Universal Credit causing rise in shoplifting


Dundee sheriff expresses concerns after hearing woman shoplifted to eat

A senior Dundee sheriff has voiced “considerable concern” about the new Universal Credit system after it emerged a woman caught stealing food only had £90 a month on which to survive.Sheriff Alistair Brown was due to sentence Maria Blair, of Blackness Road, for stealing steaks and chicken from the M&S store in Broughty Ferry. However, he deferred sentencing for further reports into her circumstances after being told she was a foodbank user who had been denied disability benefits.

The court was told Blair, 39, was only in receipt of Universal Credit and had £90 left to live on after paying back a previous over-payment of Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Her solicitor, Grant Bruce, explained: “She has been to foodbanks.

“She has applied for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and ESA but that has been refused. She has appealed.

“She is in receipt of Universal Credit and has £90 a month to live on. She is using a fair amount of that to pay the electricity in her home. That is the reason (for committing the offence).”

Sheriff Brown expressed disbelief at her circumstances, asking “is that all she gets?

So the defence is she’s stealing food to eat?”, to which Mr Bruce replied “yes”. Brown pled guilty to stealing packets of steak and chicken worth £154 on January 9 and packets of steak worth £204.20 on January 12, from M&S on Brook Street, while on three bail orders.

Sheriff Brown said: “It is a matter of considerable concern that someone is trying to live on £90 per month. “That is impossible to do. I’m deferring sentence for criminal justice and social work reports as I want to know what is going on.

“On one hand I’m hearing from the DWP that they are advising of loans being available so that people are not in this position. “On the other hand I hear from solicitors regularly that that wasn’t working as planned for their clients.”

Sheriff Brown deferred sentencing until February 18 and released Blair, who has been assigned a social work mentor, on bail.

Judge appalled after hearing woman on Universal Credit had to ‘steal to eat’

Universal Credit was launched in 2018, merging six previous benefits including Job Seekers’ Allowance, Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit, among others, under one umbrella.

The benefit has been criticised by charities and campaigners over reports of long delays in payments and an alleged link to rent arrears and food bank use. However, a DWP spokesperson said:“There is no evidence to link trends in crime to changes in the welfare system. We continue to spend £90 billion a year on working-age benefits.

“Anyone coming onto UC can get a 100% advance as soon as they start their claim.”



Why Universal Credit is like the Victorian workhouse


The UK’s Universal Credit programme, which aims to roll six forms of state welfare including unemployment and housing benefits into one, was launched in 2010 with the aim of supporting people to work. So far it has resulted in real hardship for numerous claimants. In early January, the minister in charge of its rollout, Amber Rudd, announced reforms to its design, including piloting new ways to ease the payments system.

While the lessons of history are sometimes rather hard to discern, in this case there is a clear precedent that supports those calling for Universal Credit to be paused, or even scrapped: the Victorian workhouse.

The overall Universal Credit policy coheres quite closely to that of amendments to the poor law in 1834, which kickstarted a large programme to build workhouses. The two policies, nearly 200 years apart, were prompted by some of the same economic concerns.

At the time the 1834 law was passed, the high cost of the parish poor relief had been a focus of anxious public attention for some time. Parishes gave people some money to live on if they could not make ends meet, but this technically gave them a purchasing power they had not earned through work.

The rising costs of poor relief in the early 19th century, combined with post-war recession after 1815, inspired an increasingly austere attitude towards the poor. The fear among local taxpayers was that the list of poor-law beneficiaries was being artificially swollen by people who were physically capable of work, but who preferred to live on parish subsidies. This fear was based on rhetorical narrative rather than research, and talk among legislators was quickly translated actions driven by ideology.

Read more: Universal Credit: from benefits panacea to government blunder 

Sent to the workhouse

The laws governing welfare before 1834 were notoriously flexible, and some parishes chose to experiment by imposing strict boundaries on the allocation of poor relief in the lead up to the statutory change.

The parish of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, for example, piloted a stringent suppression of claims for relief. The goal was to make welfare simpler, more affordable, and more likely to encourage the poor back into self-supporting work, by ending all forms of assistance outside of the workhouse. A workhouse built in 1824 was central to the scheme, and it still exists today, owned by the National Trust. Life in the workhousewas planned to deter the lazy from asking for help. The subtext of this sort of “support” to work was to chastise people into productivity.

