The announcement of billions of pounds of cuts to the government’s new disability benefit is a discriminatory attack on people with mental health problems, will push many of them further into poverty and isolation, and will put lives at risk, say disabled activists.
Protests about the cuts to personal independence payment (PIP) have already been announced, with one due to take place outside parliament on Tuesday (7 March), the day before the spring budget.
Disability News Service is also aware of discussions among at least two groups about possible legal action over the cuts.
Work and pensions secretary Damian Green said he had made the decision to amend regulations to tighten eligibility for PIP because of two tribunal decisions that ruled against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
One ruling found that PIP claimants who need support to take medication and monitor a health condition could be scored in the eligibility assessment in the same way as those needing support to manage treatment therapies such as dialysis.
Green’s plans to reverse this ruling are likely to see almost 1,500 PIP claimants either lose all of their PIP daily living payment or see it cut.
The second ruling found that PIP claimants who need to be accompanied on journeys because of the risk of experiencing overwhelming mental distress could be scored in their assessment in the same way as those who cannot navigate a journey because of a visual or cognitive impairment.
Green’s decision to reverse this second tribunal decision will see an estimated 164,000 claimants either lose all of their eligibility for the PIP mobility component or see it reduced.
The new regulations are likely to be voted on in parliament later this month, after an objection – known as tabling a prayer motion – was raised by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Bakewell.
Ministers stressed that the decision to tighten the criteria will not result in any claimants seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP that has already been awarded by DWP, although it will affect future new claims and reassessments and those still to be transferred across to PIP from disability living allowance.
The government’s decision to reverse both of the tribunal rulings will mean £3.7 billion is cut from spending on PIP and related benefits over the next five years, and £910 million a year by 2021-22.
Ministers claimed that the “urgency” of addressing these tribunal rulings meant that they had decided not to consult their own benefits advisors, the social security advisory committee (SSAC), although SSAC will now reportedly discuss the changes next week.
But it is not the first time that DWP ministers have targeted people in mental distress for cuts to their disability benefits since the 2015 election.
In September, DNS reported how the department had secretly made major changes to guidance given to “fitness for work” benefits assessors that made it harder for claimants with experience of severe mental distress to be placed in the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group, and potentially put thousands of lives at risk.
There was anger among disabled campaigners after the latest DWP announcement, at what has been seen as a further cut to spending on disability benefits, despite DWP’s insistence that it was merely a “clarification of the criteria”.
Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the daily living change would discriminate against people trying to manage their mental health conditions at home so they can stay out of hospital.
And she said the change to the mobility criteria was “quite disgraceful” and showed the government “does not understand the disabling and debilitating nature of mental distress”.
She said it would increase the isolation of people with mental health conditions, with many of those in London already having their free travel Freedom Passes withdrawn by local authorities.
She said: “It will push people much further into poverty. It will aggravate the already existing problem of isolation for people with mental health problems.”
She said this could lead to people taking their own lives, because isolation was often a factor in such deaths.
McKenna said: “It may cause some people to disengage from services because they may not be able to go backwards and forwards to where they need to go.
“With the closure of mental health services, people have to travel further to access them.”
Many people with mental health problems who have been placed on community treatment orders have to visit their community mental health team regularly for injections of anti-psychotic drugs, she said.
This group of people is growing because of the closure of acute mental health wards, and unaccompanied public transport will not be an option for many of them, she said.
McKenna added: “It shows total contempt for people with mental health problems.
“It is going to affect people with the most severe mental health problems and it seems this government is in complete denial that there are mental health problems that debilitate people.”
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said DWP’s “underhand” decision to impose the cuts had again shown its “contempt” for the judiciary.
A DPAC spokesperson said: “It has become increasingly obvious that disability benefit entitlement is no longer based on need, but on how much the government is prepared to pay.
“Disability tests, whether for ESA or PIP, are fine-tuned to give the results the government expect in terms of expenditure, which determines the number of people entitled to disability benefits.
“The legality of changing the law in such a way needs to be addressed as it is a key pillar of our constitution that parliament makes the law and the courts interpret it.”
DPAC is holding a protest on Tuesday afternoon (7 March), outside parliament.
