Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officers who attend benefit appeal tribunals are being asked by their bosses how many high-level awards to disabled people they have been able to prevent.
DWP has finally released information that shows that the presenting officers (POs) it sends to personal independence payment (PIP) appeals must report back to their bosses afterwards on whether they persuaded the tribunal not to grant an enhanced PIP award.
The same applies for those sent to employment and support allowance (ESA) appeals, with POs having to tell their managers whether they persuaded the tribunal not to award the claimant eligibility for the ESA support group.
The information that POs have to provide to their managers after an ESA tribunal includes: “PO impact – Was SG award averted?” and for those attending PIP tribunals: “PO impact – was enhanced PIP award averted?”
The Collins dictionary definition of “avert” is “to turn away or aside” or “to ward off”, as in “to avert danger”, while Oxford Dictionaries, publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary, defines avert as “turn away” or “prevent or ward off (an undesirable occurrence)”.
The information came in response to a Disability News Service (DNS) freedom of information (foi) request that was submitted last September.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, yesterday (Wednesday) described DWP’s admission as “truly appalling”.
DNS has been in contact with a DWP civil servant working on the PIP “frontline” – who is also a former PIP case manager – who has warned that POs are being given the “target” of stopping enhanced PIP payments.
It was this civil servant who first told DNS last September that every PO had to tell their manager if they had prevented an enhanced PIP award when they returned from a tribunal appeal.
This has finally been confirmed this week by the foi response, which lists about 40 pieces of information that POs need to pass to their manager on their return from an appeal, including whether new evidence was produced, if the PO agreed with the tribunal’s decision, and whether they managed to “avert” a higher level award.
The DWP civil servant said: “That is not fair justice, nor the correct outcome.
“If the fair justice and correct outcome is any combination of Nil, Standard, Enhanced [the three levels of PIP eligibility], then the system should be working towards that.
“However, with Government trying to subvert justice by restricting enhanced payments, then it is something I must try and highlight and fight.”
He said this attempt to restrict enhanced payments was placing an “immoral pressure” on POs.
De Cordova said: “The idea that the ‘impact’ of DWP staff is being assessed on whether they managed to get ESA support group or enhanced PIP awards ‘averted’ is truly appalling.
“Presenting officers are supposed to be there to provide fair and balanced evidence of a claimant’s needs.
“In May last year, freedom of information requests revealed that the DWP was setting targets to reject 80 per cent of social security appeals at mandatory reconsideration.
“They clearly haven’t changed their approach.”
She added: “The whole system is broken: from assessments where, for example, only eight per cent of claimants think assessors understood their mental health, through to appeals where judges are overturning over 67 per cent of initial ESA and PIP decisions.
“Labour will scrap the current PIP and ESA assessments, bringing an end to the Conservatives’ failed, privatised assessment system.
“Instead of enforcing a culture of distrust and cost-cutting, we will work with disabled people to ensure that they have personalised, holistic support to live full and independent lives.”
It is the latest in a series of damning revelations about PIP, which continued earlier this month with three DNS reports based on data released to campaigner John Slater by DWP, again under the Freedom of Information Act.
That data revealed “devastating” proof of the “shocking” performance of DWP contractors Capita and Atos in delivering PIP assessments during 2016.
Over the last year, DNS has also heard from about 300 PIP claimants who have described their experiences of dishonest PIP assessors from Capita and Atos.
Slater said: “Surely the only concern for POs or any civil servant within the DWP is that a claimant gets the social security benefits they are entitled to, paid at the appropriate rate for their specific circumstances.
“People’s behaviour changes to meet the targets/measures that they believe they are being monitored against.
“If POs specifically have to report about enhanced PIP or ESA support group being awarded, then any reasonable person must conclude that the DWP sees it as their job to stop that happening.
“The obvious risk is the POs will do things that break the rules/law to achieve their targets.”
Information published by DWP states that the role of a PO is both to present the department’s case, but also to “draw the [first tier tribunal’s] attention to new points in the appellant’s favour”.
The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said last November that DWP was “recruiting, training and deploying” about 150 POs to attend PIP and ESA tribunals “in order to present the Secretary of State’s case and support the First tier Tribunal in arriving at the right decision”.
Instead of providing balanced information that is fair to the claimant, the department’s freedom of information response appears to show that POs are being told to prevent as many enhanced awards as they can for PIP and ESA.
A DWP spokeswoman declined to say whether Newton was aware that her department appeared to be breaching both the spirit and the letter of the law on ESA and PIP; what action Newton would take; and how she responded to the comments from one of her own civil servants.
But in a statement, she said: “The role of the presenting officer (PO) is to present at first tier tribunal (FtT) hearings and support the FtT in making the right decision.