Southwell workhouse, now owned by the National Trust. CC BY-NC

When a special commission was formed in 1832 to consider the existing poor laws, the example offered by Southwell was a specific focus of attention. The commissioners sought advice from George Nicholls, a former official or overseer of the poor in Southwell. They made the abolition of relief outside of workhouses a central tenet of their recommendations, based on a desire to eradicate “idleness”, and to punish the people capable of work but not in work. The national legislation of 1834 was framed on the basis of the commission’s report, and Nicholls was appointed as one of the three men charged with implementing the new law.

As a result, in the second half of the 1830s, England and Wales embarked on a programme of workhouse building to rival even the raft of 21st-century private finance initiatives. The investment of effort and cash was extraordinary: newly elected boards of guardians raised local taxes, purchased land, commissioned brickmakers and architects, signed contracts and sought workhouse staff. By 1838, around 95% of all parish locations had been incorporated into larger administrative units or “unions”, the vast majority with a repurposed or newly-built workhouse.

The workhouses were intended to be large and all encompassing: universal in their capacity. They were designed to cater for all varieties of poverty separately. There were discrete accommodations for men, women, and children with further adult subdivisions to differentiate the elderly, sick, and disabled from the vigorous, able-bodied and morally dubious.

Bad economics

But the delivery of welfare through workhouse placements only was never going to work as the ideologues intended. The austere sentiment, and the premise on which the law was founded, was faulty: the welfare bill was not being overblown by the capable poor, but was rising owing to the complexity and severity of need. Legislators had been afraid that people preferred to live idly on parish relief rather than work, when in fact subsequent research has shown they had been unable to earn enough to support themselves even if they were in full employment.

A workhouse regime could be imposed that coerced or compelled groups of people to undertake laundry, cooking, nursing or gardening. It could not deter people out of underemployment, age, or extreme youth. The result across the Victorian period was an expensive, burdensome, and frequently stigmatising set of institutions that never fulfilled their intentions. At the same time, money given to poor people outside of the workhouse was never abolished, and spending on this “outdoor relief” remained at least twice as high as spending on workhouses throughout the 19th century. Meanwhile, the workhouse very effectively punished the elderly and the unfortunate whose scope for work was very limited or nil.

Despite campaigns to abolish workhouses, the suffering of inmates, and potential applicants, continued well beyond the Victorian period. From 1930, workhouses became “public assistance institutions” – workhouses in all but name – and most surviving buildings entered ownership of the NHS in 1948 to be used as hospitals for the chronically ill.

In many ways, the desire to pull all of those in poverty under one roof, literally or figuratively in the case of Universal Credit, stems from the same impulses today as it did in 1834: a desire to drive down spending and make people work, or work harder. In both cases, a simple injection of cash, whether on buildings or for other purposes like the administrative integration of a new policy, cannot overcome the essential complexity of needs among those in poverty. When it comes to humane support, there is no such thing as “one strategy fits all”.


Universal Credit: MP brandishes ‘rape clause’ form in Commons

Universal Credit: MP brandishes ‘rape clause’ form in Commons in blast at two-child limit

Alison Thewliss  [above] demanded the “cruel and pernicious” two-child limit on benefits is scrapped in a furious blast at the Tory policy.  She clutched the eight-page document as she attacked “cruel and pernicious” rules under new benefit Universal Credit.

Since April 2017, people can only claim Child Tax Credits or Universal Credit for their first two children, a cut of up to £2,780 per child. There are exceptions for some children including those born of rape. But raped mums must fill out an 8-page government form – hitting nearly 200 women in the policy’s first year.

The SNP MP warned the policy is “forcing women into termination healthy pregnancies” And slammed ministers for cancelling an extension of the limit to 15,000 children born before April 2017 – yet defending it overall as “fair”.


Ms Thewliss told welfare minister Alok Sharma: “Why does he feel this policy, with its cruel and pernicious policy with this form, must continue even though it’s been ruled unfair for other people? “Does he not see this creates a two tier system in Universal Credit depending when children were born?”

Labour’s Margaret Greenwood demanded the two-child limit on benefits was scrapped altogether – and Universal Credit was halted.

Yet Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister Mr Sharma told the Commons: “We do believe the overall policy is fair. “Ultimately those who are receiving support in the welfare system should be facing the same sort of choices as those who support themselves solely through work do.

Raped mums must fill out an 8-page government form

“It’s worth pointing out that for a family that supports themselves solely through work if they decide to have another child they wouldn’t automatically expect their wages to go up – this is about sustainability.” He also defended the four-year cap on benefits, blaming “the absolutely awful financial mess left to us by the last Labour government.”

