DWP sanctions system discriminated against disabled people for a decade, figures show

The government’s mainstream benefit sanctions regime has been discriminating against disabled people throughout nearly the whole of the last decade, according to new figures secured by Disability News Service (DNS).

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, obtained through a freedom of information request, show that disabled people claiming the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) were more likely to have their benefits sanctioned than non-disabled people in all but two years.

The figures show this has been true for every year from 2009 to 2018, except for 2017 and 2018 when the figures for disabled and non-disabled JSA claimants were almost identical.

They provide further evidence for the call in the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition for DWP to be declared institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose*.

The DNS research builds on work by the academic Ben Baumberg Geiger, from the University of Kent, which was published in February 2018 and reported figures for 2010 to 2014.

It has taken DNS nearly 18 months to secure the necessary data from DWP – which has repeatedly breached its legal obligations to provide the information – to show whether the discrimination continued after 2014.

The figures show that, when the JSA sanctions system was at its most discriminatory – in 2009 and 2013 – disabled people claiming jobseeker’s allowance were about 50 per cent more likely (2009) and a third more likely (2013) to have their benefits sanctioned than non-disabled people claiming the same benefit.

The figures take a snapshot of how many disabled and non-disabled JSA claimants were sanctioned in one month – May – for every year and compare that with how many disabled and non-disabled people were claiming JSA in that month, using figures provided by DWP through the freedom of information request.

When DWP’s sanctioning regime was at its most extreme, in 2013, more than seven per cent of disabled people claiming JSA were sanctioned in May of that year, compared with more than five per cent of non-disabled JSA claimants.

In May 2013, more than 21,000 disabled people (21,526) claiming JSA had their benefits sanctioned for breaching conditions laid down by DWP.

But even in 2018, when far fewer JSA claimants were being sanctioned, a disabled JSA claimant was still almost as likely to be sanctioned (0.41 per cent) as a non-disabled claimant (0.45 per cent).

A DWP spokesperson did not dispute the DNS figures, but he said that DWP did not accept that the evidence showed the department was institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose.

He also pointed out that the figures were drawn from “an amalgamation of two different sources”.

He said: “Since 2012, of all decisions that have been referred to a decision maker, disabled claimants are less likely to get an adverse sanction decision imposed, compared to non-disabled claimants.

“Furthermore, the likelihood of the outcome of a sanction referral being adverse [a recommendation that a claimant should be sanctioned being confirmed by DWP] is lower for disabled claimants than non-disabled claimants.”

He added: “It is completely untrue to say that sanctions are applied more harshly to disabled people.

“In fact those with a severe disability or health condition, who are not required to seek work, are not subject to sanctions at all.

“Sanctions are only ever used where a claimant has failed to meet their agreed obligations without good reason, and any obligations will vary depending on an individual claimant’s circumstances.

“The latest figures show that universal credit sanctions have fallen to the lowest rate on record, affecting fewer than three per cent of claimants who are subject to obligations for their benefits.”

Although the DWP figures are important in showing how the department appeared to repeatedly discriminate against disabled people for nearly a decade, there are now crucial concerns over its failure to show how many disabled claimants of the new universal credit, which is gradually replacing JSA for most people, are being sanctioned.

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), this week told a parliamentary inquiry into the impact on children and disabled people of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 that many disabled people were “becoming invisible” on universal credit.

She told the evidence session, chaired by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, that the lack of clear information about universal credit (UC) being provided by DWP made it impossible to tell how many disabled people were being sanctioned.

Dr David Webster, a leading researcher on unemployment and sanctions at the University of Glasgow, made a similar point to the Commons work and pensions select committee last year.

He warned then that it was impossible to tell from DWP statistics how many claimants of UC who had been sanctioned were sick and disabled people.

A House of Commons briefing paper last September – drawing on Dr Webster’s research – said that sanction rates under UC appeared to be “several times higher” than under the benefits they were replacing.

Bellows said: “It is not surprising to learn that disabled JSA claimants are being disproportionally sanctioned, as it has been a constant feature in the benefit system that some people, including disabled unemployed people, are seen as soft targets by the DWP: people who have learning difficulties, mental and physical health issues, along with people for whom English is their second language, etc.

“What is worrying is that the introduction of UC has led to the invisibility of disabled people in the system.

“Information given by UC statistics does not desegregate the data by claims, or by work capability assessment outcomes, but by ‘conditionality group’.

“These different conditionality groups include disabled and non-disabled claimants, which makes it impossible to know the percentage of disabled people exposed to sanctions, or who are being sanctioned.