“At the tribunal the PO is able to set out why the department has reached the decision it has based on the evidence supplied to date.
“Frequently more evidence is supplied on the day of the tribunal, and by having a PO in attendance the department is able to consider this new evidence alongside the tribunal and, if appropriate, change the original decision.
“A PO is not there to prevent an award being changed, but to ensure that the award is correct.
“For example, judges have recently commented on the improved appeal responses, which are more personalised and better focused on areas such as mobilising descriptors.
“We have improved our feedback processes and in many cases our POs have actively supported people to increase their awards when further evidence is presented at Tribunal. This includes applying new descriptors in favour of the claimant.
“At a recent tribunal, a PO was able to point out that case law had changed in the favour of the claimant, and this resulted in the judge and PO jointly agreeing on an increased award.
“This demonstrates our commitment to law and instructions whilst understanding the complex needs of some of our customers.
“In addition to making sure the right entitlement of benefit is awarded, the PO is also able to provide valuable feedback on why a decision may have changed.
“This is fed back to decision makers and forms part of any improvements we can make to our processes.”
DNS has now submitted a fresh freedom of information request to ask DWP whether the number of enhanced and support group awards that POs prevent affects any bonuses they receive.
22 February 2018
A council has been forced to launch an inquiry into the death of a terminally-ill disabled woman, after a public meeting heard how all her personal care had suddenly been withdrawn just a few days before she died.
Portsmouth City Council was shamed into acting after councillors heard how 18 different care agencies withdrew their services from Anne Savidge on 10 December, because of claims that she had been verbally abusive to care workers.
In the following few days, the council appears to have abandoned her without any back-up personal care.
Although Savidge, who had no close relatives, continued to receive healthcare treatment from a district nurse, all the council-funded help she had been receiving with washing, dressing and toileting, and support with food and medication, was withdrawn.
Just six days later, she was rushed to hospital, where she died on 21 December.
The council was confronted with its apparent failings at a public meeting last week by disabled sailor Geoff Holt, a close friend of Savidge, who described her ordeal to city councillors.
Holt has since shown Disability News Service (DNS) an email sent to him by the council’s chief executive, David Williams, two days after his friend’s care was withdrawn and just nine days before she died.
In the email, Williams says that while the council was seeking to resolve the situation, “we cannot always guarantee meeting residents [sic] expectations”.
Williams is now commissioning the inquiry into Savidge’s death, and a spokeswoman for the council has so far failed to explain how that would be appropriate when Holt believes that the chief executive’s actions, and the email he sent, should be a key part of the investigation.
In his presentation to the council, which was discussing its budget for the next financial year, Holt described to councillors how Savidge, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer last October, suddenly had her personal care cut off in December.
He described his friend, who he had known for five years, as “cantankerous, often short-tempered, considered by some to be rude”, but he said she had been given less than a year to live and was “in terrible pain and frightened”.
He said that all 18 care agencies that were contracted to deliver council-funded services in Portsmouth had suddenly withdrawn those services from Savidge, even though she had been assessed by the council as needing two-and-a-half hours of care a day.
DNS has seen an email from a council employee that appears to confirm these facts.
Savidge continued to receive healthcare from a district nurse, who dressed her tumour wound, but no personal care.
Holt said he had received numerous emails and text messages from his friend, begging him for help in the days before she was admitted to hospital.
He and his wife, who lived six miles away, had provided some emergency personal care – even though his wife was recovering from a shoulder operation and he is paraplegic – and Holt had written “in desperation” to the council, her GP, Solent NHS Trust, and to Savidge’s MP, Stephen Morgan, warning them that her life was in danger.
He said: “I was in disbelief Portsmouth City Council had no plan B to provide care.
“Anne sat there, mostly in her wheelchair, for five days, in pain, her bladder tumour now oozing blood on her clothes, no food, frightened to drink because she would wet herself, not even having her hands and face washed.
“She was dehydrated through not drinking, she was toxic with drugs, including morphine, not to mention the toxicity of her cancer.”
He added: “Of course it is not OK to shout or be rude at care workers. But Anne was never physically violent or abusive. And she always said sorry.
“She was dying, she was frightened, she was in pain, she was alone with reduced mental capacity, and she had no one to even come in and fulfil her basic care needs.”
Holt also told the council that an independence support assistant from the council had brought her a leaflet explaining how she could sell her property to pay for residential care.
He told DNS this week that he believed his friend had previously turned down a council suggestion that she move into residential care.
By 12 December, he said, there had been “washing-up growing mould in the sink and soiled clothing and bedding cluttering up her home” and his friend had not washed for days.
Three days later, her GP visited and said she needed to be admitted to the oncology ward at Queen Alexandra Hospital.
Holt told the council meeting: “Adult Services were off the hook, she was no longer a social problem.”