Mr Sharma added any women giving evidence could do so indirectly through rape crisis charities, not to the DWP. He said: “The individuals dealing with this are third party professionals who already have experience in supporting vulnerable women.”

Last week Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd insisted not a single woman claiming to have been raped has been turned down under the two-child limit.

Speaking after a speech about Universal Credit reforms on Friday, she said: “I’ve been through the form myself and talked to the department about whether we’ve got it right. I believe we have.

“The form requires a third party, probably Women’s Aid or Refuge, to join with the woman who is filling in the form. “But otherwise apart from that it’s almost a self-declaration. “We haven’t turned down any application that’s come through that route.

“There’s no application direct to the department, it’s always through a third party. “So I believe that under the circumstances, the legislation set out, it is working as carefully and as compassionately as possible.”


More than 21,000 sick and disabled people died waiting for vital benefits

Campaigners warn the ‘appalling situation’ is set to get even worse under Universal Credit.  By Sue Jones
Photo credit: Knox O (Wasi Daniju) via photopin cc

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that over 21,000 ill and disabled people died waiting for their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment to be completed, between April 2013 and 30 April 2018.

PIP is claimed by people with a range of health conditions and disabilities, many of which are chronic, degenerative or life limiting.

Sarah Newton MP, the Minister of State for Disabled People, published the figures on 11 January following a question raised in parliament by Labour MP Madeleine Moon in December. She asked: “How many people have died while waiting for their personal independence payment assessment to be completed; and what were the conditions those people died from?”

More than 17,000 sick and disabled people have died while waiting for welfare benefits, figures show

Responding to the question, Newton said: “All benefit claims can be made under the special rules for people who are terminally ill which will mean that they are fast tracked. “These are currently being cleared within 6 working days for new claimants to PIP. “The Department would encourage all claimants with a terminal illness to let the department know and to apply using the special rules.”

The private firm Capita were given responsibility to carry out disability assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), have been criticised by MPs over the accuracy of reports sent to the DWP. source

“The cause of death of PIP claimants is not collated centrally by the Department”, she added. Over 3.6 million applications to PIP were made between April 2013 and 30th April 2018. Of these:

  • 4,760 claimants died between their case being referred to, and returned from, an assessment provider;
  • 73,800 claimants died within 6 months of their claim being registered; and
  • 17,070 claimants died after registering but prior to the DWP making a decision on their claim.

Overall, the total number of PIP claimants who died was 95,000. But Newton’s response does not indicate at what stage of their claim the 73,800 people, who died within six months of it being registered, were at.

Nor does it indicate what those people who did not have terminal or degenerative illnesses died of – including those with mental illness. For example, 270 of those mortalities are listed as having had anxiety and/or depressive disorders as their primary disorder.

The DWP has admitted 21,000 people died waiting for benefits


Of those who did have terminal illnesses, we need to ask why these people were so cruelly left waiting so long for their assessment, if, as Newton claims, they are ‘fast tracked’ through the claim and assessment process.  She also said: “This is unpublished data… It should be used with caution and it may be subject to future revision.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It is shocking that so many disabled people have died waiting for their social security claims to be processed at a time when they need and should be able to get support.

“Sadly this appalling situation is set to get even worse with the waiting times for first payments of universal credit.”

The DWP has been contacted for comment.


The decimation of the welfare state

It’s sickening that the British welfare state is being gradually demolished by successive governments, to be eventually replaced with private healthcare insurance [1] and what’s even more galling is: they [some members of the UK govt] went to the USA to find out how to decimate our welfare state and NHS, encouraged by American corporate funders. Mo Stewart has written extensively about this in her book Cash not Care.

Amber Rudd has the absolute nerve to say Universal Credit has not always been compassionate whilst her dept have overseen the demolition of the welfare state causing misery not seen seen Victorian times [2] and I have added hundreds of  DWP atrocities like the one of Alan Chrisman [below] which have contributed to many suicides [3] 

Since 2010

Denied: How some Tennessee doctors earn big money denying disability claims

Alan Chrisman holds medical bills and records near the McDonald’s where he worked at as a maintenance employee before being diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer

By the time Alan Chrisman was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, he was too sick to work. The cancer had spread to his lungs. His doctors said he may never get better. He applied for disability, the federal safety net program he contributed to with every paycheck during his 30 years working as a stonemason.

But a doctor hired by Tennessee’s Disability Determination Services to review applications quickly concluded Chrisman wasn’t sick enough to get the $804 monthly benefit.