“What it means is that it is more difficult to know what is happening to disabled people in the benefit system and to hold the DWP accountable for its performance, at a time where the DWP is more and more resorting to exemptions in order to refuse answering freedom of information requests.”

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

25 July 2019


Police force admits agreement to share information about protesters with DWP

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has admitted that it has a written agreement to share information about disabled people and other activists who take part in protests with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Disabled activists have expressed alarm at the confirmation, which came despite previous denials by the force and DWP that any such agreement existed.

They said the existence of the agreement was a clear blow to the right to protest of disabled people who claim benefits.

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) said it was “extremely concerned” that its local police force was “spying on disabled protesters and passing on their details onto the DWP”.

GMCDP said the agreement was “yet another example of the punitive and unwarranted targeting of disabled people”.

Concerns about links between DWP and police forces such as GMP – and the impact on disabled people’s right to protest – first emerged last December after Disability News Service (DNS) reported that forces had been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Lancashire police then admitted in December that it had shared both information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Greater Manchester Police then told DNS that it had passed DWP information about protesters taking part in anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford, which took place in 2013 and 2014, and also confirmed that it had shared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.

This raised concerns that it might have passed information to DWP about disabled people who protested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related social security reforms, particularly during high-profile actions around the Conservative party conferences in 2015 and 2017.

GMP later claimed that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who had taken part in the 2015 and 2017 protests.

The Conservative party is returning to Manchester for its annual conference in October.

GMP has previously denied – in response to a freedom of information request – having a written agreement to share data with DWP, while DWP has said repeatedly that it has no such “formal arrangement” with GMP or any other force.

GMP’s press office had initially suggested that it did have an agreement with DWP, before later denying there was one.

Labour’s deputy mayor for policing for Greater Manchester, Baroness [Bev] Hughes, told DNS in February that she had “consulted with senior officers within GMP who have assured me that there is no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place, and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act”.

But after DNS submitted a second freedom of information request to the force, a member of its information management team confirmed that there was such an agreement.

After DNS asked if GMP had an agreement to share information from various protests with DWP, he said he had “located a multi-agency agreement to which DWP are one of many partners”, but he said this had “not yet been assessed for disclosure to you”.

He said that most of the agreement “relates to controls/rules partners must adhere to when handling information”.

He later told DNS, on 17 April, that he had “identified the area of the force that is responsible for the sharing agreement” and had “posed your question to them, and am awaiting a reply”.

The force failed to respond to further emails – which appears to have been a breach of the Freedom of Information Act – until this week.

But yesterday (Wednesday), a member of GMP’s information management team said he would “risk assess the agreement next week for disclosure” to DNS.

The force’s press office refused to comment this week, or to explain why it had previously claimed there was no such agreement.

Brian Hilton, GMCDP’s digital campaigns officer, said the coalition was “extremely concerned that our local police force is spying on disabled protesters and passing on their details onto the DWP”.

He said: “This is worrying on so many levels. Disabled people in Greater Manchester have always protested against injustice, whether this be campaigning for our own rights or in support of others.

“This news sends a clear message that disabled people should think carefully before they take to the streets and exercise their legitimate right to protest.”

He added: “Are we now saying if you can protest you should not be in receipt of benefits?

“Should disabled people stay locked inside their homes in case they are sanctioned?

“What’s next? Are the police going to run undercover operations at festivals to see if disabled people are brazen enough to sway in time to the music or, god forbid, dance?”

Hilton said repeated studies had shown there was “no epidemic of fraudulent [benefit] claims”, and that the force’s agreement with DWP was “yet another example of the punitive and unwarranted targeting of disabled people”.

Dennis Queen, from the Manchester branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “We would like to see this ‘multi-agency agreement’ to which DWP are one of many partners, because the agreement means conditions are effectively being imposed that disabled people have no idea about, they cannot bear them in mind, make informed consent, and so on.

“This sounds like a breach of our rights to engage in political protest to me.”

Queen said concerns about the agreement would have “a directly chilling effect on people’s ability to stick up for their rights and join in campaigns, both relating to disability and not.

“Given my own arrest for an offence I did not commit during [a Tory] conference this is a personal concern too.”

In 2017, disabled activists from the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and DPAC criticised “heavy-handed” police tactics at a direct action protest that blocked tram lines outside the conference.

Queen was arrested for public disorder but was later found not guilty.

She said: “Have I been reported to the DWP? Do the police now have a right to find out if I am a client of theirs?

“What other private information are they privy to? Did the police update them that I wasn’t guilty of the charges?”