She was admitted to hospital the next morning and died five days later.
Holt told the council that he was convinced that the lack of care “exacerbated and accelerated” the decline in her health.
He added: “I am in no doubt whatsoever Anne’s lack of care over that period was to blame.
“I would go further, I would say it was negligence and I would call upon this council to launch an enquiry into Anne’s death.”
Cllr Donna Jones, leader of the Conservative-led council, immediately agreed that the council should investigate the death.
Holt told DNS that he wanted answers to two questions: how 18 agencies could suddenly withdraw their services from a terminally-ill disabled woman; and why the council did not appear to have had a back-up plan or “safety net” when that happened.
He said he had felt that he owed it to his friend to highlight her case after she died.
He said: “I felt she was let down by the system. We had different disabilities, but I know how much care is important to me and I know the knife-edge that people with disabilities live on with their care.”
Morgan told DNS that he had replied to Holt’s letter and asked if there was anything he could do to help, but by the time he replied she had been admitted to hospital.
The Portsmouth South MP said the claims were “shocking” and added: “I am fully in support of an inquiry into what happened and what lessons can be learned by the city council and other partners.”
He said he did not know much more about the “incredibly tragic incident” than the details passed by Holt to councillors at last week’s meeting.
He said: “As I understand it, 18 different agencies had declined support. It is a concern to me if that is the case. I have said we need a full inquiry.”
Morgan said it was too early to know if Savidge’s death was connected in any way to the country’s social care funding crisis.
But he said: “As a new MP I have been pushing for increased funding for social care in the city and I am really concerned about its future.”
He has been in contact with Portsmouth Disability Forum and is arranging a focus group with disabled people to discover their concerns, including whether they are worried about social care in the city.
A council spokeswoman said in a statement: “At the meeting of full council on Tuesday 13 February 2018, it was agreed that an investigation into the care received by Anne Savidge should take place.
“Cllr Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, has asked David Williams, chief executive, to set up an investigation which will be reported back to members of the city council.
“It would be inappropriate to comment until this investigation is complete and the findings have been published.”
She added later: “David Williams has been mandated to commission an appropriate investigation into the circumstances of this case.
“The organisation or individual appointed will decide the scope of the investigation and will actually deliver the work involved.”
Solent NHS Trust confirmed today (Thursday) that Anne Savidge had been one of its patients.
A spokesman added: “It is inappropriate for us to comment until the investigation is complete and the findings have been published.
“For now, we can only add that we are fully cooperating with the Portsmouth City Council-led investigation.”
22 February 2018
A Tory peer has accused work and pensions secretary Esther McVey of making a series of untrue statements about the Motability car scheme to fellow MPs.
Lord Sterling, who co-founded Motability in 1977, has told McVey in a letter that he found the “litany of inaccuracies” in the comments made by her and fellow MPs in a debate earlier this month to be “deeply troubling”.
Only last month, Disability News Service reported how McVey had been appointed as the new work and pensions secretary despite previously being repeatedly shamed in 2013 for misleading fellow MPs and the public about the impact of her policies on disabled people.
Lord Sterling’s letter also reveals that of 180,000 Motability customers who were previously claiming disability living allowance (DLA) and have so far been reassessed for the new personal independence payment (PIP), about 75,000 have lost eligibility to remain on the scheme and have had to return their cars, because of decisions by McVey’s department.
The Commons debate on 8 February followed an urgent question asked by the Labour MP John Mann about claims in the Daily Mail newspaper concerning the £2.4 billion in reserves held by the company that runs the scheme – Motability Operations (MO) – and the £1.7 million pay and bonuses package of MO’s chief executive, Mike Betts.
But Lord Sterling told McVey in his letter that the debate had been “deeply flawed and misleading”, with some of the errors relating to claims by Mann that the charity itself was holding the reserves and running the scheme, and that Betts was employed by the charity.
The Tory peer pointed out that the Motability scheme was delivered by MO under contract to the Motability charity*, rather than by the charity itself.
But he also told McVey – a separate letter aimed at correcting the “many false statements” made in the debate was sent to her by Motability Operations – that she herself had made four serious errors.
The first, he said, was that she had called for the charity’s trustees to be “held to account” after another MP told how a constituent who had been a lifetime recipient of DLA had been threatened with having her Motability vehicle removed on Boxing Day.
But this was a result of a PIP reassessment – carried out by McVey’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – which had found the constituent was no longer eligible for the higher rate of mobility support, and therefore no longer eligible to lease a car through the Motability scheme.
Lord Sterling pointed out in his letter that PIP assessments were the responsibility of McVey’s department and that it was DWP’s decision to remove her eligibility.
He then highlighted McVey’s claim in the debate that it had been her intervention as minister for disabled people in 2013 that led to Motability agreeing to pass £175 million** to former DLA claimants who lost their Motability vehicles in the reassessment programme.