That physician, Dr. Thomas Thrush, is one of about 50 doctors contracted to review applications for Tennesseans seeking disability. The doctors are paid a flat rate for each application file they review. How much they earn depends on how fast they work.

Thrush, like many of the doctors who contract with the state, works very fast. In fiscal year 2018, he reviewed — on average — one case every 12 minutes.

Thrush’s productivity has paid off. He earned $420,000 for reviewing the applications of 9,088 Tennesseans applying for disability during the year ending June 30. He has made more than $2.2 million since 2013. On average, 80 percent of the cases he reviewed were denied.

6 takeaways from this investigation: Doctors speed through disability claims, make millions

Tennessee has among the highest denial rates for disability applicants in the nation, rejecting 72 percent of all claims in 2017. The national average for denials was 66 percent. Outside experts and former and current state employees say it’s impossible to review cases so quickly without making mistakes that lead to wrongful rejections of disability benefits.

In Chrisman’s case, Thrush failed to obtain one critical piece of evidence: a discharge paper from a hospital that stated Chrisman’s cancer was inoperable and had metastasized. The prognosis clearly qualified him for disability, even under the complex rules set by the Social Security Administration. The mistake was discovered only after Chrisman hired a lawyer.

A USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee investigation examined 5½ years of data for physicians and psychologists who review disability applications. The investigation found that between January 2013 and July 2018:

• Some doctors raced through cases. More than half of all contract physicians outpaced the federal standard of 1.5 cases per hour, and 1 out of every 5 doctors doubled that pace.

 A whistleblower was fired. The contract of a former medical consultant was terminated in 2017 after he raised concerns about some physicians reviewing a high volume of cases.

• Speed pays. Seven high-volume doctors billed for more than $1 million each between fiscal 2013 and 2018. These physicians’ annual payments range from $103,000 to $451,000. By contrast, the acting chief of the Social Security Administration, a Cabinet-level position, earned $240,000. For some physicians, this was not their sole source of income.

 Staff doctors take more time. The state employed a small number of staff doctors whose compensation is not tied to the number of cases they review. These doctors reviewed cases at a rate that is in line with federal recommendations. They typically earned less than $150,000 annually, according to the state’s salary database. Beginning this year, however, the state is terminating all doctors on salary and relying only on contract physicians.

 Some doctors have a history of misconduct. At least two doctors under contract with the state are felons, including Thrush. Two other physicians had their medical licenses placed on probation. Another physician had his license revoked twice in the past 20 years and now works on a restricted license that bars him from treating patients.

Five current and former contractors and state employees said they believe disability applicants are being wrongfully denied in an effort to process as many applications as possible. Most spoke to The Tennessean on the condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisal.

“It’s like a cash register,” said one contract physician. “From our perspective it’s unethical. From a consumer’s point of view it can be a tragedy.”

One doctor who raised the issue through official channels lost his contract. Dr. John Mather, the whistleblower, was the former chief medical officer for disability programs at the federal Social Security Administration, and worked as a contract doctor for the state after he retired.

“Who knows how many applicants for disability benefits have had their applications denied without justification,” he said.

A whistleblower

Mather said he warned James Stanfield, director for the state disability department, and Raquel Hatter, then commissioner of the Department of Human Services, in 2016 about the dangers of some doctors performing large numbers of reviews. The Human Services Department’s general counsel responded in a letter saying there was nothing illegal or fraudulent.

Mather emailed the Social Security Administration, which referred the matter to the Office of Inspector General. That office determined no investigation was warranted. Mather met with auditors at the Comptroller of the Treasury, then received no further response.

In 2017, Stanfield declined to renew Mather’s contract. “I don’t think they care about the claimant,” Mather said of administrators. “They just want to see the cases out. I don’t think they care too much about quality. People who are high producers — they are very happy to have them around.”

Current and former personnel said they were speaking up now because they want an outside investigator to review all cases to ensure individuals have not been wrongly denied.

“These findings are troubling,” Tennessee U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said in a statement. “Physicians, especially those dealing with state and federal funds, should be careful and thorough in their work. Social Security Disability Insurance is a vital program, and we have to keep it strong.”

Alan Chrisman walks with his wife, Joyce, near the Sevierville, Tenn., McDonald’s where he worked as a maintenance employee before being diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. Chrisman applied for disability but was initally denied by a medical contractor hired by the state to review claims.