25 July 2019


Boris Johnson’s arrival as PM greeted with alarm, scepticism and appeal for engagement

Disabled people and their organisations have reacted to Boris Johnson becoming the new prime minister with alarm and scepticism, but also an appeal for “honest engagement”.

Johnson has already concerned many opponents – both within his party and among opposition parties – by filling key ministerial posts with Brexit-supporters and right-wingers such as Dominic Raab as foreign secretary and Priti Patel as home secretary.

And although Johnson mentioned the need to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” in his first speech as prime minister yesterday (Wednesday), he mentioned only older people – like many ministers and other politicians before him – and ignored working-age disabled people, even though about half of local authority spending on social care is on working-age adults.

Johnson said he had “a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”, but there will be a suspicion that this is merely the much-delayed adult social care green paper promised by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

Hancock, who has kept his post under the new prime minister, has already suggested that his green paper is unlikely to include a definitive plan for how to reform adult social care funding, but instead will simply “bring together the debate… behind a direction of travel where we can make progress”.

Alan Benson, chair of Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, said that during Johnson’s time as mayor of London “he not only failed to engage with disabled people and their organisations but he dismantled the structures that were already existing.

“This sets a worrying precedent. We hope that a similar pattern is not now seen across government.”

He said that Theresa May and London mayor Sadiq Khan had been “at odds” during May’s time as prime minister, resulting in “huge budget cuts” for Transport for London and “an unwillingness to devolve rail services”.

Benson said: “This has hit London’s travellers hard and particularly impacted disabled and older people.”

He warned that the relationship between Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan was even worse than that between May and the mayor, “so we can only see the situation deteriorating”.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, said Johnson’s record on equality – particularly around race – was “not encouraging”.

She said: “The problem is he is just unthinking and the worry is that, particularly with disability, we may have the legislation but we don’t have the culture.

“I would hope he will demonstrate a genuine delivery of the Equality Act to make disabled people’s lives better, but I am not holding my breath.

“My worry is he is more concerned about a snappy message than he is about the underlying issues. He has to prove himself to the disabled community.”

The crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell said she hoped Johnson would build on one of the “few positive moves” made by Theresa May, in the last weeks of her premiership, to set up a new strategic, cross-government disability unit in the Cabinet Office.

She said: “This is an opportunity for him to engage honestly and realistically with disabled people on building a society inclusive of all people.

“Better engagement with all sectors of society and parliament is something that he did mention in his acceptance speech – let’s hope he is serious about the ‘everyone’!”

Sue Bott, head of policy and research for Disability Rights UK, raised concerns about the impact of a potential no deal Brexit under Johnson.

She said: “Given the stated commitment of Boris Johnson to take the UK out of the European Union (EU) on 31 October with or without a deal, we are very concerned that the rights disabled people currently enjoy as members of the EU will continue post-Brexit, particularly given the impossibility of passing the necessary legislation on time.”

There is already frustration with Johnson from The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), after he told a journalist during his leadership campaign that he wanted to increase the number of free special schools.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said he had also ignored a letter from ALLFIE during the campaign that asked how he would implement the recommendations to the UK made by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities in 2017, when it called for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”.

Aspis said: “We understand Boris Johnson is looking to fund more special schools.

“This is a clear violation of disabled people’s human rights, and non-engagement with disabled people’s organisations like ALLFIE is not a good start.”

There was particular anger and frustration with the new prime minister from disabled people’s anti-cuts groups, which have been fighting Tory-led austerity policies for nearly a decade.

Bob Ellard, of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said, before yesterday’s ministerial appointments were announced: “He’s a Tory and whoever he makes work and pensions secretary, chancellor and minister for disabled people will be Tories.

“Since 2010 not one single Tory has done or said anything that benefits disabled people and that ain’t going to change now. The cruelty and the harm it creates is set to continue.”

Michelle Maher, from WOWcampaign, said she believed a Boris Johnson government would see the UK become a “vassal state” to Donald Trump’s United States and would “wave goodbye to the NHS, which for sick and disabled people is our lifeline as no one will insure us”.

She said: “Nowhere in the discourse are disabled children, adults and their carers.

“We are completely ‘othered’ now by 10 years of austerity and hate speech aimed at us. This will only get worse for us, as a far-right Tory ideology takes hold.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “As humanitarians, of course we welcome his statement at the steps of Number 10 this afternoon that his government will try to do more for animal welfare.

“As for the human catastrophe that has befallen disabled people under successive Tory prime ministers since 2010 – absolutely nothing.”