Another protest is being held shortly after noon tomorrow (Friday) by Norfolk-based Equal Lives and DPAC Norfolk, outside the Wymondham constituency surgery of local MP George Freeman, who chairs the prime minister’s policy board.
Freeman said in a BBC interview at the weekend that the DWP move had been in response to “bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety” and that the government wanted to ensure that money was given to “the really disabled people who need it”.
He later apologised if his comments had “inadvertently caused any offence”.
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said Freeman’s comments were “crass and ignorant and belong in the last century”.
He said the PIP cuts will “result in more disabled people becoming prisoners in their own homes”.
He added: “I suggest George reads the UN inquiry judgement on the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights by his government and then implements the recommendations.
“I really don’t understand why disabled people are being singled out in this way for more cuts to our independence and living standards.
“What happened to this government’s commitment only made last year that cuts to PIP would not go ahead and there would be no more welfare cuts?”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “The government’s rationale of returning PIP to its ‘original meaning’ is its latest justification for its abiding determination to cut back support for disabled people.
“It wants to take more than £3 billion out of the support budget and from disabled people’s pockets because it is committed to a residual welfare state.
“No matter that rapidly changing demographics in the UK and beyond mean that there are more disabled people as a proportion of the population and in absolute numbers, this government with its belief in ‘nudge’ non-intervention and the ‘small state’ only sees one road for public spending on support and that is to reduce it.
“We must have a strategic understanding of and response to this backward-looking ideological strategy which is both appallingly damaging to our society and to disabled people who want to contribute to it.”
Disabled researcher Stef Benstead, from the Spartacus Network, said the government’s attitude was “disappointing and worrying” and “suggests an ignorance of illness and disability that is not acceptable”.
She said: “PIP was brought in allegedly to transfer money from physically ill people to mentally ill people.
“To then say that PIP is failing because it is giving more money to mentally ill people – the very thing it was designed to do – is an inconsistency that suggests that the government’s true focus, whatever it pleads to the contrary, is cuts not care.”
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, called for the government’s decision to be “urgently reconsidered”.
She said: “It is not what impairment you have that matters, but the impact of that impairment.
“And we are not here talking about a little anxiety – but about ‘overwhelming’ psychological distress, for instance people who literally cannot leave the house because of severe agoraphobia or schizophrenia.
“Disabled people have a right, under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to participate in the community on an equal basis with others.
“We need policies that consistently, across government, support disabled people to participate socially and economically.
“Restricting the very investments that support people to live independent lives, to manage their own health conditions, to go out and contribute to their communities, is a false economy. And it restricts disabled people’s rights to equal participation.”
A DWP spokeswoman said ministers were amending just one of the assessment criteria for the PIP mobility component and “someone who has a very high level of needs associated with psychological distress can still be awarded the highest rate of payments based on the overall assessment”.
And she insisted that it was “not a change to the policy”.
She said: “Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different to what was originally intended.
“We’re making amendments to clarify the criteria, to restore the original aim of the policy and ensure support goes to those with the highest costs associated with their disability.”
She added: “At the core of PIP’s design is the principle that non-physical conditions should be given the same recognition as physical ones.
“That is why we developed the assessment criteria in collaboration with disabled people and independent specialists in health, social care and disability.
“The changes are working – there is a higher proportion of people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than the DLA equivalents.
“More than two-thirds of PIP claimants with mental health conditions get the higher daily living award, worth £82.30 per week, compared to 22 per cent under DLA.
“There is also a higher proportion of PIP claimants with mental health conditions claiming the mobility component – 27 per cent compared to nine per cent on DLA.
“Supporting people with mental health problems is a priority. We are investing more in mental health than ever before – spending more than £11 billion this year.”
But opposition groups have also been highly critical of the DWP announcement.
Labour said its actions “undermine the judicial process” and accused the government of failing to honour the prime minister’s promise to increase suppport for people with mental health problems, while party leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was a “shameful” and “nasty” decision.
Baroness [Celia] Thomas, the disabled peer who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on disability, said: “It is astonishing the complete disregard the Conservative government have shown for those struggling in life.