A spokesman for the Department of Human Services, which oversees the disability program in Tennessee, disputed any connection between how fast doctors review case files and their mistakes. “We have no reason to believe that doctors that average faster reviews are more prone to have errors in their reviews,” Sky Arnold said in a statement.

The Social Security Administration provided its own statistics that showed Tennessee doctors were spending on average 47 “medical minutes per case.” Patti Patterson, a spokeswoman, noted that was more than the national average of 38 minutes.

But the federal data adds the time multiple physicians spend reviewing the same case, a common occurrence when someone is claiming both a mental and physical disability requiring two different specialists. The state data analyzed by The Tennessean details each doctor’s speed.

A letter brings crushing news

For weeks, Chrisman did not feel well. Some days he would lose control of his bowels. After stonemason work became scarce, he got a job as a maintenance man at a McDonald’s in Sevierville, Tennessee, two years ago. One day in November 2017, he showed up to work at the restaurant and promptly soiled himself.

At the insistence of his wife, Joyce, he headed straight to a walk-in clinic. It was his first medical visit in a long time. The Chrismans cannot afford insurance. He was referred to a doctor, then another. The diagnosis was swift.

Chrisman had late-stage cancer of the intestine. The cancer had spread. There were two spots on his lung. A golf ball-sized tumor and about a foot of his intestine were removed in surgery.

Alan Chrisman worked as a maintenance employee at this Sevierville, Tenn., McDonald’s before being diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer in November 2017. He’s now on his 11th dose of chemotherapy. After his 12th next month, he will return for a scan.
Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel

Weakened by chemotherapy and radiation, emaciated after shedding 40 pounds, and in extreme discomfort with tubes protruding from his backside, Chrisman occasionally can’t sit or stand. On a good day he can walk outside to pick up a single log for the fireplace in the couple’s unheated two-bedroom cabin.

The Chrismans earned about $32,000 a year between his earnings and his wife’s $10 hourly wage cleaning laundry at a Smoky Mountain resort. The mounting medical bills and Chrisman’s lost wages devastated his wife, who tried to arrange payment plans with medical providers. Chrisman applied for disability in November 2017. The rejection letter came six months later.

“Although your therapy is currently causing you discomfort, it is expected these effects will be temporary,” said the denial letter, based on the recommendation from Thrush.

Joyce Chrisman cried when she read the letter.

Mistakes unlikely to be caught

The disability process has two layers of oversight designed to catch errors, but doctors know there is little likelihood anyone would catch a mistake in denying someone’s application.

First, a quality assurance department in Nashville spot-checks approvals and denials to make sure staff and doctors have followed procedures. Then, federal regional offices review a portion of disability applications.

Tennessee has consistently ranked high in the quality of its case reviews, averaging a 95.8 percent quality rating since 2016, said Arnold, the state spokesman. In 2017 DDS earned a Social Security Administration “Phoenix Award” for its performance.

But the state and federal offices review a tiny percentage of denied disability claims for accuracy.

By law, half of all approvals by state DDS personnel are reviewed by Social Security Administration staff — a provision meant to safeguard public funds.

The law, however, doesn’t set specific requirements for denials. As a result, the Social Security Administration reviewed fewer than 2 percent of all rejections, according to an analysis by the National Association of Social Security Claims Representatives.

“If the adjudicator is making poor decisions, if they tend towards denials, they’re just not going to be reviewed,” said Jen Burdick, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. She is is among advocates nationwide asking for Social Security to review more denials.

Wrongful denials may be appealed, but long delays for a hearing can take a devastating  toll in lost wages, lack of access to health care and medical bills. In fiscal year 2017, at least 9,570 people died waiting for their disability appeals to be heard.

Speed pays — sometimes millions

The Social Security Administration oversees two disability programs: Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, for low-income individuals without a work history, and Social Security Disability Insurance for workers who become disabled.

The federal government delegates to the states the administration of the programs. Tennessee received $8.5 million last year from the Social Security Administration to hire medical consultants with a variety of specialties to review medical records.

These doctors never examine claimants in person, although they occasionally order a physical exam by another doctor.

Seven days a week, setting their own schedules, the doctors swipe their badges to access secured floors of a brown and glass office building on the outskirts of downtown Nashville, logging into a computer system that generates a queue of cases to review.

Some applications contain just a few pages. Others include hundreds of pages of doctor’s notes, hospital reports, X-rays, lab results and employment records. Doctors must write a brief report to justify their findings, too.

The decision to grant or deny benefits is officially made by a state employee, but doctors who work for the state say it is their recommendation that carries the most weight.