Lord Sterling said that minutes of the charity’s meetings showed that its own trustees had made this decision themselves the previous year because they had “felt a moral obligation to help people at risk of losing cars due to government policy changes”.
He said they had already decided by December 2012, months before McVey’s intervention, “to provide a package of significant financial support and other assistance”.
And he said that McVey had even suggested in 2013 that this support should only be focused on the initial stage of reassessments, up to 2015-16, whereas Motability’s trustees wanted to provide financial support “over the full period of the DWP’s reassessments”.
The Tory peer told her that the charity had had to cope with the loss of about 75,000 customers through PIP reassessment, many of whom were “confused, distressed and even suicidal, as they worry about losing their mobility”.
Lord Sterling also said that McVey was wrong when she said that DWP would use money regained from Motability to help constituents whose cars had been removed before their PIP appeals had been heard.
She had told MPs: “When we have got the money back from Motability that we believe we should to support disabled people, that is one of the first things it should be used for.”
Lord Sterling said this was wrong because there was “no basis on which the government can demand any money to be handed over”.
He also said that McVey had been wrong when she claimed that the charity was piloting a scheme – “after direction from the department” – to help disabled children under the age of three, when the scheme was actually being piloted by MO and there had been “no direction” from DWP.
A DWP spokeswoman refused to say if McVey would be apologising for the “inaccuracies” in her statements to MPs.
But she said: “When PIP was first introduced, the government worked with Motability to design an extensive £175 million transitional support package to support Motability customers who have not been awarded the enhanced mobility component on reassessment from DLA to PIP.
“While the department works closely with Motability, it is an independent charitable organisation and therefore we are not directly involved in determining scheme policy or operational issues.”
Motability revealed this week that the number of its customers had fallen to 628,000 by December 2017, a drop of 5,000 since March 2017.
Although it has lost about 75,000 customers through reassessment, the rollout of PIP has also opened eligibility to more disabled people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.
Meanwhile, despite McVey’s calls in the debate for the Charity Commission to carry out another review of the financial relationship between the charity and Motability Operations, following one it carried out last year, the commission has said this week that it has no new concerns.
It said in a statement: “In light of media reporting about the Motability scheme, we reviewed the highlighted issues to see if there was anything we had not investigated as part of our previous regulatory compliance case in Motability… which was under our jurisdiction as regulator of charities in England and Wales.
“Having reviewed the latest information in the media we have concluded that, as set out in our statement on 8 February, there are no new concerns that come under the commission’s jurisdiction.”
*The Motability charity is a DNS subscriber
**The £175 million came from a series of donations from Motability Operations to Motability during 2014 and 2015. Motability says it has so far paid out about £100 million, usually in sums of £2,000 to “departing customers”, as well as allowing customers to retain their cars for longer periods after losing their PIP eligibility and providing them with other advice and support. It is not yet sure whether it will spend “slightly more or less” than £175 million in total but plans to continue providing this support until the end of the reassessment programme, which is likely to be in 2020.
22 February 2018
Government ministers are facing criticism after organising a “round table” event on the future of working-age social care without inviting any disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to attend.
The failure to invite DPOs emerged after the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell had asked the government to extend the scope of its green paper on older people’s social care to include working-age disabled people with care needs.
The green paper was announced in November, but it frustrated campaigners when the government revealed that it would examine the care needs of older people, while “a parallel programme of work” would look at working-age disabled people.
Baroness Campbell told fellow peers this week that the “proposed parallel process” was “simply not acceptable when half of social care spending now goes on working-age disabled people”, a concern she raised this week through the website PoliticsHome.
She said: “Please will the minister confirm that both older and younger disabled people will receive parity of status and attention from the government?”
But the junior health and social care minister Lord O’Shaughnessy said only that “a parallel programme of work is going on” and that the government was “giving the issue equal seriousness, as it deserves”.
And he said that the care minister, Caroline Dinenage, would soon be co-chairing an “important” round table “with Mencap, Scope and others”.
It was only when the Conservative peer Lord Cormack suggested that Baroness Campbell should be invited to join the round table that Lord O’Shaughnessy said he would “do everything that I can to encourage” Dinenage to invite her.
Baroness Campbell later said on Twitter: “Pleased my friend on the Conservative bench requested I get invited to the round table on the future of social care [but there will be] no DPO represented!!”
She told Disability News Service this morning (Thursday): “I am deeply worried about the lack of focus on younger disabled people in social care, so want to keep the pressure up on government to do something about this.”
She said she was pleased that Lord Cormack had asked for her to be invited to join the round table.
She added: “If I do, I can then insist DPOs are centrally involved. We must demand the government do this now, at the start and not as an afterthought or placatory one-off round table.”
Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “I am grateful to Baroness Campbell for asking the question which I think gets to the heart of what is wrong with the current debate, or should I say non-debate, about social care.
“It seems extraordinary that government should virtually ignore the group of people, younger disabled people, who account for 51 per cent of the annual spend on social care.
“It really is not an adequate response to say ‘yes, but we are having a little roundtable’ and to add insult to injury, not involve disabled people or our organisations.
“It suggests that for government it’s just about the money: how much money can they get away with taking from older people and leave younger disabled people to keep paying for their social care from their benefits.”
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokeswoman refused to confirm that no DPO had been invited to the round table, or say when it was taking place, or even confirm if Baroness Campbell would now be added to the list of attendees.
But she said that the round table would discuss the priorities for the “parallel work stream on working age adults with care needs”, which is being jointly led by DHSC and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
She said in a statement: “The government is currently developing plans for engaging stakeholders in the work on working age adults with care needs that is running in parallel to the social care green paper.
“We will ensure that the views of a range of people who use social care services, including adults with disabilities, closely informs this work as it progresses.”
Labour’s health spokeswoman in the Lords, Baroness Thornton, had told fellow peers during the short debate that she agreed with Baroness Campbell’s concerns about working-age people.
She said that evidence of a social care crisis was in “the regression of opportunity and care for young disabled people, which is there to see in personal cases where people are not receiving the sort of support that they need”.
She said: “Will the minister explain how the government will achieve their target of one million more disabled people being in work by 2027 if they cannot get out of bed and travel to work without help because of this combination of cuts and the stalling of a coherent support policy to make that possible?”
Lord O’Shaughnessy said more disabled people were finding work, while DHSC had increased spending on the disabled facilities grant.
He said: “That is about making sure that disabled people can live at home and have their independence, which of course is critical to maintaining their physical health and confidence to make them, in a way, ready to go into work.”
22 February 2018
Campaigners are calling on the government to scrap a policy that prevents disabled people with complex healthcare needs receiving the benefits they need to stay mobile if they are living in residential homes.
Little-known regulations apparently state that recipients of NHS Continuing Healthcare (NHS CHC) are not eligible to receive the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP) if they are receiving residential care.
But those who receive NHS CHC and continue to live at home are potentially eligible for both the PIP mobility component and the daily living part of the benefit. Those in residential care who receive council-funded care are potentially eligible for just the mobility part of PIP*.
The controversy emerged this week after friends of children’s author Andrew Knowlman, from Hertfordshire, launched a petition calling on the government to reverse “discriminatory” rules which meant he had been told he would have to return his Motability van.
Knowlman, who has motor neurone disease, has been living in residential care since August 2016, but has only recently been told that he had in fact not been eligible for PIP mobility since he began receiving NHS CHC and moved into the home in Hemel Hempstead.
He was told that he would therefore have to return the minivan he has been leasing through the Motability scheme.
He told the i newspaper: “It is the only way to watch my children ride their bikes, play golf and music, watch Watford FC and travel easily to hospital appointments.
“Although I have a terminal illness, in no way do I see my life as being over. I am a dad to my children and I need the Motability vehicle to enable me to be just that. This is a very distressing situation.”
Knowlman was only told this week, after his case was raised by i, that he would be allowed to keep his Motability vehicle.
A petition calling for the government to change the regulations had been signed by more than 35,000 people by last night (Wednesday).
Knowlman told Disability News Service that there was “no logic” to the rules.
He said: “The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) say that I am not entitled to mobility component of PIP because I live in a care home and have NHS continuing healthcare funding.
“Motability have now said that I can keep the van until further notice. This is a gesture by Motability, and I therefore continue to speak with the minister about changing the rules regarding PIP entitlement.”
Disabled campaigner Fleur Perry, who has previously raised serious concerns about policies surrounding NHS CHC, said: “I’ve never seen a continuing healthcare policy which specifies that the mobility component of PIP should be taken away, and it’s not something I’m aware of within the rules around PIP.
“If this is current policy, then there are discussions to be had around equality and around personal liberty.
“As someone who lives independently with care funded by continuing healthcare and who uses a Motability vehicle to get, well, everywhere, this is very worrying.”
A Motability spokeswoman said: “As you will appreciate, we do not always know the details of a customer’s circumstances etc, but we will support their mobility if we know that they are in hospital.
“We are working closely with DWP to ensure that we have the relevant information in all cases to enable us to do so.
“As soon as we were made aware of Mr Knowlman’s specific case details, we contacted his family to assure them that, in line with our hospitalisation policy, he can keep his vehicle for as long as he is in hospital or receiving similar continuing healthcare provided by the NHS which causes his mobility allowance to be suspended or stopped by the DWP.”
