Two-thirds of disabled Scots classed as ‘fit for work’ by DWP are genuinely ill

Labour renewed calls to scrap the system after it emerged 63 per cent of fit for work decisions in Scotland which are appealed are subsequently overturned.

William with the letter with DWP
William with the letter with DWP

Nearly two-thirds of disabled Scots who appeal a UK Government decision that they are “fit to work” are later found to actually be ill, figures show.

Statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions expose the failures of the Work Capability Assessment. Labour last night renewed calls to scrap the system after it emerged 63 per cent of fit for work decisions in Scotland which are appealed are subsequently overturned.

The latest figures are based on a Scottish breakdown of Employment Support Allowance assessments originally carried out in June last year.

Labour are planning to table amendments to the Scottish Government’s Social Security Bill to deliver a ban.

Social security spokesman Mark Griffin said: “These figures show that work capability assessments just aren’t working. “That’s what happens when our social security system chases profits before the well-being of people. “It’s time to move beyond the warm words on social security and deliver a better system.”

But a [LYING] DWP spokesman said: “Only a small proportion of all decisions are overturned at appeal — just four per cent of ESA work capability assessments nationally [LIES]

“In the vast majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because the claimant provides new evidence.” Correction it’s because the claimant doesn’t give up and appeals

The revelations came after a study found the fit-to-work tests are causing permanent damage to some claimants’ mental health.

The research, at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt and Napier universities, said the experience of WCAs “for many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from”.

It also established, through dozens of in-depth interviews with people who had been through the tests, that “in the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide”.health charities said the interviews’ contents “reflect what we hear from people every day”.

The Work Capability Assessment was introduced in 2008 under a UK Labour Government. It is contracted out to private company Maximus, having previously been run by Atos.

SOURCE

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Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people

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The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

The message is starting to get through about universal credit. The Tories’ flagship benefit ‘reform’ – despite a cost of £15 billion and rising – simply doesn’t work. Chronic understaffing and broken computer systems only exacerbate the usual woes of any attempt to roll out a big new government policy.

But the disastrous roll-out of universal credit is not simply a crisis of implementation. Even if everything had gone according to plan, claimaints would still be facing misery, hunger and eviction. Because this is, quite simply, what the scheme is designed to do: to re-draw the entire welfare benefits system in order to change unemployed people’s behaviour in ways amenable to the Tory party, using the need to ‘simplify’ the system as a smokescreen for attempts to discipline claimants.

The scheme is five years behind its own schedule, and the policy was over a decade in the making – making an arduous journey from think-tank ‘blue-sky thinking’ to government white paper to trial roll-outs, before hitting today’s crunch point. Back before Brexit was even a twinkle in Boris Johnson’s eye, before Nick Clegg stood in that rose garden with David Cameron, even before Cameron hugged either a husky or a hoodie, the policy was formed by the Conservative Party in opposition at the tail end of the Blair and Brown years.

We could pick two possible kick-off dates. The first is when Iain Duncan Smith, as Tory leader, visited Glasgow’s Easterhouse estate in 2002. He came, he saw, he blubbered – and he had the so-called ‘Easterhouse epiphany’, which convinced him that the Conservative Party needed to come up with its own, right-wing solutions to ‘solve’ poverty, instead of leaving the issue to Labour. This is the oft-told origin story of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ in Britain, a baton Cameron picked up and ran with after taking over the party in 2005.

The second is in 2004, a year after being ousted as Tory leader, when Duncan Smith founded a think tank he named the Centre for Social Justice. Shortly after its formation, the think tank was brought into the Conservative Party’s policy review process and worked for several years on trying to explain ‘the causes of poverty’ from an ideologically conservative point of view. From then until the Tories took office in 2010, its policies laid much of the groundwork for Cameron’s policies in government – and none more so than universal credit.