For this work, the doctors are paid a flat fee ranging from $30 to $47 per case. Doctors also bill $68 per hour in most instances for the time they spend consulting with staff or mentoring other physicians. Use the database below to search for physicians. Like Thrush, some of these doctors work very fast.

Dr. Kanika Chaudhuri, a pediatrician, evaluated 3,872 cases last fiscal year, averaging more than four cases per hour when she worked. She earned $192,000 in fiscal 2018 and $1.1 million since 2013.

Out of all the cases Chaudhuri reviewed over the five years, 78 percent were denied, according to data provided by the state. State officials later noted that the denial data included cases in which multiple doctors made assessments, meaning Chaudhuri and other doctors may not have made the final assessment.

Asked whether she felt pressured to review cases too quickly, Chaudhuri said: “No direct pressure. They recommend that we must keep up. They always recommend you do your best. There are so many applications and so few doctors. We are overwhelmed with cases.”

Jenaan Khaleeli, a psychologist, has averaged 4½ cases an hour since 2013. Nearly 80 percent of those cases were denied. Over the five years, Khaleeli earned $1.2 million, including $209,000 in fiscal 2018.

Dr. Frank Pennington, an ear, nose and throat specialist who is also a felon, earned $144,000 reviewing cases in fiscal 2018, and more than $1 million since 2013. During the five-year period he reviewed 20,835 cases, at a rate of three per hour.

Pennington is one of five contract physicians with a history of misconduct. Pennington is confined to the administrative practice of medicine after three separate felony cocaine convictions and two stints in federal prison in the 1990s.

Thrush had his license placed on probation for four years in 2008 after he  pleaded guilty to prescription fraud in 2006. Arnold, the DHS spokesman, said the physicians were all doctors in good standing while employed.

“It’s important to remember these are not forward-facing doctors,” Arnold said. “Their role is to examine medical records and reports. They do not meet with patients in person.” Thrush, Pennington and Khaleeli did not respond to messages.

‘A flawed system’

Tennessee’s pay-by-the-case model — and the sums paid to contract doctors — surprised even advocates and attorneys who routinely assist people with disabilities. “There is an obvious financial incentive under such a payment arrangement — to process cases as quickly as possible,” said Russ Overby, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee, who represents individuals seeking disability.

“I am concerned that some clients who are in fact eligible for disability benefits will be denied because there has not been a sufficient review of the case.” Carrie Hobbs Guiden, executive director of The Arc of Tennessee, advocates for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities who occasionally apply for Social Security disability benefits. Doctors have to invest the time to properly review cases, she said, especially when it involves people with untreated mental health issues.

“If they’re getting paid based on how many they get done, that’s a flawed system,” Guiden said. “That’s not encouraging quality. You have to question if the purpose is to deny as many people as possible.”

Under pressure to meet ‘workload goals’

State disability determination departments face enormous pressures to meet “workload goals” set by the Social Security Administration.

In 2018, the Social Security Administration set a goal of 103,161 disability applications to be cleared by Tennessee’s office.

The staff and consultants needed to clear those cases in Tennessee have shrunk by 24 percent between 2010 and 2016.

Failure to meet goals can result in a financial penalty from the federal government, according to Jeffrey Price, the past legislative director for the National Association of Disability Examiners.

Doctors elsewhere push back

About half of all state disability offices in the United States operate on a similar model to Tennessee’s, in which physicians reviewing applications are paid by the case, according to Price.

The contract model, in which doctors receive a fee for each assessment, introduces some risks, Price said.

“If you were paid by the case, it behooves you to sign off on as many cases as you can,” he said. “I think that model at least has the potential for increased error rates.

“A doctor can review cases effectively at about two cases per hour,” Price said. “You’re hoping that the doctor will actually look at the whole case, not just what the examiner wrote.”

Doctors like Thrush, who processed more than five cases per hour, might be valued in an office trying to shovel itself out of a large caseload, Price said, but the pace is implausible.

“I think that would be dangerous, actually,” Price said. “Inherently you would be missing something if you’re looking at five cases an hour.”

At the North Carolina Disability Determination Services office, where Price has worked for nearly 40 years, managers recently asked doctors to process an average of three cases per hour instead of two. Doctors in that office are all on staff, as opposed to contractors.

“Some of our doctors are pushing back,” Price said. “They say that’s too many.”

A rule put into place by the Social Security Administration in 2017 has made the work of DDS physicians even more critical in deciding an outcome of an application.