“The tribunal knows what it is talking about, its rulings should not just be disregarded because they get in the way of the government’s plans for sweeping cuts across the board.
“PIP payments are meant to help give people the freedom they need to get on in life.
“It is shameful that this government feels that it can treat those with life-changing illnesses in this way.”
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, said the move was “ruthless and underhand” and “designed simply to cut disability benefits, regardless of the impact on people’s lives”, while Freeman’s defence of the cuts “was appalling and revealed a lack of understanding and nothing less than discrimination against people who face serious health conditions”.
2 March 2017
There are fresh calls for an inquiry into the way the government assesses eligibility for a key disability benefit, after claimants with mental health conditions described how they had been asked in assessments why they had not taken their own lives.
There was a horrified reaction on social media when disabled activist Alice Kirby revealed on Twitter how the healthcare professional who assessed her eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) had asked her: “Can you tell me why you haven’t killed yourself yet?”
After she shared her experience, many other claimants came forward to say that they had been asked the same, or a similar, question by their assessors.
Kirby, co-founder of the user-led group Disabled Survivors Unite (DSU), told Disability News Service (DNS) that the question was asked by an assessor employed by the government contractor Atos at her PIP assessment in November.
Kirby tweeted: “During my #pip assessment I was asked why I hadn’t killed myself yet. This is standard, assessors regularly ask this question.”
This was retweeted more than 850 times, while she received more than 140 comments, many of them from other PIP claimants with mental health conditions.
Kirby told DNS: “We know cuts to disability benefits cost people their lives, but these assessments themselves also put us at risk.
“The DWP urgently needs to launch an investigation into the assessment process and the effect questions like this have on us.
“People are terrified about being assessed, and many find their assessments so traumatic that it has a detrimental effect on their health.
“This is simply unacceptable; we should not be living in fear.”
Kirby’s concerns are just the latest to be raised about the PIP assessment process, and come as DNS continues its investigation into claims of widespread dishonesty and other poor practice by assessors working for both Atos and fellow contractor Capita on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
DNS has now collected many more than 100 cases of PIP claimants who have raised serious concerns about their assessments, in addition to those collected by Kirby.
The assessor’s question was described by those who read Kirby’s tweet as “horrendous”, “unacceptable”, “horrific” and “absolutely flabbergasting”.
In a follow-up tweet, Kirby said: “Let that sink in – government are hiring companies and telling them to ask disabled people why they haven’t killed themselves.”
She added: “It should be more widely acknowledged how humiliating and uncomfortable #pip and #esa assessments are made for disabled people.”
DNS has seen comments posted on social media – collated by Kirby – by at least 30 other disabled people who say they have been asked similar questions during PIP assessments or work capability assessments.
One of them, who was assessed by Capita, told DNS that she had been discussing her mental health with a PIP assessor last summer, and mentioned that she had been treated in A&E on a number of occasions after wishing to take her own life, when the assessor asked: “Why didn’t you kill yourself?”
Another said they were “aggressively questioned about why I hadn’t killed myself ‘yet’ and what methods I’d use”.
One said: “I also got asked this because I have PTSD and have attempted in the past. They asked why I failed.”
Another said: “I was asked that. True low point.”
One PIP claimant told Kirby on Facebook: “I got asked this, I felt very, very, very degraded. It’s a question that should not be asked.”
Another said he had heard it twice when attending other people’s assessments, and when he objected was threatened with being thrown out of the assessment.
Others said they had been asked, or heard, other disturbing questions and comments about self-harming behaviour during the PIP process.
One said he was told: “You’ve considered suicide? That’s understandable.”
Another Twitter-user told Kirby that a friend had been asked at a tribunal appeal to prove that she had tried to kill herself.
When she showed the panel the healed scars on her arm, she was told: “Long time ago then.”
So far, neither DWP, Atos nor Capita have denied that assessors have asked such questions.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments.
“Both Atos and the DWP take allegations of this kind very seriously and will investigate any complaints made.”
An Atos spokesman said: “We are unaware of a complaint but we will investigate if one is made.
“Our role is to provide a well evidenced report based upon information obtained using the criteria laid out by government.
“The professional and compassionate service we provide to claimants is our primary consideration.”
