Annie

Jan 172017
 

Message in a bottle.

Today is apparently Blue Monday. A named coined by Dr’s at Cardiff University to predict the day of the year where things are at their bleakest and most depressing.

Currently that is everyday for me. I’m sure that’s true of millions of disabled people and carers at the moment.

Last year was spent fighting for Emily. If I’m honest every year has been spent fighting for Emily since she was diagnosed at 3 with autism. The sad truth is that the fight for her was much easier when she was a disabled child than when she became a disabled adult. Our empathy, funding, services and protocols surrounding vulnerable children is clear. They may be limited but they are clear.

As a society however the rules change when these vulnerable children become vulnerable adults. The spotlight shone brightly on Winterbourne View. We were told things would change for the better. I believe that the intention is there for this to be true but as we know, intention and application are two very different things.

Responsibility and an interpretation of responsibility, are two very different things as well. It doesn’t matter how many people are reminded of their duty of care under the Care Act, it seems there is always a way to stipulate adherence to it, yet a departmental distance from it.

The threat we have lived under everyday for a year now is that Emily may be admitted to an assessment and treatment unit.  This is a psychiatric hospital. I strongly believe and have had this this verified by professionals, that if Emily is placed there, she will never leave.

There is no clinical need for this to happen, but one based on a possibility that Emily’s current care package may break down, due to her behaviours which challenge. I’m told that if that were to happen, there is no other provider able to pick up Emily’s care.

Yesterday I learnt that the lead psychologist in Emily’s care has gone on long term sick leave. This is not their fault, but the system should be robust enough to continue seamlessly for Emily. I don’t have confidence that this will be the case. This person is co-ordinating everything. Problems are still ongoing but now, with no idea of who will pick this up or what will happen to all the outstanding issues, which I’m battling to resolve already, I now feel hopeless.

I’m at breaking point. The fight which consumes my days and torments my mind at night, is an ongoing one because I feel there remains a collective societal lack of knowledge and true understanding of what it means to be an adult with a learning disability.

Emily is tearful and anxious much of the time.

I’m including a portion of an email that I’ve just sent to everyone working with Emily. It’s a reflection of where I am and where Emily might end up through no fault of her own. I feel broken, hopeless and utterly desperate for my daughter. I don’t intend to make things any worse than they are but I have no idea what else to do. If you can circulate this, if you can help or know someone to send this to then please do.

It’s my message in a bottle that I’m throwing into the sea of the internet, in the hope that we can be rescued.

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 Posted by at 22:20
Dec 142016
 

The last WCA figures have been released by DWP, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/esa-outcomes-of-work-capability-assessments-including-mandatory-reconsiderations-and-appeals-december-2016

These figures show clearly that the number of people placed in the Support Group has dramatically dropped (from 61 % in November 2014 to 32% in June 2016 ), while the number of people found fit for work keeps increasing (from 23% in November 2014 to 48% in June 2016). The number of people placed in the Work Related Activity Group is also increasing, albeit not as dramatically. (Table 2a )

A figure which is also worth looking at is the percentage of overturned ESA decisions through Mandatory Reconsiderations (MR).  The first recorded figures in March 2014 show that almost 70% of ESA decisions were overturned through MR. In October 2016, this figure has dropped to just over 12%. (Table 14)

At the same time, the number of appeals has increased and the success rate for claimants is 58%.

Another concerning figure is the drop in the number of claimants placed in the Support Group on the grounds of physical or mental risk (from 11.4% in January 2015 to 2.0% in March 2016). These are the people who could use Regulations 29 and 35, on the grounds there would be a substantial risk to their health or someone else’s health if they were found to be capable of work-related activities.  But DWP changed the guidance, which accounts for less people qualifying for the Support Group, although DWP did not change the regulations. For an explanation of how the guidance was changed by DWP, see this excellent article:  https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/politics/government-rule-change-shuts-thousands-disability-benefits/

To conclude, it can be said confidently that MRs are not an independent process like an appeal in a tribunal can be. Like sanctions, they are under the influence of the Secretary of State, and will respond to pressures to reduce the claimant count. It is clear that MRs are an additional step in the process of challenging an ESA decision, specifically introduced to discourage claimants from appealing.