Confusion upon confusion

Universal credit rolls together six different benefits into one payment: jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit, tax credits, child tax credit, income support, and employment and support allowance (itself a roll-up of different disability benefits). Instead of a range of confusing forms and adjustments, the theory goes, you have a ‘simplified’ one-stop shop for your claim.

The big idea is that, instead of some benefits needing to account for other benefits in calculating your overall income, everything becomes a ‘credit’, dynamically adjusting to your circumstances. You are no longer ‘in work’ or ‘out of work’, but your income from work is assessed each month, with benefits ‘tapering off’ depending on how much it was. The result is anything but simple. Try to follow this government example:

‘You have a child and get money for housing costs in your Universal Credit payment. You’re working and earn £500 during your assessment period.

Your work allowance is £192. This means you can earn £192 without any money being deducted.

For every £1 of the remaining £308 you get, 63p is taken from your Universal Credit payment. So £308 x £0.63 = £194.04.

This means you earn £500 and £194.04 is deducted from your Universal Credit.’

Notice that this calculation has only worked out a deduction, not what your universal credit payment would be to begin with – which is a whole other world of confusion, especially once housing costs are included. Universal credit inherits all the strange rules from each of the benefits it encompasses, including whether you are under or over the age of 25, how many children you have, when they were born, how many bedrooms you have, and so on. Both the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, for example, remain active as part of universal credit.

Rolling the benefits together also allows an expansion of the sanctions regime, for those who violate some minor detail of the ‘claimant commitment’ written for them by their ‘work coach’. And the huge complexity and individual calculations involved in the formula makes it far easier for the government to gradually cut payouts – as it already plans to do in the next few years – without either claimants or the media being able to figure out exactly what is going on.

The scheme’s rollout for new claimants is now accelerating, being introduced at 50 new Jobcentres every month. People currently claiming one of the ‘legacy benefits’ that are now part of universal credit will be gradually moved over between now and 2021. Figures from the Resolution Foundation show that around 2.5 million low-income households will lose £1,000 a year by the time the change-over is finished, with some losing as much as £2,800.

Poverty and ‘welfare dependency’

‘The trouble with nets – even safety nets – is that people get tangled up in them.’
Breakdown Britain

The roots of this problem stretch far back into the annals of Tory policy thinking. The Centre for Social Justice’s initial work focused on diagnosing the problem: identifying what it thought were the causes of poverty. Its conclusions are set out in its multi-part 2006 report Breakdown Britain. The report identifies five ‘pathways to poverty’: family breakdown, educational failure, worklessness and economic dependence, addictions, and indebtedness. Each is seen as interrelated – a potential cause of the others. In Iain Duncan Smith’s introduction, he particularly takes aim at the family breakdown for which the report is named. He claims there is a particular problem of what he calls ‘dadlessness’, supposedly leading to a life of crime. ‘In the absence of a structured and balanced family life, the street gang becomes an alternative “family”,’ Duncan Smith writes.

Much of the report is just a think-tankified version of conservative ‘family values’ ideology. ‘At the heart of stable families and communities lies marriage,’ says the report’s conclusion. ‘For too long this issue has been disparaged and ignored and its erosion has had a detrimental effect on us all.’ The decline in marriage since the 1970s is framed as a reduction in ‘family stability’, which creates ‘damaged’ individuals. Lone parenthood is blamed for everything from crime to even the housing crisis (because two-parent families wouldn’t need as many houses, see).

At heart, this is little more than window dressing on a typically Victorian attitude which casts poverty as a personal moral failing. If you are poor, it must somehow be your fault. This thinking underpins the entire report, including the sections on ‘worklessness’ which eventually evolved into universal credit. It talks about ‘welfare dependency’ not simply as an outcome of low wages or unemployment, but as a vice driven by both economic and social factors. The solution to this vice? A good dash of ‘hard work’, bringing with it ‘self-improvement and personal responsibility’ and protection against the other ‘pathways’. Conversely, being out of work for too long can cause poverty ‘that persists across the generations’.