A Capita spokeswoman said: “Our assessments are carried out in line with guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions.
“Disability assessors are equipped with knowledge, skills and continuous training in order to understand how various mental and physical health challenges impact upon a claimant’s daily function.
“While we cannot comment on specific cases, we expect all assessments to be conducted in a professional and empathetic manner.”
When asked whether such questions were offensive and potentially dangerous, and whether Capita would take action to ensure they were no longer asked in assessments, she refused to comment further.
But Kirby added: “The fact that neither the DWP or Atos have denied that I was asked this, or that it is a question regularly asked, is very telling.”
She said that some people on social media had cast doubt on what she wrote and had demanded proof.
But she said: “Assessments are purposefully made very difficult to record, and in any case we are not allowed to publish recordings.
“This ensures assessors are not held accountable for what they say, while we are seen by some as unreliable sources.
“Until our testimonies are heard and believed, this fight for justice will continue to be a difficult one.”
2 March 2017
A disabled peer has accused the renowned fertility expert Lord Winston of trying to hijack his attempts to outlaw disability discrimination in abortion laws because of his “discriminatory eugenic agenda”.
The exchange in the House of Lords on Friday came as peers were debating Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin’s abortion (disability equality) bill, which he says would bring abortion legislation into line with the Equality Act.
The disabled Tory peer’s private member’s bill, which has reached the report stage, would make it illegal to carry out an abortion on the grounds of disability on a fetus that was more than 24 weeks old, unless there was a risk of serious, permanent damage to the mother or her life was at risk.
At present, Lord Shinkwin reminded fellow peers, a fetus can be aborted right up to the moment of birth, if it has a significant impairment or, as the Abortion Act 1967 describes it, “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”.
At a previous stage of the bill, he told fellow peers that “were a younger, unborn version of me to be detected in the womb today [the Abortion Act] and the [Department of Health’s] search-and-destroy approach to screening would make me a prime candidate for abortion”.
He said on Friday that his “disability rights bill” would bring the law on disability discrimination before birth into line with laws that address disability discrimination after birth.
But Lord [Robert] Winston, the fertility expert and television presenter – who has carried out pioneering work on allowing embryos to be screened for genetic diseases before being used for in vitro fertilisation – tabled an amendment that would exclude pregnancies where there was “a high probability that the fetus will die at, during, or shortly after delivery due to serious fetal anomaly”.
The Labour peer, who later withdrew his amendment, said: “Whether we like it or not, whatever our religious position might be, the fact is that we accept termination of pregnancy and I believe that most people in our society have the normative consideration that it is reasonable, in cases where a fetus is severely damaged and unlikely to survive or is going to be extremely ill and in great pain, to terminate that pregnancy.”
But Lord Shinkwin said that Lord Winston’s amendment was “cynical” and “reinforces discrimination because it singles out even more acutely a particular group for destruction on grounds of disability”.
He said that defining “fatal or life-limiting involves a degree of subjective judgment which is influenced by understandings and by the availability of technology, both of which can change with time”.
Lord Shinkwin also criticised the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Family Planning Association, and Antenatal Results and Choices – previously known as Support Around Termination For Abnormality – which had organised a meeting about his bill in the Lords, but failed to invite him.
He said the organisations had “insinuated and implicitly claimed” in their invitation to the meeting that the 230 disabled babies aborted after 24 weeks in 2015 had all been diagnosed with severe or fatal fetal abnormalities, when they could not possibly have known that because the Department of Health does not hold that information.
He had previously told fellow peers that there had been a 56 per cent increase in the number of terminations on grounds of disability after 24 weeks between 2010 and 2015, and a 68 per cent increase in the total number of terminations on the grounds of disability, with 3,213 in 2015.
He pointed out on Friday that, of the fetuses “aborted for the crime of having Down’s syndrome, for example, two were aborted at 25 weeks, one at 26 weeks, one at 28, one at 30, another at 31, three at 32 weeks, two at 33, two at 34 – and one at 39 weeks”.
Lord Shinkwin said the three organisations had an “overtly discriminatory agenda”, which he said also informed Lord Winston’s amendment and his “complete failure even to make contact with me”.
