “migrated” to the new system.

Growing concern over universal credit, which is six years behind schedule but will eventually handle £63bn of benefits going to 8 million people, is matched by disquiet over what critics say has been a defensive and insular approach to managing welfare reform by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The department came under withering fire last week from a cross-party group of MPs who accused it of a “culture of indifference” after it had repeatedly ignored warnings of basic process errors that led to 70,000 disabled benefit claimants being underpaid an estimated £500m over six years.

The work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, sought to limit the damage in a speech on Thursday in which she admitted there were problems with universal credit, and promised to listen to campaigners, claimants and frontline staff to find ways to change and improve the system.

One whistleblower said many of the design problems with universal credit stemmed from the failure to understand claimants’ needs, especially where they lacked digital skills and internet access. “We are punishing claimants for not understanding a system that is not built with them in mind,” he said.

Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary
McVey has admitted there are problems with universal credit [you think!]

The DWP said it would not comment on the whistleblowers’ specific claims but insisted the system was being constantly improved. “Universal credit is a flexible and responsive benefit and we continue to listen to feedback and make any necessary improvements during the rollout with our test-and-learn approach.

“We are committed to ensuring people get the help they need and the majority of staff say universal credit gives them greater flexibility to give people the right support. The latest figures show 83% of claimants are satisfied with the system and complaint rates are low.”

Bayard Tarpley, 27, who left the Grimsby service centre last week after two years as a telephony agent, told the Guardian that he had been dealing with distressed claimants every day. “My hope is that by speaking out I can help explain why these processes have such a significant, harmful impact on claimants.”

He gave several examples of where poor system design and practice caused delays and payment errors, including:

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.
Joanne Huggins, former case manager in Grimsby
Former Grimsby case manager Joanne Huggins: ‘The system is set up in such a way that people don’t get support.’

Food banks were regarded as a formal backstop for when the system failed, he said. Officials are told to advise claimants who are in hardship and who do not qualify for cash advances to contact charities or their council for help. Many councils have closed local welfare provision as a result of cuts.

A second whistleblower, Joanne Huggins, who was until recently a case manager at the Grimsby centre, said that high staff caseloads and a high volume of calls to the service made it difficult to keep track of and prioritise claimants’ problems. “The system is set up in such a way that people don’t get support,” she said.

At least £1.3bn has been spent since 2010 developing universal credit. Although it is heralded as a streamlined digital replacement for the existing benefit system, a recent National Audit Office report concluded it was still in many aspects unwieldy, inefficient and reliant on basic manual processes.

The DWP says it operates a “test-and-learn” approach to constantly improve the system, although the whistleblower said in his experience staff suggestions were ignored and “top down” adjustments tended to follow media or political controversies, such as the scrapping of call charges on universal credit helplines.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union that represents DWP staff, said: “The findings from the whistleblowers are in line with the ongoing feedback we get from our reps and members who struggle to deliver a service to universal credit claimants in the face of mounting cuts and increasing workloads.”

Citizens Advice said its research showed that a “significant minority” of claimants faced additional waits for payment because of the complicated application process. The 10-stage process took some claimants over a week to complete, even with expert help.

“Top of the government’s list should be simplifying the process and making sure adequate support is in place so that a claim can be completed as quickly as possible,” said the chief executive, Gillian Guy

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More News

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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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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More DWP News

Grieving family were forced to pay their loved one’s rent for three weeks after his death

A GRIEVING Inverclyde family were forced to pay their loved one’s rent for three weeks after his death as a result of Universal Credit rules.

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Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan felt moved to speak out in parliament about the case and shocking treatment of his constituents.

The Department for Work and Pensions dictate that a Universal Credit claimant is classed as having died from the start of their four week assessment, which can result in families being liable for their rent payment.

Mr Cowan said: “Once again, we witness the callous nature of the Department for Work and Pensions, which classes as person as dead from the beginning of their assessment period, even if they die towards the end of that period.

“This means that family members had to meet the cost of the housing rent for a period of three weeks as the payment was stopped from the beginning of the assessment period.

“This is fundamentally wrong and highlights the cruel nature of the current system which is not fit for purpose.”

Mr Cowan now wants to know how many more families have been affected in this way.

These latest concerns come following a recent report from the National Audit Office slating Universal Credit and questioning its value for money.

Employment minister Alok Sharma wrote a letter to Mr Cowan offering his sympathies to the family involved and explained the system they use.

Mr Cowan says all social security powers should be passed to the Scottish Government so that a more compassionate system can be put in place.

He added: “This is something which is clearly lacking from this UK Government.

“I will be writing to the minister to ask that they sort out this issue.”

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DWP ‘adding to suffering’ of terminally ill benefit claimants

MPs say the DWP are ‘adding to suffering’ of terminally ill benefit claimants. ‘Cruel’ UK government rejects cross-party request to amend benefits legislation to better support terminally ill claimants.

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The [UK] Government has faced strong condemnation after it rejected a cross-party proposal to amend a controversial element of disability benefit legislation for terminally ill claimants, with one commentator describing the decision as “cruel” and unjustifiable.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claimants who have been told they have less than six months to live can be fast tracked through the application process, but critics argue that this policy is too restrictive and should be rescinded or amended.

The Scottish Government has already introduced new legislation to rescind the six month limit, and now politicians from all political parties are calling on the UK Government to do the same in England and Wales.

Madeleine Moon MP: Terminally ill people should be treated with compassion and dignity

However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has rejected the cross-party request, claiming the current system provides adequate support for terminally ill PIP claimants.

Labour MP Madeleine Moon, whose husband died from motor neurone disease, gave an emotional speech in Parliament, calling for the law to be changed so that terminally ill patients don’t have to spend their last weeks of life worrying about how to pay household bills.

She told MPs: “I’ve talked to people who are worried about losing their homes, worried about how they’re going to pay fuel bills, how they’re going to provide food.

“It is a horrific worry because suddenly a future you had in front of you has disappeared. “Inevitably you’re not able to work, so money becomes a big issue. Most people are desperate to spend what time they have left with their families – you’re not doing that if you’re facing face-to-face assessments or filling in complex forms.”

Her concerns have been echoed by MPs from all parties, who together argue that the arbitrary six month limit fails to recognise the difficulties faced by terminally ill people during their final months.

Sinn Féin Welfare Spokesperson Alex Maskey MLA said there could be “no justification for this cruel decision”, adding that “blatantly ignores the evidence from clinicians and claimants that this rule is adding further trauma to people who are already suffering grievously”.

Alex Maskey said: “PIP currently allows for applications to be fast-tracked without an assessment for claimants with a terminal illness who have a life-expectancy of no more than six months. However, the evidence shows that this time period is much too restrictive and should be extended to all those facing a terminal illness.

“Therefore, the five main parties here made a joint request calling on the British Government to scrap the six-month time restriction.

“We have just received the response from the Department for Work and Pensions and it is deeply disappointing that they are standing over the six-month timeframe.

“I believe there can be no justification for this cruel decision as it blatantly ignores the evidence from clinicians and claimants that this rule is adding further trauma to people who are already suffering grievously.

“It is for this reason that the Scottish parliament has already introduced new legislation to rescind the six-month limit and we will continue to lobby for the same to happen here.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We’re determined to ensure that people living with terminal illnesses get the support they need through this difficult time. “People who are terminally ill can get their claim fast-tracked, automatic access to benefits and, for those claiming ESA or Universal Credit, have their work-related requirements waived.”

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