The evidence offered for all this is paper thin, resting heavily on anecdote and opinion polling, and vigorous attempts to mistake the effects of poverty for its causes. Our think-tank friends never consider that perhaps struggling in school or alcohol addiction are more outcomes of poverty than its source.

In their model, poor people don’t need money, they need the reverse of the ‘pathways to poverty’: that is, they need forced work, marriage, school discipline, addiction treatment and, in the most Tory solution possible to debt problems, more ‘competition in the home credit market’. Overall, poverty is seen as the product of personal behaviour that needs to be changed, whether through incentive or punishment.

Work at all costs

‘The more we struggle to end poverty through the provision of benefits, the more we entrench it.’
– Dynamic Benefits

Starting from this ideological framework, the Centre for Social Justice moved on to design an ambitious scheme it called ‘universal credits’, in its 2009 report Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare That Works. Having argued that poverty is caused by a set of behavioural problems, universal credit sets out to change the claimant’s behaviour. Incidentally, members of Dynamic Benefits’ working group included Nicholas Boys Smith, then ‘wealth director’ in the international private banking division of Lloyds Banking Group, James Greenbury, ‘who has 20 years experience running private equity-backed businesses’, and Sara McKee, formerly of scandal-hit workfare company A4e.

The existing benefits system, it claims, penalises ‘positive behaviour such as couple formation, saving money and home ownership’. In contrast, their proposed ‘dynamic model’ – imported from consumer behaviour modelling in the private sector – allows policy-makers to tweak the system like scientists changing around a rats’ maze, and monitor the behavioural effects:

‘The Dynamic Benefits Model allows us to understand how the welfare system “looks” or “feels” to the claimant and – crucially – how they are likely to alter their behaviour in response to changes in the system.’

As Iain Duncan Smith puts it, ‘At the heart of these solutions is recognition that the nature of the life you lead and the choices you make have a significant bearing on whether you live in poverty.’ Since poverty is a question of life choices, the report says, universal credit must work to change behaviour: ‘We must continually encourage the desire for a job; and we must also clearly determine that a life on benefits, no matter what their level, should not be a sensible choice for those able to work.’

The report is clear about what choices it wants to get people to make. It examines welfare approaches that attempt to ‘maximise happiness’ by increasing leisure time, but then dismisses them as always discouraging earned income, ‘because the time taken to earn that income eats into the individual’s leisure’. Increasing the personal welfare of the low paid ‘tends to accept and indeed induce a world of greater worklessness’, and so happiness cannot be the objective.

Instead, ‘the number of households in work is the most important factor’: the aim is to incentivise work at all costs, whatever the work might be, and – crucially – even if doing so costs the state far more than paying benefits to the equivalent level. Getting more people into work isn’t about the money, but about warding off the ‘social breakdown’ that they assert is the root cause of poverty.

The Centre for Social Justice’s work in this period was imported almost wholesale as government policy from 2010, as Catherine Haddon’s Institute for Government study Making policy in opposition: the development of Universal Credit 2005-2010 makes clear. After surprise appointment of Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary in 2010, ‘copies of Dynamic Benefitswere in great demand as Duncan Smith … entered the department’.

Though it was packaged in with George Osborne’s austerity reforms, universal credit was not part of a programme of cuts. In fact, the scheme accounted for a big chunk of new spending: ‘For Duncan Smith it was at the core of why he had come back into government, so the budget to undertake Universal Credit needed to be protected…  The Treasury provided the cash to fund the project.’

How the other half doesn’t live

Iain Duncan Smith, George Osborne and David Cameron have all now departed government, but the monster they unleashed on public policy still shambles on. For people who sought to change their behaviour, the architects of universal credit apparently had little idea how unemployed people and workers on low incomes live their lives.