She said that DWP usually stops paying PIP mobility to the Motability scheme if a customer has been in this situation for more than 28 days.
But she said: “Depending on the expected length of stay and the customer’s preferences, we will discuss the options that are available, and in most cases, we will be able to leave the car with the customer during their stay or until the end of the lease agreement.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “Local authorities aren’t funded to meet mobility needs in a care home, and residents may be asked to provide a financial contribution.
“However, this is not the case for NHS Continuing Healthcare, where the assessment itself assesses mobility needs and residents do not have to make any financial contribution towards their stay.”
She added: “People receiving NHS Continuing Healthcare in their own homes can continue to be paid PIP, because their additional costs may be wider than those paid for in a care home and won’t be met by the NHS, eg additional heating.
“Under these circumstances claimants can therefore maintain eligibility for this support. The same policy applies to disability living allowance.
“Motability’s policy is to look at the individual circumstances of each case to assess whether they should recover the vehicle immediately or whether there are special circumstances which would allow for the vehicle to be retained if that is the best solution for the claimant and/or their family.
“Andrew Knowlman has been informed by Motability that he is able to keep his vehicle.”
*This article originally stated that those receiving NHS CHC who continue to live at home are not able to claim the daily living part of PIP. That was incorrect. They are potentially eligible for both mobility and daily living elements of PIP.
22 February 2018
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing claims that it has been running a discriminatory benefit sanctions regime, following the publication of new research.
Academic Ben Baumberg Geiger has found that more than 900,000 disabled claimants of the mainstream out-of-work benefit jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) have been sanctioned since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in May 2010.
But he also found that disabled people claiming JSA were between 26 and 53 per cent more likely to be sanctioned than non-disabled claimants between 2010 and 2014.
JSA claimants can lose all their benefits for between four weeks and three years if they breach strict conditions.
In all, more than one million disabled people on JSA and employment and support allowance (ESA) have been sanctioned since 2010, he says, along with a further 200,000 in the two years before that, under the Labour government.
The report, A Better WCA is Possible – produced in collaboration with the think-tank Demos – focuses on the work capability assessment (WCA), which tests eligibility for ESA, the out-of-work disability benefit.
The section on sanctions concludes: “Disabled people and frontline welfare-to-work providers alike are already worried that disabled people are being sanctioned unfairly, and this chapter has presented further evidence that they are right: disabled JSA claimants are more rather than less likely to be sanctioned than non-disabled JSA claimants.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday) that the report’s findings highlighted its “ongoing concerns” that the social security system was failing to help disabled people into work, and to support them when they cannot work.
Disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale, a member of the Spartacus online network, who wrote a well-received review in 2014 on the failure of the ESA system to increase the number of disabled people in paid work, welcomed the new report.
And she called for disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to use the Equality Act to “fight this devastating tide of harassment and persecution”.
Her report in 2014 found the government’s regime of conditionality and sanctions had “left participants in the WRAG [those disabled claimants assessed as not yet capable of work, but able to carry out some work-related activity] fearful, demoralised, and further away from achieving their work-related goals or participating in society than when they started”.
A survey she carried out for her report showed Jobcentre Plus advisers were “systemically failing to account for disability and impairment when setting compulsory work related activity”.
She said this week that the WCA was “a deeply flawed method of measuring work capability so many people with reduced work capability will be on JSA and the [Baumberg Geiger] figures showing the extent of sanctions amongst disabled JSA claimants are truly alarming.
“But my survey showed that even when limited capability for work is identified in the WCA, Jobcentre Plus or Work Programme advisers were ignoring it and were not even consulting a claimant’s WCA report.
“Jobcentre Plus and their private contractors have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to make their employment support services accessible to disabled people.
“This means if the conditions set are not compatible with a person’s capabilities and if adjustments are not made they are guilty of discrimination in the eyes of the law.
“I learned the importance of this slowly through personal experience in the work-related activity group (WRAG).
“When I wrote to Jobcentre Plus asking for cab fares to be reimbursed and a quiet room to lie down, because that was the only way I could attend compulsory employability workshops, my letters went unanswered and my benefits were sanctioned for not attending the workshops.
“Only when I wrote again pointing out their duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act, and took steps to sue them for discrimination for failing to make these adjustments, did the harassment of conditionality finally stop.”
An EHRC spokeswoman said: “These findings underscore ongoing concerns that the social security system designed to help disabled people into work, and support them when they cannot work, is failing.
“We, alongside the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, raised concerns around conditionality and sanctions in 2017.
“We repeat our calls for the UK government to produce a comprehensive action plan to implement the UN committee’s recommendations across the UK, and to reform the work capability assessment to offer a more flexible, personalised approach.”