He said the amendment was “completely inappropriate and incompatible with the progress achieved on disability rights”, and he accused Lord Winston of “crass insensitivity” for “hijacking” the disability equality bill of a disabled peer “in order to advance a blatantly discriminatory eugenic agenda”.
Lord Shinkwin said the message of his opponents was “stark and bleak”, and was: “Let’s ignore the fact that these disabled babies are human beings, with an equal right to exist.
“Let’s reclassify them and call them fetal anomalies. Let’s go one better and call them serious fetal anomalies.”
He added: “Well this fetal anomaly, this proud member of your Lordships’ house, is having none of it.
“I utterly reject this medical mindset that clings to the idea that a disabled baby is a medical failure to be eradicated through abortion. I beg no one for my equality.
“I know I have as much right as anyone to be alive.”
Lord Winston denied that his amendment was “cynical” and insisted that it was “compassionate”.
He said: “Perhaps unlike the noble Lord who has promoted this bill, I have been in constant contact with pregnant women who have had to go through these difficult decisions throughout their pregnancy throughout my professional life.”
He said that many women did not attend an antenatal clinic until after 24 weeks into their pregnancy.
He added: “I do not feel prepared to have the finger pointed at me saying that I am not trying to do my best, in a small way, for a society where disabilities occur.”
2 March 2017
The information commissioner has questioned why the government failed to keep track of whether it had implemented recommendations on improving the safety of “vulnerable” disabled people that had been made in its own secret reports into benefit-related deaths.
Elizabeth Denham said the failure of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to keep track of its actions on “such sensitive cases” was “highly unusual”.
DWP has told her that it has no idea whether it implemented the 10 recommendations.
Last May, following a 21-month battle with Disability News Service (DNS) to keep them secret, DWP was forced to publish 49 heavily-redacted internal “peer reviews”, each of which had been carried out following the death of a benefit claimant.
Many of the reviews – which took place between February 2012 and August 2014 – had included recommendations for improvements in national policies and procedures, in order to avoid future deaths.
Following their publication, DNS asked DWP whether it had implemented 10 particular recommendations for national improvements that related to “vulnerable” benefit claimants and had been included in the peer reviews.
One recommendation was for a review of the employment and support allowance process to help identify vulnerable customers; another called for “a re-launch to staff of the importance of identifying vulnerable claimants and taking their needs into account throughout the whole process”.
A third recommendation was for DWP to consider if claimants with mental health conditions should be considered for a safeguarding visit if they were thought to be at risk, were about to have their benefits removed, and the DWP “decision-maker” had been unable to contact them via telephone.
DWP told DNS last year that it was “not possible” to say if it had implemented the 10 recommendations.
Now, following a complaint submitted by DNS to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about this failure to provide this information, DWP has told ICO that it has destroyed records relating to how these recommendations were passed to and from the relevant national “customer journey teams”.
It has also told ICO that there was “no requirement” for the department to keep track of what action was taken after these recommendations were passed on.
And it argues that because the peer reviews were a “voluntary internal process”, it had no legal duty to keep this information.
It has told ICO that it has searched its centrally-held files but has failed to find the information sought by DNS.
In a letter to DNS, the ICO says: “DWP has explained that records concerning these communications were not retained and no requirement was in place to track subsequent actions taken.”
The letter adds: “Whilst she does find the lack of requirement for confirmation of action highly unusual following a peer review of such sensitive cases, [the commissioner] is not in a position to issue a decision that DWP should have required feedback in these cases.”
ICO is now writing again to ask DWP to carry out a wider search of its records, something it has so far refused to do.
A DWP spokeswoman said she was unable to comment because the appeal was ongoing.
2 March 2017
Disabled researchers who interviewed both opponents of legalising assisted suicide and those in favour of new laws have found “a surprising amount of common ground” between the two groups.
The research, published by the national service-user and disabled people’s network Shaping Our Lives (SOL), found that “oversimplified” media reporting on the complex arguments for and against legalisation was making it difficult to hold a proper debate.
The report, Assisted Dying: Developing The Debate, concludes that the two camps often share areas of concern and interest, which should form the basis for further public discussion.