Media reporting has focused on the need to wait six weeks (42 days) before receiving a universal credit payment, but less often explained is why the scheme was designed in such an odd way. The payment is intended to replace a monthly salary payment, and the delay is because it is paid ‘in arrears’ instead of in advance, so the ‘credit’ amount can be adjusted based on any income you had in the previous month.

Citizens Advice points out that low-paid workers are more likely than others to be paid weekly, not monthly. Yet weekly pay periods utterly break universal credit’s monthly ‘assessment periods’, as weeks and months don’t line up neatly in the calendar. As the government’s own guidance says, being paid weekly means that ‘four times a year, you’ll get 5 sets of wages in one assessment period’ – aka a month – and that ‘this means your earnings might be too high’ to qualify in those periods… and if that happens, you might have to re-apply from scratch!

To make matters worse, most existing benefit payments are made fortnightly, and claimants have got used to budgeting around this. The government’s universal credit whitepaper considers problems that might be caused by monthly payments, but says paying monthly is part of a focus ‘on encouraging personal responsibility’. (You get the feeling that its authors have never lived constantly scraping at the bottom of their overdrafts.) It reality, this leaves people building up rent arrears, unable to pay bills and turning to food banks – or loan sharks.

The government is also determined that universal credit will require you to set up an online account and fill in an internet job search ‘journal’ before receiving any money. Even though one in ten UK households do not have internet access, it’s now the only way to get the benefits you are entitled to. Universal credit was the only benefit claim line with a paid-for phone number, the DWP said, because it is intended as an internet-only system: ‘the expectation is that claims are made online’. The charge was not there to make money, but to try to stop most claimants calling them at all. It was just another part of the dynamic model: tweaking the system’s rules to change your behaviour.

Universal credit is fundamentally a scheme designed by people who do not understand how benefit claimants live – but know how they want to force them to live. While campaigning victories on details can soften the blow somewhat, there is no set of tweaks that can ‘fix’ a scheme that serves no purpose apart from making poor people dance to the Tory tune.

SOURCE

Grenfell Tower fire: Labour accuses Government of breaking promises to hundreds of survivors still living in hotels

grenfell

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid rebuffs Shadow Housing Minister’s questions as ‘political point-scoring’

Labour has accused the Government of breaking a series of promises to the hundreds of Grenfell Tower survivors still living in hotel accommodation.

Shadow housing minister John Healey criticised the Government’s rehousing efforts and nationwide fire safety tests, four months on from the tragedy that killed at least 80 people.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Healey said: “Can [Communities Secretary Sajid Javid] confirm that 152 Grenfell households are still in hotels, despite the Prime Minister telling this House on 17 July ‘I have fixed a deadline of three weeks for everybody affected to be found a new home’?”

Mr Javid accused Mr Healey of “political point-scoring”, saying just 14 families had accepted permanent accommodation offers due to people being treated as “survivors” rather than “statistics”.

“These people, the victims of what is easily one of the most terrible tragedies ever to have taken place in our country, they are people, they are not statistics,” he said. “We must work with them and listen to what their needs are.”

He also revealed 58 households of 202 were now living in temporary or permanent accommodation, but did not confirm the number that remained in hotel accommodation.

Mr Healey also asked Mr Javid to confirm the Government had tested cladding on fewer than 300 high-rise blocks, despite the Prime Minister saying in June “we can test over 100 buildings a day”.

Theresa May says no Government cash for sprinklers in tower blocks despite promises made after Grenfell

Mr Javid did not answer directly but said the testing had revealed 169 high-rise social housing buildings in England covered in aluminium composite cladding, 161 of which were unlikely to meet current safety standards.

A spotlight was also shone on council budgets after Ms May said the Government would not provide funds to retrofit tower blocks with sprinklers.

It is “up to the council to make decisions”, the Prime Minister told MPs on Wednesday – amid a growing furore over the multi-million pound bills that town halls face.

Mr Javid stuck to the party line on Thursday, saying councils that were unable to afford “essential” fire safety maintenance works could apply for financial support.