A DWP spokeswoman refused to say if the department had examined Baumberg Geiger’s findings on sanctions; whether it was concerned about them; and whether it agreed that they showed the sanctions regime was discriminating against disabled people.
But she said in a statement: “We know that for people with a disability or health condition they may face additional challenges when trying to look for work, so our work coaches support people to agree tailored work search activity which is suitable for them.
“Sanctions are used in a minority of cases – only two per cent of JSA claimants and one per cent of ESA claimants are undergoing a sanction at any one time.
“They are only applied when someone has failed to meet the requirements without good reason and we give people every opportunity to explain why they haven’t met the requirements before any decision is made.”
Polling of members of the public for Baumberg Geiger’s report showed that a majority thought disabled people’s benefits should be cut if they do not take a job they can do, but they were less supportive of sanctioning for minor non-compliance, such as sometimes turning up late for meetings.
Even those who do support sanctions prefer much weaker versions than those the government presently uses, says Baumberg Geiger, a senior lecturer in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent.
His report calls on the government to reduce the extent of the benefit conditions imposed on disabled people and improve safeguards to ensure they are not “unfairly sanctioned for failing to meet impossible conditions”.
Baumberg Geiger concludes that the WCA, which was introduced in 2008, “has been such a failure that some people have lost faith that it is even possible to have a disability assessment that is either popular or deliverable”.
But he sets out a series of recommendations that he believes would “make the WCA be better trusted by the public, to seem fairer by those claiming benefits, and to be more accurate in practice”.
22 February 2018
Businesses are responding to high-profile environmental campaigns to stop using plastic straws without considering the needs of disabled people, disability rights activists have warned.
The Scottish user-led political campaign group One in Five fears that “knee-jerk” promises to ditch single-use plastic before sourcing accessible alternatives risk isolating disabled customers and damaging their ability to live independently.
One in Five’s Pam Duncan-Glancy and Jamie Szymkowiak have written to the SNP MSP Kate Forbes, asking her to pause her Final Straw campaign – which calls for a crackdown on single-use plastic straws – until it can provide suitable advice to the organisations it is targeting.
One in Five has pointed out that most paper and plant-based straws are not flexible or suitable for hot drinks, and therefore increase the risk of choking when the straw becomes soggy or starts to disintegrate.
And they say that metal straws can be dangerous for people with neurological conditions, while reusable plastic straws cause hygiene concerns for people with certain health conditions.
One in Five has contacted 10 organisations known to have committed to phasing out the use of plastic straws – including sports venues, cinema and restaurant chains and transport providers – and none of them were able to say whether their alternative straw would be suitable for disabled customers.
Four of those organisations have since committed to keeping some plastic straws available until they can source a suitable, accessible alternative.
Szymkowiak told DNS: “Businesses are understandably reacting to the environmental concerns around single-use plastics – and we share those concerns.
“Nonetheless, knee-jerk reactions risk isolating disabled customers as our needs become an afterthought as is shown by the number of companies we’ve contacted who said they didn’t initially think about the repercussions.
“It is services disabled people use every day: trains, ferries, cafes, cinemas, sporting venues – all removing straws without thinking about the needs of disabled people.
“If you support the social model of disability, why should the cost and responsibility be passed on to disabled people?
“Instead, we should all be pushing manufacturers to produce a biodegradable flexible straw that is suitable for hot and cold drinks – that everyone can use.”
In her reply to the One in Five letter, Forbes says she had “always made clear that alternatives must be readily and easily available” and that “no change should put greater burdens on people with disabilities or those who need to use straws”.
Although One in Five welcomed her quick response to its concerns, it still wants her to pause the campaign, because it believes organisations are not hearing her plea on alternatives for disabled people.
It wants other similar campaigns to take the same action.
Forbes has so far declined to call for a pause in her campaign.
One in Five has welcomed the decision of Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish government’s cabinet secretary for the environment, to appoint a disability adviser to the expert panel she is setting up that will advise on reducing single-use plastic items.
It hopes that this panel will be able to provide the advice and support that businesses need on sourcing alternatives that are suitable for disabled customers.
But Szymkowiak also points out that the decision to appoint a disability adviser to the panel was only made after a series of tweets by disabled activist Fiona Robertson.
He said this highlights the need for more disabled people to be involved in politics so they can influence the development of government policies.
Cunningham told MSPs earlier this month that there were “legitimate concerns from disabled people which we must all hear and pay heed to” when acting to address concerns over the use and waste of plastic.
Forbes told DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that she would write to Cunningham to ask that her disability advisor looks at alternatives to plastic straws before any ban is implemented, but she has suggested that she is unable to call a halt to her campaign.
Forbes said that such a pause was “not within my gift because this campaign is much bigger than me”.