McArdle also raised concerns about Johnson’s comments about mental health, in an article earlier this month, in which he claimed that the only way to really treat depression was through the “cure” of work.

McArdle said: “Disabled people will now, and with good cause, be living in fear of what rash decisions this entirely unpredictable prime minister may take next with regard to mental health and social policy.”

Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC, said: “Considering Boris Johnson’s voting record on social security and his total disinterest in disability rights indicates this will be a continuation of Tory disablism along with more hostile policies for all minority groups.

“Only regime change through a general election will end this era of abrogation of rights, immiseration, and death.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “We have a new prime minister but it appears no new ideas.

“Brexit is set to dominate the political agenda for the foreseeable future, all of which distracts from the ongoing problems facing disabled people.”

He called for a “clear timescale” for the publication of the social care green paper and a consultation which “actively engages with and listens to disabled people”.

He said: “We also need Boris Johnson to signal that his government is going to tackle the devastating effects that universal credit is having on disabled people and their families.

“It is no good tinkering around the edges with this failed endeavour, it needs replacing.”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, raised concerns about the NHS, and said that “Boris Johnson’s obsession with leaving the EU, with or without a deal, is a disaster for disabled people and everyone who uses the NHS”, and warning of the impact on the supply of vital drugs, appliances such as stoma bags, nutritional feeds, and on recruitment.

25 July 2019


Mayor’s research finds 10 years of social security cuts hit disabled Londoners hardest

New research for the mayor of London has shown how 10 years of government welfare cuts and reforms have “discriminated” against disabled Londoners.

The mayor of London has written to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd to ask her to reverse a series of government social security cuts, after his report showed the dramatic impact on disabled Londoners of 10 years of welfare reform.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan told Amber Rudd in his letter that the assessment of the combined impact of the government’s tax and social security reforms showed disabled households in London had been “hardest hit” by the cuts.

He said in comments released alongside the report that the government’s “regressive” policies had discriminated against disabled Londoners, although he did not accuse the government of discrimination in his letter to Rudd.

Researchers, commissioned by the mayor, carried out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of years of tax and benefit changes on adults in London.

Ministers have repeatedly refused to carry out their own CIA, even though the Equality and Human Rights Commission published such research itself last year.

The mayor’s research found that, by 2021-22, households in London that include a disabled person will have lost an average of £1,910 a year, compared to households with no disabled adults, who are expected to gain an average of £300 a year.

Households with both children and a disabled person will receive an average of £3,760 a year less than they would otherwise have received if the government’s reforms had not been introduced.

The report found that poorer Londoners will experience a drop in their incomes, while richer Londoners will see their incomes increase as a result of the government’s policies.

The analysis includes changes brought in through the coalition’s Welfare Reform Act 2012, and the Conservative government’s Welfare Reform and Work Act four years later, as well as a series of finance bills.

These changes include the introduction of universal credit and personal independence payment (PIP), the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, cuts to housing benefit, the benefits freeze, and the cut of nearly £30 a week for those in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance, as well as increases in the minimum wage and the personal tax allowance.

Results from The Survey of Londoners, another piece of research commissioned by the mayor, published last month, showed disabled Londoners struggling with food insecurity, fuel poverty and overall levels of satisfaction with their lives.

The survey showed a third of disabled Londoners (34 per cent) experiencing low levels of food security, with one in four not able to keep their homes warm in the winter, and only just over a third (38 per cent) reporting high levels of wellbeing.

In his letter, the mayor told Rudd: “In this letter I particularly want to flag the extent to which disabled households in London have been hardest hit by cuts to the welfare benefits system.”

He asked Rudd to reverse a series of government cuts and reforms because of their impact on disabled Londoners, including the WRAG cut, the benefits freeze, and the bedroom tax, and to order a “complete redesign” of the PIP assessment process and the work capability assessment.

And he said he was “extremely concerned” about the impact on Londoners of the rollout of universal credit.

He added: “I do not want to be in a society where the most disadvantaged are put at risk of poverty or destitution.

“With disabled Londoners more likely to be struggling with food security and fuel poverty, you need to act now to stop putting disabled Londoners at even greater risk.”

But despite his letter, and a new pilot project to support low income families, the mayor released no details of any new plans to address his concerns about the impact of the government cuts on disabled Londoners.

Ellen Clifford, a disabled member of the mayor’s equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group, said: “I am very pleased that this report has now come out because it provides an evidence base for what we know from lived experience is happening, namely the disproportionate impacts of welfare reform and tax changes on the poorest in London.