Claimants have no other choice than asking for MR, as they cannot appeal until they receive a MR notice. But they should be aware that their chances of success are slim, and should be prepared to go to appeal. It is harsh as people are already struggling with their health condition(s) and the financial implications of having to live on social security, but people should not take a negative MR result as the end to the claim and they have a much higher chance of success at appeal

But claimants need to be well prepared and have all the documents they need to be ready for their appeals. It seems that getting an assessor’s report or other helpful documents depends very much on DWP staff’s willingness, and some claimants never get to see these reports, or too late after the MR was conducted.

What you can do:

Ask for a MR and ask for the assessor’s report at the same time.

You can access an example of form here to request a MR here: https://equallives.org.uk/info-and-advice/welfare-and-benefits/challenging-decisions-when-youre-unhappy/

At the same time, you should make a Subject Access Request (SAR) to DWP.

What follows has been prepared by John Slater. (@AmateurFOI on Twitter).  John’s contributions are always been very technical, but it is often on technicalities that DWP win their case

His document ESA Work Capability Assessment Information Held by the DWP explains what a SAR is, and what are the 3 very useful documents for an appeal which can be obtained from DWP. You can see what ESA85a, ESA58 and LT54 (DMACR) forms look like by clicking on the inserted links.

There is also a link to a form to make a Subject Access Request for these 3 documents How to request the information from the DWP

The idea is to help you prepare for an appeal at an early stage, ideally at the same time as the request for a MR. While you are unlikely to get these documents in time for the MR (DWP must provide you with the information you requested (as long as they hold it) within a maximum of 40 calendar days), you should get them in time to prepare your appeal.

 

 

ESA Work Capability Assessment Information Held by the DWP

 

Introduction

When you have been through a Work Capability Assessment (“WCA”) it isn’t always as straight forward as it should be to get information about the outcome from the DWP as it should be.

 

Whether you need the information for a Mandatory Reconsideration (“MR”), a Tribunal Appeal or just for your own records you are legally entitled to it. There have been stories of DWP staff telling people that they “don’t need the information” or it’s “not usual for them to have it”. This is irrelevant and frankly none of their business. If the DWP holds information about you, you are legally entitled to have a copy (with few very specific exceptions).

 

What Information Am I Allowed to Have?

Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (“DPA”) means that are all entitled to:

 

  • to be told whether any personal data is being processed;
  • be given a description of the personal data, the reasons it is being processed, and whether it will be given to any other organisations or people;
  • be given a copy of the information comprising the data; and given details of the source of the data (where this is available).

 

This means that when requested the DWP must provide you with a copy of all the information it holds about you and what it does with it. It also needs your consent to have obtained and processed that information in the first place. This is usually obtained when you sign an application form from any welfare benefits such as the ESA.

 

The technical term used to describe the method of obtaining any personal information held by an organisation is called making a “Subject Access Request” or SAR. The Information Commissioner’s (“ICO”) website provides helpful guidance about this aimed at members of the public and organisations such as the DWP. Links to both types of guidance are provided below.

 

Guidance for the Public

https://ico.org.uk/for-the-public/personal-information/

 

Guidance for Organisations

https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/principle-6-rights/subject-access-request/

 

 

The DPA means that any organisation, including the DWP, must provide you with the information you requested (as long as they hold it) within a maximum of 40 calendar days. The ICO is clear that the DWP “must respond to a subject access request promptly and in any event within 40 calendar days of receiving it.”

 

The DWP provides a form (see link below) that it would like people to use when make a SAR. You are not obliged to complete and use this form in order to submit a SAR to the DWP.

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-request-for-personal-information

 

I have reservations about this form as it is easy to limit the scope of your SAR without realising when completing it.

 

The ICO provides a very helpful template and explanation at the link ‘Guidance for the Public’ above.

 

 

What information about my WCA should I ask for?