The report says that debate has so far has been “highly polarised” and “lacking in full discussion of the complexities and practicalities” of the issue, and there has “not been much room for those with outwardly opposing positions to explore common ground”.
The 14 people interviewed in depth about their views included seven who were in favour of legalisation and seven who were not.
The report’s authors say in the report: “Participants on both sides felt that, to date, the quality of debate had been compromised or stifled by extreme polarization, emotionalism and media misrepresentation or over-simplification.”
And they conclude that their research shows “a tentative basis for further, potentially constructive discussions”.
Some of the common ground was found in discussions on the psychological aspects of pain, suffering, death and dying; the role of “compassion and values” in the debate; and the importance of individual control and dignity at the end of life.
One common theme was the inadequacy of care and support for terminally-ill people, while there was recognition that the debate was “taking place in an ‘unequal society'”.
Those in favour and those opposed to new laws agreed that any proposed legislation would have to “carefully” consider and plan the “practical aspects of assisted dying and the processes and safeguards needed”.
One respondent who supported a change in the law said that although it was “impossible to eliminate risk”, the potential “unintended consequences” of legalisation should be considered.
The majority of those who opposed legalisation were concerned about “the potential for forms of coercion by family members”, which was also acknowledged by some of those in favour of a change in the law.
Participants on both sides accepted that it would be “very difficult to assess the influence of ‘feeling a burden’ on family or friends on the decision to request assisted dying”.
The report adds: “Others from both sides of the debate thought that feelings of ‘being a burden’ were partly caused by inadequate provision of social care and support for terminally ill, older and disabled people and their carers.”
Most of the opponents to legalisation were “particularly concerned about older people with terminal illness and the nature of power and control in their inter-familial relationships, particularly that relating to money or material gain”.
One of those in favour of assisted suicide accepted that legalisation could provide “a powerful set of circumstances for exploitation”, particularly of older people who are terminally ill.
And three of those who supported a change in the law said that “medical assessment of disease progression and prognosis was not exact and medical progress meant that there could be a possibility that, at any one time, a treatment could become available to prolong life or relieve pain”.
Several of those who supported legalisation said they believed that “euthanasia”, “assisted suicide” and “assisted dying” were all different practices, and that this needed to be highlighted.
The report concludes: “All participants had a wish to find the best way forward with compassion for people who are terminally ill, regardless of being for or against legalising assisted dying.”
Those ho took part included palliative care professionals, people from older people’s care and support organisations, older and disabled people, and individuals from academic, social work and policy backgrounds.
The report’s three authors all have experience of using mental health services.
Sarah Carr is associate professor of mental health research at Middlesex University and vice-chair of the National Survivor User Network; Peter Beresford is emeritus professor of social policy at Brunel University, professor of citizen participation at the University of Essex, and co-chair of SOL; and Tina Coldham is a service-user activist, chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence’s co-production network, and an honorary visiting fellow in the University of York’s department of social policy and social work.
Beresford said: “There are distinct divisions on whether or not it would be right to change the law, but we can see from many of the people we interviewed, that the issues are far more complex than much of the public debate that we have had so far has allowed.
“Death and dying is a core issue for human beings and public debate must reflect all our sensitivity and intelligence.
“One important conclusion from this research is that participants appreciated that we were conducting it in the first place – the majority of people from both sides felt they were being given a valuable opportunity to explore common ground in relation to the complexities and practicalities of assisted dying.”
2 March 2017
The government should replace its “deeply flawed and inaccurate” disability benefits assessments with an in-house system – based on the social model – that understands the barriers faced by Deaf and disabled people, according to a disabled people’s organisation.
Inclusion London said the government’s Improving Lives green paper on work, health and disability had missed the chance to base its social security policy on a social model approach and move away from one based on the “discredited” biopsychosocial model.
In its response to the government’s consultation on its green paper, Inclusion London calls on ministers to replace the assessment processes for both employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP).
It warns that Deaf and disabled people will be moved further from employment because of the green paper’s failure to reform the “failing” assessment systems, and reverse the imminent cuts to payments to new ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).