However, he said it was up to the councils to decide what works were “essential” and ruled out issuing nationwide guidance.

He added that 32 councils had already expressed concern about funding for improvement works.

“We have liaised more closely with seven of these, and one of them has now submitted supporting evidence for consideration by my department,” he said.

It comes as Nottingham, Croydon and Wandsworth all had multi-million pound requests for funding to fit sprinklers turned down – even after being advised to carry out works by their local fire brigades.

SOURCE

Advisor says 30 local claimants with terminal cancer had PIP rejections overturned

A welfare rights advisor has described how at least 30 local benefit claimants with terminal cancer have had their claims rejected in the last year, with every one of the decisions later overturned by an appeal tribunal.

In every case, the claimant has been terminally-ill with cancer but has been told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they were completely ineligible for support from personal independence payment (PIP), before later being awarded the highest rate of PIP by a tribunal.

The evidence provided by welfare rights expert Duncan Walker, who works in the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire area, appears to be further proof of the dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system.

Epilepsy charity say people’s safety put at risk by denial of PIP

Disability News Service (DNS) has so far heard from more than 250 PIP claimants who say that healthcare professionals from government contractors Atos and Capita wrote dishonest reports for DWP after carrying out face-to-face assessments of their eligibility for the extra-costs benefit.

Walker, secretary of the Stoke and North Staffordshire branch of the Unite Community union, told DNS this week that he was “ashamed” that the money he pays in taxes is being used to support such a dishonest assessment system.

He has dealt with at least 30 cases over the last year in which a claimant with terminal cancer has been found ineligible for PIP, but has later been awarded the enhanced rates of the benefit (for both daily living and mobility) by an appeal tribunal.

Why I secretly taped my disability assessment

In one case, a man with stage four lung cancer was assessed in his own home, and was awarded no points (a claimant needs at least eight just to qualify for the standard rate of PIP).

Walker had attended the assessment as a Unite Community volunteer, and witnessed the claimant using an oxygen supply and having to stop and breathe it in every few minutes.

But the assessor reported seeing “no signs of breathlessness”, marked “not applicable” in the respiratory section of the report, and said there was no need for a review of his case for at least another two years, even though he had three months to live.

The appeal tribunal took just five minutes to overturn the decision, and he was awarded the two enhanced rates of PIP. He died several weeks later.

People with epilepsy face highest refusal rate for PIP, according to DWP statistics

In another case, a woman with a spinal tumour had to be brought to her appeal tribunal by the ambulance service, with paramedics wheeling her into the hearing.

Again, the tribunal took just five minutes to award her enhanced PIP rates for mobility and daily living.

A third case Walker has worked on saw a terminally-ill ex-miner with metastasized cancer denied any PIP following an assessment. Again, a tribunal took just five minutes to overturn the DWP decision and award him the highest rates of PIP.

It was Walker who persuaded Stoke-on-Trent City Council late last year to hold an inquiry into the PIP assessment system.

He had been trying to raise concerns about the dishonesty he was witnessing, but he said no-one had been paying any attention to what he was saying.

Hunstanton couple left without benefits for months

He said: “I was banging my head against a wall. Nobody was listening to me.”

But after he met with the council’s adults and neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee, and presented his evidence, the committee decided unanimously to launch an inquiry into his allegations.

The council’s review concluded last month that the PIP assessment process was “distressing, inconsistent and not fit for purpose”.

Walker told DNS this week that he could not understand the level of dishonesty he has been witnessing in the assessment reports he has read.

He said: “I look at the reports and I am thinking, ‘How can they write this? This can’t possibly be true.’

“For me personally as a tax-payer I am beyond ashamed that my money is being used in such a perverse way.

Disabled man denied PIP benefits had decision overturned on appeal two days after he died

“I am ashamed of my own government treating the sick and terminally-ill in this way and using my money to do it, and private companies making a profit out of the terminally-ill and producing fictitious reports.