She added: “I have offered to meet with any disability groups, such as One in Five, to discuss this further because the issues are very important.
“The campaign to ditch plastic straws is much, much bigger than me or the Final Straw campaign.
“It is being driven by primary school children, newspapers and businesses’ initiatives.
“I cannot dictate what does or does not happen, but I do want to make sure that people who need plastic straws shape government legislation and business plans.”
One in Five is now planning a series of blogs to raise the profile of the issue, alongside a social media campaign to encourage manufacturers to produce an environmentally-friendly straw that is “suitable for everyone”.
It has already received support from disabled people across the UK, and as far afield as California.
Duncan-Glancy said: “Protecting the environment is essential if we are to create the world we want for future generations.
“Action to do this is necessary. However, as with all policy decisions, we must consider the impact of them on different groups, including disabled people.”
Szymkowiak added: “To those campaigning to ditch plastic straws, all we ask is that you think of the needs of disabled people and work with us to push manufacturers to produce an environmentally-friendly straw that is suitable for everyone.”
22 February 2018
Disabled campaigners are seeking to persuade the Welsh government to introduce a new scheme that would see service-providers displaying stickers that show how accessible they are.
Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People (BCDP) wants shops, restaurants, transport providers, pubs and other service-providers to display a certificate which would show how well they are rated on access, on a scale from zero to five.
It would work in a similar way to the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, which is run by local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a similar scheme in Scotland.
One idea is to have a rating for overall access, with symbols on the sticker also showing whether the organisation caters for people with particular impairments, such as logos for a hearing loop, a large print menu, autism awareness, a wheelchair-accessible toilet, and changing facilities.
BCDP hopes that businesses that secure high ratings under such a scheme would persuade their competitors to improve their own access.
The scheme would be voluntary at first, but BCDP hopes it would eventually become compulsory.
The coalition also plans to provide booklets that offer advice on how organisations can make their premises more accessible, such as information on where to buy a hearing loop and how to get a Braille menu printed.
Simon Green, chair of BCDP, told Disability News Service: “We would be delighted if this scheme proved a success in Wales and was taken up across the UK.
“We feel the scheme would be of huge benefit to disabled people everywhere and encourage business owners to improve access.
“I am currently in London and think many areas of the capital need this to happen more than in Wales and it angers me how many large, well-known chain restaurants, coffee shops and fast food outlets, etc, have poor accessibility and it is long overdue that something was done about this.”
Green said he did not believe the Equality Act was protecting disabled people from discrimination.
He said: “The old Disability Discrimination Act and current Equality Act state places have to make a reasonable effort to be accessible, but it is obvious that this is not happening.
“Managers are saying ‘we have done our best’ or state that it would cost them too much money.
“While we are sure in some cases this is correct, often I feel this is just an excuse.”
He added: “I have come across premises in South Wales that have had complete refurbishments and made themselves even less accessible that they were before, putting in unnecessary steps and not providing accessible toilets.
“Also, often there are only small alterations needed like slightly widening an aisle or purchasing a temporary ramp and this idea will hopefully encourage premises to put these in place.
“Even if premises cannot improve wheelchair access, we do not see a reason why they can’t do more to assist those with sensory or learning impairments, for example purchasing a Braille or large print menu, installing hearing loops, staff taking disability equality training, and so on.
“If premises had to display an accessibility score on the front of the building we think they’d be far more likely to make the extra effort.”
An online petition calling on the Welsh government to introduce an access certificate scheme has so far secured about 2,000 signatures, while the coalition is also collecting many signatures through paper petitions across the country.
The coalition says on the petition: “Since the introduction of the food hygiene certificate we believe food standards have vastly improved and premises with a high number use the certificate with pride.
“We believe premises will make a bigger effort to improve access and services for the disabled community if a similar certificate was introduced for access.”
Green is confident the petition will secure 5,000 signatures by the end of March, which would guarantee a formal response from the Welsh government and a full debate in the Welsh assembly.
The response from assembly members has already been encouraging, with the Conservative assembly member Suzy Davies securing a short debate on the subject last month.
Davies told fellow assembly members: “I think interest in this scheme is further evidence that society is becoming more accepting, whether consciously or not, of the social model of disability, that disability is a feature of how society is organised, rather than an impairment that just has to be lived with.”
She said such a scheme would be “a nudge towards… positive social change” and would be about “normalising the expectation of access to all, about it being surprising if buildings are closed off to groups of people with a particular disability, and about this being an everyday consideration for everyone, from the town planner to the architect, from the HR department to the union rep.
“I think that’s quite a lot of value for money from a few stickers.”
Vaughan Gething, Labour’s cabinet secretary for health and social services, said in response to Davies that “in principle, the idea does have some merit, and I welcome suggestions about practicalities and how such a scheme could work”.
22 February 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com