“It supports the picture presented by data from the recently published Londoners Survey which shows disabled people and children in households with disabled adults experiencing significant economic and social inequality.

“Only 18 per cent of respondents who are disabled and long term out of work report high or very high satisfaction with their lives, with nearly half (46 per cent) scoring themselves in the lowest life satisfaction category.

“That is immensely sad and the result of nearly 10 years of policies that have punished disabled people in receipt of social security.

“I welcome the response by London’s mayor in writing to Amber Rudd calling for policy changes that will exempt disabled claimants from measures that are contributing to loss of income and impoverishment.”

A spokesperson for the mayor said he was “extremely concerned about the impact the government’s welfare reforms have had on disabled Londoners, as shown by the Survey of Londoners and City Hall research”.

And he said the mayor would “continue to push the government to reverse the effects of its policies and ensure disabled Londoners are given support”, for example through his new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and setting up the equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group.

He said the mayor was also “working closely” with Transport for London on “continual access improvements to London’s transport network”; investing £75 million in specialist, supported housing for disabled Londoners; and working to boost the incomes of those in fuel poverty through the Energy for Londoners programmes, with priority groups including disabled people.

And he said he was promoting a better understanding by employers of disabled people’s experiences of application, assessment, selection, employment and progression in work through the Good Work Standard.

25 July 2019


Mother of Jodey Whiting displays her broken heart outside DWP HQ

The mother of a disabled woman who died as a result of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings stood outside its headquarters in Whitehall this week to remind civil servants and ministers how their actions caused her daughter’s death.

Joy Dove, whose daughter Jodey Whiting died in 2017, was taking part in an action being staged by disabled artist-activist Dolly Sen in front of Caxton House.

She and others held up heart-shaped boards, on which Sen had written the names of four disabled men and women who had lost their lives because of DWP’s benefit assessment regimes: Jodey Whiting, Stephen Carré, Mark Wood and Susan Roberts.

Other hearts showed the phrases “broken hearts for the DWP” and “hearts stopped by DWP policies”.

The action aimed to highlight how DWP policies have caused thousands of “broken hearts”.

Sen said: “Joy is here to mourn that her daughter has passed because of this building behind us.

“We want these hearts to be still beating. The more hearts that are stopped by the building behind us, the stronger our hearts will get.

“We will fight for every person who is let down by the building behind us.”

As DWP staff entered and left the building, Sen asked each of them if they would personally sign off the next death to be caused by DWP.

Every DWP civil servant she asked ignored her question.

Sen said: “The workers who are going in and out may not have physically killed somebody, but they are the cogs in a system that is churning out coffin after coffin after coffin.”

She added, addressing staff in the building behind her: “Do you understand that hearts have stopped because of what you’re doing? Shame on you.”

This week’s action is one of several being devised by Sen that will be edited into a film, to be shown at film and art festivals, schools and universities, while there will also be “guerrilla projections” of the film onto bus stops and the walls of buildings, including – possibly –Caxton House itself.

Sen said afterwards: “We want more people to know what’s going on.”

She added: “It was a symbolic protest: a heart that goes de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, and it just stops because of this building.

“To me it is just a horrific and really painful thought. If you took this building out of the chain of decisions, people would still be alive.”

She said she had not expected DWP staff to engage with the protest.

She said: “How could they really justify what they are doing? The machine can’t work without the cogs and these people are the cogs.”

Joy Dove, who travelled from her home in the north-east to take part in the action, said afterwards that she had wanted DWP to know that she was there.

Dove, who was supported by her son Jamie, Jodey’s brother, thanked Sen and her producer, disabled artist Caroline Cardus, for asking her to take part.

She said: “When I saw the heart I wanted to cry, but I had to be strong for Jodey.”

She said it had been her first visit to London since 1983. “It was a big step but I’m glad I have done it. I will carry on as long as I can.

“I knew from the start that what they did to Jodey was wrong. The day they said she was fit for work I knew it wasn’t right.”

Her daughter died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

Dove said she was still pursuing legal action through her solicitor, with the hope of a second inquest into her daughter’s death, while she continued to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition* and its call for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP.

She said: “I want justice for Jodey. I won’t give up.”

Dove was joined at the protest by Gill Thompson, whose brother, David Clapson, died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food.

His sister told the protest: “I just want all the suffering to stop. No more deaths and no more benefit cuts.”

Another disabled artist-activist, Julie McNamara, said the action and other protests were “gentle steps… towards having our voices heard. Remember there is still hope.”

She said: “People in a room together created this system. We intend to dismantle this system.

“It was people who created the system and it will be people who dismantle it.”