“Report after report is a work of fiction. It is 100 per cent dishonesty.”

Walker works as a welfare rights advisor for the disabled people’s organisation Disability Solutions West Midlands, but also voluntarily for Unite Community.

His Unite Community branch now plans to submit detailed evidence to an inquiry into the disability benefits assessment process being carried out by the Commons work and pensions select committee.

A DWP spokeswoman said in a statement: “Decisions for PIP are made based on all the information provided by the claimant, including any supporting information from their GP or medical specialist.

“We’re helping people with the most severe conditions to get the extra support that they need.

“This includes fast-tracking claims, and ensuring they can get the highest rates of benefit payments.

“Claims to PIP under the special rules for terminally-ill people are currently taking on average six working days*.

“As we’ve previously said, we do not accept that there is dishonesty among PIP assessors.”

She added: “Since PIP was introduced, 2.4 million decisions have been made, and of these eight per cent have been appealed and four per cent have been overturned.

“In the vast majority of cases where a decision is overturned, further evidence has been provided.

“As you know, we constantly review our processes to make sure they are working in the best way possible and, to date, there have been two independent reviews of PIP.”

A Capita spokeswoman said: “Our assessors are healthcare professionals who are committed to delivering high quality and accurate reports in line with Department for Work and Pensions guidance.

“If someone has questions about the assessment service we have provided, they can contact us by phone, text phone, email or post.”

*For those not expected to live more than six months

SOURCE

God Help the Rest of the World if they Treat Their Disabled like the UK

The UK wants to promote its disability policies to rest of the world, says Mordaunt

Translation: How to cull the worlds disabled people 

The minister for disabled people has dismissed a damning UN report on her government’s disability rights record, arguing that the rest of the world should instead be learning from the UK’s policies.

Penny Mordaunt was speaking weeks after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities said the government’s social protection policies had caused a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

The short debate was secured by the SNP’s Deidre Brock, but took place towards the end of the parliamentary week, when most MPs had returned to their constituencies, so only a handful of MPs were in the Commons chamber to hear the debate.

Brock said the government’s austerity policies were responsible for causing disabled people “a river of human misery”.

And she said the UN committee had criticised the government’s “austerity fetish” and had called on the government to “backtrack” on its cuts to independent living support.

BLACK TRIANGLE

Brock called on Mordaunt to promise to include disabled people and their organisations in its work to address the more than 80 recommendations made by the committee, and to ensure that they were adequately funded for this work.

She also called on Mordaunt to commit to carrying out an assessment of the cumulative impact of all her government’s cuts and reforms to disabled people’s support – and to review the benefits system’s conditionality and sanctions regime – as recommended by the report.

The Labour MP Luke Pollard criticised the government for failing to provide a full statement to MPs after the UN report was published.

But Mordaunt (pictured) defended her government’s record and even said she wanted to “promote” its disability policies so that they could be a “catalyst for change elsewhere in the world”.

She insisted that the government had “shown what can be done to facilitate disabled access, both physical and service-based, and how that can be achieved in co-operation with business and the third sector”.

She added: “Our work promotes change elsewhere in the world, which is why we would like the UN to recognise what we have been doing.”

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Mordaunt’s response came only weeks after Disability News Service (DNS) reported how a disabled woman was forced to quit her job because the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs refused to allow her to use one of the parking spaces close to the offices where she worked.

Much of Mordaunt’s response was not aimed at the contents of the UN report but at explaining why the UN was wrong to criticise the UK government so extensively.

She wrongly claimed – as her department did last week in a response to DNS – that the UK was “one of the few nations” to ratify the convention’s optional protocol, when 92 have done so.

And she claimed the government’s next step would be to “correct some of the factual inaccuracies in the UN report”.

But Mordaunt also said that the Office for Disability Issues was “reflecting” on how it could take forward the call by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for a “co-ordinated, UK-wide action plan” to implement the UN convention.