It calls on the government to halt its plans to cut the WRAG payments – due to be implemented next month – and instead carry out an independent review to assess what the impact of the cuts will be, including increased costs to the NHS and social care.
Otherwise, it warns, there is “a strong danger that serious harm could be done to disabled people and their families”.
Inclusion London says the green paper implies that if disabled people “are encouraged to think more positively about work and nudged to change their behaviour they will be able to successfully find and stay in employment, regardless of the effects of living with their impairment”.
But by “overplaying the effectiveness of coercive approaches”, it says, the government’s biopsychosocial approach will move Deaf and disabled people further from the labour market, and cause “considerable and unnecessary suffering”.
And it warns that continuing to target policy on cutting social security spending, regardless of the needs of Deaf and disabled people, will “ultimately waste resources while retrogressing our rights”.
It says the government has “overlooked” the “substantive” barriers to work caused by the lack of independent living support, cuts to mental health services, and “damaging” changes to the Access to Work (AtW) scheme, which have seen “a focus on reducing support”, hostile advisers and a new cap on high-cost packages.
It also warns that the failure to address the social care funding crisis – including the ongoing impact of the closure of the Independent Living Fund – will “unquestionably” lead to the government missing its target of halving the disability employment gap.
Among its recommendations is for the government to set up an independent living taskforce that would develop proposals for a national system of support that was independent of local authorities.
It calls for ministers to reverse the tightening of the eligibility criteria for the mobility component of PIP, which they cut from 50 metres to 20 metres.
And it calls on the Department for Work and Pensions to expand AtW, allowing it to be used by those carrying out voluntary work, and reverse the changes that have “undermined [its] effectiveness”.
Inclusion London also says it is “extremely concerned” about the “damaging effects of linking therapeutic interventions and treatment to employment outcomes”.
It says that both mental health professionals and service-users “have been vocal in their concerns about the dangers of co-locating job/work coaches in health or mental health treatment settings”, with the fear that disabled people will avoid seeking the treatment they need because of their fear of benefit cuts.
It also urges the government to scrap all benefits sanctions, or at least provide an exemption for all disabled people.
It provides 12 case studies from one of its member organisations of disabled people whose mental health has been harmed by discriminatory sanctions, or threats of sanctions, linked to being forced to use DWP’s Universal Jobmatch online job-searching service.
Instead of backing away from such sanctions, the green paper now threatens to impose “mandatory” requirements on those in the ESA support group.
Inclusion London says that any participation in work-focused activity offered to claimants in the support group “must be strictly voluntary”.
2 March 2017
The UK government will not be able to achieve its aim of halving the disability employment gap because of its failure to address the “crucial” issue of independent living, according to a national disabled people’s organisation.
In its response to the government’s Improving Lives green paper on work, health and disability, Disability Wales (DW) says it is “impossible to fathom how the disability employment gap will be halved without a recognition of the level of disadvantage and discrimination faced by disabled people in every area of life”.
This means addressing the availability of accessible housing, accessible transport, income security, and accessible education and skills training.
DW says that improving social care is “crucial”, with independent living “key” to enabling disabled people to work.
And it says that if the government is “genuine” about seeking to achieve equality for disabled people, it needs to reverse its cuts to disability benefits.
Rhian Davies, chief executive of DW – the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales – said: “We’ve heard horrific stories from disabled people who have been left without income after being found fit for work when they were still unwell; of lies in assessment reports and of people who have been pushed to total despair at being trapped in poverty with no power or support to make their lives better.
“These are real people and real lives and none of this disadvantage has been acknowledged or addressed by the DWP green paper.”
In its response to the green paper, her organisation says the government has taken a “somewhat confused medical model approach to disability” and has “side-lined and marginalised” the collective rights of disabled people by “framing disability as a health and well-being issue centred on the individual”.
The response offers seven key areas for action to improve access to employment for disabled people, including: a clearer route through the benefits system; the need for flexible working, including flexibility for self-employed disabled people; more information, advice and support for employers; and improved social care.
It calls for a “firmer link” between jobcentres, employers and the government’s Access to Work scheme, and for the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident scheme to be strengthened, “not only by independent assessment but also by more robust requirements around employers evidencing how they are disability confident”.