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “We are here to mourn every human being affected by welfare reform.

“We mourn every name. [Each of them] is a person with a story.”

Peters asked supporters of the protest and passers-by to sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s failings, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to police.

It also calls on MPs to brand DWP institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for the department to take urgent steps to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority.

Peters said that all disabled people should see what was happening at the action and “live in hope” because the “resistance” to the welfare reforms of successive Conservative-led governments was “very much still here”.

And she promised those who have lost loved ones that “the quest for justice will never stop”.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

25 July 2019


Welfare reform caused child deaths, poor health and food poverty, inquiry hears

A key piece of government legislation that slashed social security payments to disabled people and families with children has led to infant deaths, poor health and severe food poverty, activists, policy experts and academics have told a parliamentary inquiry.

The inquiry, being held by the all party parliamentary group for health in all policies, chaired by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, is examining the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 on children and disabled adults.

A string of experts lined up to warn the inquiry of the severe impacts of the act, including measures such as the lowering of the benefit cap, the working-age benefits freeze, the cuts of nearly £30 a week to payments to those in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance, and the two-child limit to the child element of child tax credit and universal credit.

Among the most striking pieces of evidence, the inquiry heard there have been 600 more infant deaths than would otherwise have been expected between 2014 and 2017 in England, with about 200 of them likely to have been caused by rising levels of child poverty.

Professor David Taylor Robinson, a professor of public health and policy at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Population Health Sciences, said these “very, very unusual rises in child mortality” had been seen in the most deprived areas of the country.

He said there was also likely to be a significant health impact on other children in deprived areas as they aged, and that families were “living in a state of profound anxiety about how to get by from one day to the next”.

He said: “Poverty is absolutely toxic for children’s life chances. The things we are seeing now in terms of mortality are a very concerning initial indicator that things are going wrong.”

He stressed the importance of “considering what is going on with mortality. This is a profoundly unusual demographic change we are seeing at the moment.

“We are used to seeing life expectancy in countries that are doing well increase year on year.”

But he said life expectancy had plateaued since 2010 and was now falling in deprived areas, which was “an unprecedented shift”.

He added: “People are not talking about life expectancy and I don’t think the public are aware of the profound nature of these changes.”

Dr Aaron Reeves, an associate professor in social policy and intervention at the University of Oxford, said there was “preliminary evidence” that the benefits freeze was “contributing to food poverty”.

And he said that cuts to social security had had negative implications for mental health and had pushed people further from the jobs market.

He said that “food insecure” families were “much more likely to experience mental health problems” as “food insecurity is a source of stress and anxiety”.

He said that the proportion of people who were “food insecure” had been “rising dramatically but is concentrated among those who are disabled”, while many of those who were experiencing food insecurity did not have local food banks available to them.

He said the government’s benefit sanctions regime was partly to blame (see separate story), adding: “It is disabled people and lone parents who are disproportionately affected by sanctions, partly because their lives are more difficult organisationally.

“They are people who find it difficult and therefore fall foul of the claimant commitment.”

The all party group also heard from charities, thinktanks and the grassroots group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Jasmine Basran, a senior policy officer at Crisis, told the evidence session that her charity was hearing from disabled people who were being forced to use their disability benefits to make up the difference between the housing benefit they received and the rent they needed to pay.

She said this was leading to fears of homelessness, particularly among those who have lost their entitlement to personal independence payment, and that it was causing severe anxiety and exacerbating health conditions.

Another to give evidence was Tom Pollard, now an associate at the Demos thinktank and a trainee mental health social worker, but previously part of the policy and campaigns team at the charity Mind.

Pollard spent 18 months on secondment from Mind, advising the Department for Work and Pensions on mental health policy issues.

He called in his evidence for DWP to be stripped of its responsibility for supporting disabled people into work.

He said a key problem was that if DWP policies have a negative impact on people’s mental health this does not “come back to bite them” because the department does not collect those figures.

Pollard said that jobcentres were “totally unconducive to supporting people with mental health conditions”, although their staff “do their best”.

He said: “The chips are so stacked against them because it is a system that is totally not right.”

He said DWP had a history of being “reasonably effective” in moving people who had lost their jobs back into employment “reasonably quickly”, but he added: “That is the one lever they have to pull, so they keep pulling it”.

He said: “I wouldn’t have DWP responsible for anyone with more complex circumstances.

“They have a very fixed view of seeing the world and this stuff doesn’t really fit that picture.”

Pollard also dismissed DWP’s repeated claims that removing the WRAG payment of nearly £30 a week – a policy brought in in 2017 – would act as an incentive to help disabled people into work.