She told MPs that spending on disability benefits would be higher than in 2010 for every year until 2020 and was “currently at a record high”.

Mordaunt also said her department would shortly be making an announcement on the conditionality and sanctions regime as it affects people with mental health conditions.

DNS reported earlier this month how work and pensions secretary David Gauke had admitted that the system of benefit sanctions often fails to work and can instead cause harm to claimants, particularly those with mental health conditions, and that he would try to find a way to make the sanctions system less damaging to people with mental health conditions.

Mordaunt said her government had worked in many other ways to support disabled people, including tackling disability hate crime; working to improve building regulations and accessible housing, and the provision of Changing Places toilets; “tackling the extra costs of disability”; and improving education “and extending opportunity”.

Mordaunt also spoke of how she had volunteered in the early 1990s in Romanian orphanages and hospitals, where most of the children were disabled, and all but one of the aid workers were British.

She said she was part of a government whose aid efforts had “prioritised” the 15 per cent of the world’s population who are disabled, and how it wanted to “establish the UK as a global leader in this field”.

Mordaunt also claimed that she regularly received requests for advice from ministers for disabled people from around the world on “how to set up welfare systems and improve accessibility, employment and representation”.

SOURCE

The Tories are a pious loan shark

The Tories couldn’t shut down the UK’s youngest MP. One line was all she needed
The Conservatives couldn’t shut down the UK’s youngest MP. One line was all she needed. [VIDEO]UK

On 18 October, the UK’s youngest MP delivered a speech apparently so blistering that the Conservative benches tried [5.30] to shut her down. But one line was all Mhairi Black needed. She branded [03:44] the government a:

pious loan shark.

The SNP MP expanded:

except that instead of coming through your front door, they are coming after your mental health, your physical wellbeing, your stability, your sense of security – that is what the experience is for all of our constituents.

In the Commons, MPs were preparing to vote on pausing the rollout of Universal Credit, the government’s six-in-one flagship welfare reform. Later that day, the Conservative government lost the vote 299-0. But every Conservative MP except one abstained. This means the opposition day motion is non-binding for the government, rendering the opposition victory purely symbolic.

“Forcing people into hunger does not incentivise work”

For many ordinary people, Universal Credit actually represents a huge cut to their support. Overcoming [5;37] shouts from the Conservative benches, Black attacked the government line that Universal Credit gets people into work:

Plunging people into debt does not incentivise work. Forcing people into hunger does not incentivise work. Causing anxiety and distress and even evicting some families from their homes does not incentivise work.

“Arrogant and idiotic”

During her speech, Black also linked [4.11] Universal Credit to the Conservatives piling on public debt:

We’re not dealing with the national debt, we’re simply shifting it onto vulnerable households.

The Conservatives have added £813bn to the national debt since 2010.

Packaged as a modern reform, Universal Credit will actually leave many ordinary people with less money overall. So it is in fact more Conservative austerity. With this in mind, the 22-year-old MP said that to continue with the rollout is “callous” at worst and “arrogant and idiotic” at best.

Watch Black’s blistering speech here:

SOURCE

Advisor says 30 local claimants with terminal cancer had PIP rejections overturned

A welfare rights advisor has described how at least 30 local benefit claimants with terminal cancer have had their claims rejected in the last year, with every one of the decisions later overturned by an appeal tribunal.

In every case, the claimant has been terminally-ill with cancer but has been told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they were completely ineligible for support from personal independence payment (PIP), before later being awarded the highest rate of PIP by a tribunal.

The evidence provided by welfare rights expert Duncan Walker, who works in the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire area, appears to be further proof of the dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system.

Disability News Service (DNS) has so far heard from more than 250 PIP claimants who say that healthcare professionals from government contractors Atos and Capita wrote dishonest reports for DWP after carrying out face-to-face assessments of their eligibility for the extra-costs benefit.