Previously a “treating physician rule” required DDS to give more weight to the opinions of an applicant’s personal doctor than doctors hired by DDS. That rule was eliminated, giving doctors hired by DDS more influence in deciding the outcome of applications.

‘Something needs to be done’

After Chrisman was denied, he and his wife found a lawyer in Sevierville to file a request for reconsideration.

In September, Joyce Chrisman came home from work and brought the mail inside their cabin. The letter from Social Security said, “We found that you became disabled under our rules on November 8, 2017.” That was the day after she urged Chrisman to visit the walk-in clinic.

Another physician had examined Alan Chrisman’s file and recommended he be granted disability.

“We said ‘wow,’ ” Chrisman said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

George Garrison, his lawyer, said he was troubled by The Tennessean’s findings.

“People come to me at a point they’re about to lose everything they’ve got,” he said. “They’re sick. They’re dying. They’re having to deal with a complex system.”

The benefit meant that Joyce Chrisman no longer had to worry about paying medical bills. The bills would be paid dating back to the time her husband applied for disability.

His disability approval also automatically qualified Alan Chrisman for TennCare, which is now covering his ongoing chemotherapy, medications and hospitalizations.

Chrisman sits on his couch most of the time. He’s on his 11th dose of chemotherapy. After his 12th next month, he will return for a scan. “Then we’ll go from there,” he said.

Thinking about the months he spent rejected — when he and his wife were barely scraping by — Chrisman gets angry.

“Something needs to be done,” he said. “They’re either getting too much of a caseload or they’re getting greedy.”


Heart attack victim denied Universal Credit despite doctor’s note

Jeremy Corfield, 49, from Quinton, had collapsed on car park with heart attack

A heart attack victim was denied Universal Credit until officials performed a U-turn after BirminghamLive took up his case. Jeremy Corfield, 49, from Quinton, had a doctor’s note saying he was unfit to work after collapsing on his rounds as a car park enforcement officer.

He spent three days in hospital after suffering the heart attack on December 13 and was subsequently diagnosed with lifelong angina. But Jeremy was told he would not be able to claim the payments – until the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) changed its mind after BirminghamLive queried his case.

But he still believes the phased introduction of Universal Credit, which has been scaled back by the government, is a disaster. Jeremy said: “I think Universal Credit is a terrible idea, it’s wrecked people’s lives.

Disabled mum faces eviction after Universal Credit left her unable to pay rent

“Other people who might not be able or willing to fight mistakes like this will be going through severe hardship. “People are putting whatever they can towards rent but they are still getting evicted. It’s happened to a few people I know. “They can’t cover their bills.”

Jeremy had been told that he would not be able to resume monthly Universal Credit payments, which he previously claimed after a spell unemployed until they were reduced to zero against his earnings once he started working. As he is self-employed, he does not receive sick pay and while he lives in a Birmingham City Council flat, he pays rent and council tax.

Plymouth dad made homeless today faces life on the streets

The day he was released from City Hospital he went to an appointment at Selly Oak Jobcentre Plus, where he was told the payments would not be resumed until February as he was still being assessed against his earnings.

But he was later told he would be receiving an advance payment and housing support. Jeremy said: “They phoned me and said sorry to hear what happened. “I said, it shouldn’t have come to this’. “They are going to give me an advance, which I have to pay back. “I feel a bit better but it should never have happened in the first place.”

Jeremy’s advance payment will be £317 and he will also receive financial support for his housing. He hopes to go back to work at the end of the month. The Birmingham City fan also spoke about the heart attack, which led to him needing a stent to open the arteries in his heart in an emergency operation at City Hospital.

He now has a mouth spray to treat angina, which causes chest pain through reduced blood flow to the heart muscles. Reliving the heart attack, Jeremy said: “I was doing a car park and I started getting pain in my chest, the pain was getting worse and I couldn’t breath properly.

“I went into my van and looked in the mirror, I was sweating. I phoned Jenny, my partner, and told her I couldn’t breath properly. “She told me to put the phone down and phone the ambulance so I did. They took me to Dudley Road and I had the operation straight away.”

The next phase of the Universal Credit roll-out nationally has been scaled back amid an outcry over flaws in the system, in which Birmingham’s Labour MPs have been particularly vocal, putting together a dossier of evidence to back their case.

A DWP spokesman said: “Mr Corfield wasn’t eligible for Universal Credit initially because of wages he received from previous employment. “We have apologised for not making this clearer at the time and to support him with his claim.”