He said the evidence he had seen among people with mental health problems was that cutting the WRAG payment had had “exactly the opposite effect” and instead encouraged a “siege mentality”, with people desperate to get into the support group (and its equivalent in the universal credit system), for those who do not need to take part in any work-related activity.

He said: “People’s mindset is one of trying to hunker down and maintain some form of stability.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said the lack of evidence for the government’s regime of sanctions and strict conditions that need to be met by out-of-work benefit claimants was “absolutely shocking”.

She said: “There is now overwhelming evidence that it is actually counter-productive.

“There are policies being implemented that are having a detrimental impact on people’s health and yet they are not being rigorously tested before implementation. In fact, quite the opposite.”

And she highlighted the flawed legal system that made it hard to challenge the discriminatory impact of the government’s social security reforms.

Clifford also pointed to new research published this month by the mayor of London, which showed the dramatic impact of the government’s welfare reforms on disabled Londoners (see separate story).

DPAC researcher Anita Bellows told the evidence session that many disabled people were “becoming invisible” on universal credit because the way DWP was publishing its statistics was often making it impossible to see what was happening to them.

She said some disabled people who would eventually be found “not fit for work” were being sanctioned under universal credit while awaiting their work capability assessment, while that sanction was staying with them even though they were then placed in a group whose members should never be sanctioned because of their high support needs.

She said the way the universal credit figures are published means that it is impossible to know how many disabled people are in this situation.

25 July 2019


Rates of pay set by councils ‘are so low that families struggle to recruit PAs’

Rates of pay for personal assistants (PAs) are so low that local authorities could be in breach of their legal duties to families with disabled children, according to new research by Leeds University.

Results of a survey of families found the average gross* hourly weekday rate they received from their local council to pay a PA was just £8.90.

It found that almost all PAs were paid at rates “near or just above the minimum wage”, and that many families said these rates were too low to recruit suitable PAs, even though their local authority was willing to pay much higher rates for agency staff.

Of 256 responses from families, there was just one report of a council increasing pay rates to make it easier to recruit a PA.

The report says its findings “strongly suggest that there is a severe market failure in many local authority areas”, with councils “arguably in breach of their statutory and public law obligations to families with disabled children”.

Even securing an assessment of a disabled child’s needs was often a “matter of chance”, with some families learning about services only “through word of mouth” and some waiting up to two years for an assessment.

One parent who responded to the survey said: “At the moment it would seem the whole system is collapsing from health, education and social services.

“I just keep getting told there is nothing else they can offer me, and there are no funds to help us.”

More than half of the families that responded said the amount of direct payments they received was not enough to cover all their child’s needs that had been identified by their local council.

The report concludes: “Strict rationing of resources is resulting in families experiencing stress, an acute lack of support and prolonged ‘battles’ to secure basic services that they are entitled to by law.”

Alongside the survey, freedom of information requests were sent to 60 English councils with social services responsibilities.

They reported an average gross standard hourly rate of £10.57, slightly higher than the £8.90 reported by the survey of families.

The report says there are “deep levels of dissatisfaction” with the way that direct payments are run by local authorities.

And it says there is an “urgent need” for the government to carry out a “fundamental review” of the direct payments scheme.

It says the research suggests that health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has a public law duty to address the failings, while similar action may be necessary in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson declined to comment on the report, the findings on rates of pay for PAs, the concerns about market failure, or the call for a fundamental review of direct payments.

Instead, he issued a statement about personal budgets, which are different from direct payments**.

He said: “People can benefit from much greater choice, flexibility and control over their health and care support with personal budgets.

“Local authorities are responsible for providing high-quality personal budgets that best meet people’s needs, and we are working to improve access, including supporting guidance to ensure individual choice is not limited.

“We have given local authorities access to up to £3.9 billion more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410 million is available for adults and children’s services.

“We will set out our plans to reform the social care system at the earliest opportunity to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”

The research was carried out by students at Leeds University’s School of Law, working with Cerebra, a charity for children with neurological conditions, under the supervision of Professor Luke Clements.

It is part of the Legal Entitlements and Problem-Solving Project, based at the School of Law, and set up by Cerebra in 2014 to support disabled children and their families experiencing problems in accessing their legal entitlements to care and support.

The report will soon be available from the university’s Cerebra research programme home page

*The gross figure is how much the family is allocated to pay its PA before any extra employment costs – such as national insurance, holiday and sickness pay – have been deducted

**Direct payments are one particular way of spending a personal budget

25 July 2019


MP suggests DWP lied over promise to introduce PIP assessment recording

An MP has suggested the government was “not telling us the truth” when it promised last year to allow all disabled people to record their personal independence payment (PIP) face-to-face assessments.