And it says that employer attitudes towards disabled people must change, with more done to raise awareness of rights in the workplace.
Another national disabled people’s organisation, Disability Rights UK (DR UK), has also submitted its response to the government’s green paper.
The DR UK response welcomes the government restating its commitment to halving the disability employment gap, and proposals for more “individually tailored” employment support, particularly around peer support schemes.
But it says the green paper is “not a coherent plan” and lacks measures focused on employers, such as forcing them to report on how many disabled people they employ, and commitments to make government departments and agencies “exemplars” in employing disabled people.
It also calls on the government to scrap the much-criticised work capability assessment “in its current form”, and adds: “The test fails to match people to support and the anxiety its unfairness creates may actually be making it less likely that people will ever work again.”
Among its suggestions, it says the government should commit to “a year on year improvement in the proportion of apprenticeships taken up by disabled people”.
And it demands an end to benefit sanctions, and the restoration of the cut – due next month – to employment and support allowance for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group.
It also calls for action on access to public transport, on accessible housing, and a recognition of the importance of social care.
The DR UK green paper response says the government cannot take a “neutral or indifferent stance when some media portray disabled people as unwelcome and unworthy recipients of benefits [and] guilty of being work-shy” because “prospective employers read these stories too”.
Instead, it says, the government needs to “tell a positive story on disability whereby disabled people are of service to themselves, their families, their employers, their community and our society”.
But it also says that the white paper that will follow the green paper “must tell a bigger story than the one about supporting or requiring disabled claimants or those with a long-term health condition to obtain or return to work.
“It must also cover how it is going to support them to be entrepreneurial, to be leaders, civically engaged, volunteers, inventors, business people, as well as employers.”
2 March 2017
A disabled woman is seeking a judicial review by the high court of the errors she says were made in dealing with her claim for personal independence payment (PIP), and which she believes put her life at risk.
Angela Kennedy, from Essex, says the errors by the Atos assessor, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the tribunal service led to her being denied the support she needed to stay safe and live independently over the last 18 months.
It comes as Disability News Service continues its investigation into claims of widespread dishonesty by PIP assessors working for both Capita and Atos on behalf of DWP.
Kennedy says the decision to deny her PIP claim meant: that she had to take redundancy from her job as a university sociology lecturer, partly because she could not afford to travel to work in central and west London without a blue parking badge; that she has suffered further injuries because of the lack of support; and that she has found it more difficult to care for her adult disabled daughter.
Since her PIP claim was rejected in 2015, the lack of financial support has led to three serious falls, which caused further serious impairment; multiple lesser falls, where she has still been hurt; and many other potentially dangerous “trips, slips and stumbles”.
Kennedy says the Atos paramedic who assessed her was guilty of “serious omissions and errors of fact and reasoning” in the report he compiled after a face-to-face assessment at her home in October 2015.
Among those omissions and errors were that he “played down” her impairments, failed to record that she had been suffering frequent falls for “some years”, despite being told this “at length” in the assessment, and omitted other “vital information” in his assessment report.
But she is also highly critical of the way that the first-tier social security tribunal dealt with her appeal against being denied PIP in September 2016.
She says the first-tier tribunal was openly “sceptical” and “hostile” to her during her appeal; failed to listen to her when she was reading her statement; repeatedly interrupted when she tried to answer their questions; and “almost constantly made facial expressions of contemptuous disbelief in response to the comprehensive answers I gave to their questions”.
She also claims that one of the tribunal members fell asleep when she was reading out her statement.
Last month, the upper tribunal denied her permission to appeal against the decision of the first-tier tribunal.
Now she is asking the high court to carry out a judicial review of the way that her case has been dealt with by Atos, DWP and the tribunal service.
Her application was due to be submitted by tomorrow (Friday).
Kennedy said: “Serious errors and omissions were made at all levels of the claims and appeals process.
“This application for judicial review therefore has important ramifications for the handling of other PIP claims.
“My case is particularly important because of the huge amount, intensity, and seriousness of all the errors of procedure, facts and reasoning that have been made.”
A spokesman for the Judicial Office declined to comment because the case was pending a possible judicial review.
2 March 2017
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com