Walker, secretary of the Stoke and North Staffordshire branch of the Unite Community union, told DNS this week that he was “ashamed” that the money he pays in taxes is being used to support such a dishonest assessment system.

He has dealt with at least 30 cases over the last year in which a claimant with terminal cancer has been found ineligible for PIP, but has later been awarded the enhanced rates of the benefit (for both daily living and mobility) by an appeal tribunal.

In one case, a man with stage four lung cancer was assessed in his own home, and was awarded no points (a claimant needs at least eight just to qualify for the standard rate of PIP).

Walker had attended the assessment as a Unite Community volunteer, and witnessed the claimant using an oxygen supply and having to stop and breathe it in every few minutes.

But the assessor reported seeing “no signs of breathlessness”, marked “not applicable” in the respiratory section of the report, and said there was no need for a review of his case for at least another two years, even though he had three months to live.

The appeal tribunal took just five minutes to overturn the decision, and he was awarded the two enhanced rates of PIP. He died several weeks later.

In another case, a woman with a spinal tumour had to be brought to her appeal tribunal by the ambulance service, with paramedics wheeling her into the hearing.

Again, the tribunal took just five minutes to award her enhanced PIP rates for mobility and daily living.

A third case Walker has worked on saw a terminally-ill ex-miner with metastasized cancer denied any PIP following an assessment. Again, a tribunal took just five minutes to overturn the DWP decision and award him the highest rates of PIP.

It was Walker who persuaded Stoke-on-Trent City Council late last year to hold an inquiry into the PIP assessment system.

He had been trying to raise concerns about the dishonesty he was witnessing, but he said no-one had been paying any attention to what he was saying.

He said: “I was banging my head against a wall. Nobody was listening to me.”

But after he met with the council’s adults and neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee, and presented his evidence, the committee decided unanimously to launch an inquiry into his allegations.

The council’s review concluded last month that the PIP assessment process was “distressing, inconsistent and not fit for purpose”.

Walker told DNS this week that he could not understand the level of dishonesty he has been witnessing in the assessment reports he has read.

He said: “I look at the reports and I am thinking, ‘How can they write this? This can’t possibly be true.’

“For me personally as a tax-payer I am beyond ashamed that my money is being used in such a perverse way.

“I am ashamed of my own government treating the sick and terminally-ill in this way and using my money to do it, and private companies making a profit out of the terminally-ill and producing fictitious reports.

“Report after report is a work of fiction. It is 100 per cent dishonesty.”

Walker works as a welfare rights advisor for the disabled people’s organisation Disability Solutions West Midlands, but also voluntarily for Unite Community.

His Unite Community branch now plans to submit detailed evidence to an inquiry into the disability benefits assessment process being carried out by the Commons work and pensions select committee.

A DWP spokeswoman said in a statement: “Decisions for PIP are made based on all the information provided by the claimant, including any supporting information from their GP or medical specialist.

“We’re helping people with the most severe conditions to get the extra support that they need.

“This includes fast-tracking claims, and ensuring they can get the highest rates of benefit payments.

“Claims to PIP under the special rules for terminally-ill people are currently taking on average six working days*.

“As we’ve previously said, we do not accept that there is dishonesty among PIP assessors.”

MP’s anger over red-tape appeals limbo for disabled people

She added: “Since PIP was introduced, 2.4 million decisions have been made, and of these eight per cent have been appealed and four per cent have been overturned.

“In the vast majority of cases where a decision is overturned, further evidence has been provided.

“As you know, we constantly review our processes to make sure they are working in the best way possible and, to date, there have been two independent reviews of PIP.”

A Capita spokeswoman said: “Our assessors are healthcare professionals who are committed to delivering high quality and accurate reports in line with Department for Work and Pensions guidance.

“If someone has questions about the assessment service we have provided, they can contact us by phone, text phone, email or post.”

*For those not expected to live more than six months

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