The claim came in a week in which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepted the latest in a long line of damaging court rulings on disability benefits; and received a warning from the work and pensions select committee that the application page for its new universal credit benefit system should “come with a health warning”.

This week, DWP also finally began making backdated payments to disabled people with high support needs who lost out by hundreds of pounds a month when they moved onto universal credit.

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd – who was later confirmed in her post by the new prime minister, Boris Johnson – was yesterday (Wednesday) giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee.

Labour committee member Neil Coyle suggested to her that DWP was “not telling us the truth” when – in its response to a report by the committee in April 2018 – it admitted the need to “build trust in the system” of PIP assessments, and said ministers therefore intended “to make recording the PIP assessment a standard part of the process”.

Coyle said: “The commitment was to record by default all PIP assessments. That is not happening.”

Rudd admitted yesterday: “It’s not happening at the moment,” before adding: “The evidence I’ve got is we are going to look at it again in the autumn.”

Neil Couling, DWP’s director general for change, said the department had had to extend a pilot programme examining how recording would work because of the “very low demand” there had been for taping assessments, but would “report in the autumn on what we have found from claimants”.

The committee’s report concluded last year that the disability benefit assessment system was being undermined by a “pervasive culture of mistrust”.

It followed an investigation by Disability News Service that produced hundreds of accounts from PIP claimants who described the dishonesty of written assessment reports produced by healthcare professionals from DWP contractors Atos and Capita.

Rudd did tell Coyle that she would consider his suggestion that DWP should reduce the number of routine benefit reassessments for people with progressive health conditions.

She said: “I have been trying to reduce the amount of assessments that are taking place.

“I’ve removed it for pensioners [she said in March that about 270,000 people receiving PIP who have reached pension age would no longer have their awards regularly reviewed], and we’ll look again at end of life assessments for people with terminal illnesses [she said earlier this month that DWP would review how the benefits system supports people nearing the end of their life and those with ‘severe conditions’].

“So if the honourable gentleman wants me to take a look at progressive illnesses, I will do that as well privately and come back to him.”

Two days earlier – just three days before MPs were due to begin their summer recess – Rudd had finally laid regulations before parliament that will allow disabled people who previously claimed the severe disability premium (SDP) to receive backpayments to compensate them for the lower rates of support they received after being moved onto universal credit when their circumstances changed.

They will receive payments of up to £405 per month alongside their universal credit awards, with Rudd estimating that about 45,000 claimants will benefit from this package of support by 2024-25.

Previous regulations also mean that claimants currently receiving SDP will not be moved onto universal credit if they have a change of circumstances. This will not change until 2021.

The back payments were agreed by DWP after it lost a high court case in May, with the court ruling that the government’s arrangements for those who previously received SDP and moved onto universal credit before 16 January 2019 were unlawful.

The new regulations will also allow a pilot project to begin in Harrogate to test how DWP moves claimants from legacy benefits such as employment and support allowance onto universal credit, through a process known as “managed migration”, the beginning of the final, lengthy stage of the delayed universal credit rollout.

But there was criticism of Rudd by both Labour and SNP MPs after the government backed down on its previous promise that there would be a debate and a vote on the new regulations.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said this was an “absolute disgrace”.

These developments followed yet another damaging court judgment on DWP’s disability benefits assessment system.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that more people with mental distress who have problems with social situations will now receive PIP.

And it raises the likelihood of an eighth costly trawl through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits following years of serious errors by senior DWP civil servants, following seven others launched last year.

On Tuesday this week, the disabled people’s minister, Justin Tomlinson, said he was unable to say how many more people with mental distress would now be entitled to more support.

He said: “We must consider the detail of the judgment and how it needs to be implemented before we can estimate how many people will be affected, but we will look back at cases.”

Also this week, a work and pensions committee report warned that none of the DWP staff working on the “baffling” universal credit were able to tell claimants if moving onto the new system would leave them better or worse off.

The committee said benefit claimants were being trapped in the DWP “lobster pot”, “struggling with a sudden drop in income” while DWP refused to allow them to return to the “legacy benefits” they were previously claiming.

The report said claimants forced to move onto universal credit through the so-called “natural migration” process were “in many cases seeing their income drop” and – because of the five-week wait for their first payment and the need to repay any advance payment they applied for – were facing the “impossible choice between hardship now or hardship later”.

25 July 2019


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com