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Universal Credit has not always been compassionate YOU THINK!!!

Universal Credit has not always been ‘compassionate’ admits Tory Amber Rudd, she confirmed that she was delaying asking Parliament for permission to move three million people on to UC until next year.

Amber Rudd has announced a set of reforms to the Government’s new Universal Credit, saying that the system she inherited was not as “effective” or “compassionate” as she wanted.

The Work and Pensions Secretary confirmed that she was delaying asking Parliament for permission to move three million people on to UC until next year, after a pilot of the transfer from existing benefits has been completed. And she announced that controversial plans to apply a two-child benefit cap retrospectively to new Universal Credit (UC) claimants are to be scrapped, helping around 15,000 families.

Tory Amber Rudd suggests heartbreaking Universal Credit stories are about ‘one or two’ people

Ms Rudd also signalled that an end is in sight to the longstanding benefit freeze introduced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2016, telling Sky News she did not expect it to be renewed in 2020. She said it was not “reasonable” to impose the two-child cap – intended to force claimants to make decisions on whether they can afford a third child in the same way as those in work – on families which already have more than two offspring.

Other changes will make the system more “individual”, tailoring it to claimants’ needs by making payments more regular or paying rent money direct to landlords.

She said she also would build a “nudge” into the system to ensure that a couple’s UC payment was “much more likely” to go to children’s primary carer-giver – usually the woman.

Ms Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that she remained committed to the completion of the “migration” of claimants of six old benefits onto UC by 2023. “I’m absolutely convinced that Universal Credit is a far better system than the legacy system it replaces,” she said.

“This is a really ambitious project. It’s going to impact on 8 million people’s lives when it is finally completed. “It is inevitable that, as we roll it out, as we make the changes, we are learning about how to do it better.

“Maybe things that were were proposed previously weren’t effective or weren’t compassionate in the way that I want them to be. “So I’m going to be perfectly bold about making those changes where I need to.” She added: “I’m not accepting that it wasn’t compassionate in the first place. It was. I’m just reinforcing that.”

Ms Rudd defended Mr Osborne’s benefit freeze, saying it had been right to introduce it in an age of austerity. She told Sky: “The whole point about the three-year benefit freeze was making sure that people on low incomes had the same rises as people on benefits. “This was a time when inflation was very low and it was the right thing to do at the time, given that we also had the massive debts that the country had inherited from Labour.

“It was the right policy at the time, it’s got one more year to run, I look forward to it coming off.” Pressed on when this might be, she added: “It has one more year to run … I do not expect that to be renewed at all.”

Ms Rudd was using her first major welfare speech on Friday to try to allay fears about the roll-out of UC. She will say: “As it stands, from February 2019 the two-child limit will be applied to families applying for Universal Credit who had their children before the cap was even announced. That is not right.

“These parents made decisions about the size of the family when the previous system was the only system in place. “So, I can today announce that I am going to scrap the extension of the two-child limit on Universal Credit for children born before April 2017.

Charities have warned that universal credit has pushed people into rent arrears and debt 

“All children born before that date will continue to be supported by Universal Credit. This will help approximately 15,000 families a year.” The two-child cap limits support for families through tax credits, housing benefit and UC to the first two offspring. Subsequent children, except in special cases, are not entitled to the “child element”, which is currently £2,780 a year.

Ms Rudd’s move came as the Commons Work and Pensions Committee branded the plans to retrospectively extend the cap to children born before it was brought in “cruel”.

The committee expressed fears about the impact of such a move on the levels of child poverty. Spelling out plans to slow down the “managed migration” to UC of claimants whose circumstances have not changed, Ms Rudd will say: “I am going to change the current regulations, removing the powers Government previously planned to seek to migrate all legacy claimants on to the new system.

“Instead I am only going to seek powers for a pilot: the chance to support 10,000 people through the process, giving us the opportunity to learn how to provide the best support, before coming back to Parliament to seek permission for future migration. “This will begin, as planned, from July 2019 and the next six months will be a period of careful preparation. “I will consider carefully the results of the pilot and its implications for scaling up migration.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said the move was a “partial U-turn” that did not go far enough. She said: “Universal Credit simply is not working: it is pushing many families into poverty, rent arrears and towards food banks. “The Government must stop the roll-out immediately before more people are pushed into financial hardship.”

But Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “It’s encouraging to see the Secretary of State taking a fresh look at the welfare system.

“Universal Credit has to work in practice as well as in theory.”