You could simply ask the DWP for all the information that it holds about you but that could slow down your request and give you a lot of paper to sort through. In respect of a WCA I think there are 3 key documents:

  1. ESA85 – Medical Report (produced by the person that carried out your WCA)
  2. ESA56 – Worksheet for the WCA (used by the DWP when making the decision based on the ESA85)
  3. LT54 (DMACR) – A record of the decision made and the relevant law (e.g. ESA regulations)

 

ESA85 – Medical Report

People who have gone through a WCA may already be familiar with this report. It is produced by the healthcare professional that carried out your WCA. It is the evidence used by DWP decision makers (“DM”) to decide if you are entitled to ESA and if so if you should be placed in the Work-Related Activity Group (“WRAG”) or the Support Group (“SG”).

If it is decided that a WCA is not required, then the report produced will be an ESA85a.

You can see a copy of a blank ESA85a here V2_ESA85a – ESA Medical Report No WCA

 

 

ESA56 – Worksheet for the WCA

This is a form that people who know about the ESA85/ESA85a probably won’t be familiar with. It appears to document the decision taken by the DM. Page 2 is particularly interesting as it provides a table where the scores for the descriptors (the tests used to determine eligibility) of the HCP and DM are compared against your own. This might be useful if you are requesting a MR or appealing a decision.

 

You can see a copy of a blank ESA56 here [http://dpac.uk.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/ESA56-Worksheet-for-the-WCA-Copy.pdf].

 

LT54 (DMACR)

Just like the ESA56 people probably won’t be familiar with this form. It appears to be a summary of the DM decision and lists the relevant law (e.g. which ESA regulations apply to this particular case). It states on the form that the DM must:

 

Include details of any award, disallowance, disqualification, offsets or overpayment. Give the reasons for the decision, including law and supporting evidence as appropriate.”

 

This could be particularly useful if you are requesting a MR or appealing a decision as you will know how the DM make their decision and how they interpreted the evidence before them.

 

You can see a copy of a blank LT54 (DMACR) here [http://dpac.uk.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/DWP-ESA-Form-LT54-DMACR-Copy.pdf].

 

Conclusion

If you want to request copies of the 3 documents discussed above I’ve produced a template request forms [How to request the information from the DWP ] that you can use. As explained earlier you don’t have to use the DWP request form but it does make sense to follow their process of submitting your request to your nearest JCP office.

 

You don’t need to send your request by the expensive Royal Mail “Signed For Service”. However, to make sure you have proof that you sent your request I suggest you do the following:

 

  • Keep a copy of your request document.
  • Scan or take a photograph of the envelope you used and make sure the address and correct amount of postage is shown (i.e. the correct stamp is attached).
  • Obtain proof of postage from the post office (this is free).

 

If you have this information it makes it much harder for the DWP to claim that your request didn’t arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Posted by at 14:41
Sep 152016
 

 

Many thanks to George Berger  @Georgeberger

 

Debbie Jolly, Jonathan Rutherford, and Mo Stewart have discussed the influence of UNUM on the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) [1]. Here I study relations of UNUM to DWP and ATOS that implicate Professor Sir Mansel Aylward and a UNUM employee in apparent irregularities [2].

 

I begin with some history. Sir Mansel and others worked on the All Work Test (AWT) for a new Incapacity Benefit (IB) from 1993 to 1995. It was the first ‘functional capacity evaluation’ tool to use descriptors to assess ‘capacity for work,’ what one can do. The Social Security (Incapacity For Work) Act of 1994 placed them in a new regime intended to make access to disability benefits more difficult. The Act came into force in 1995 [3].

 

The AWT was rolled out in 1997, the year New Labour took power. As it did not adequately reduce inflow to IB, Aylward tightened it up, with others, e.g. UNUM’s John Locascio. The result was the Personal Capability Assessment (PCA) [4]. The PCA did not decide on benefits. Decision Makers (with medical advice if necessary) did that. Entitlement to benefits as a perceived right gave way to granting them conditionally, upon compliance with the regime and the results of (re)assessments. This agrees with Tony Blair’s Third Way communitarian notions of social rights and obligations [5]. We see a similarity of New Labour and Tory ideology: both are coercive and punitive, both use conditionality to instill fear of losing or not getting benefits.

 

 

The Sema Group, an IT firm with no medical experience [6], got the PCA contract in 1998. In that year ATOS ORIGIN (AO) contracted with the Department for Social Security (DSS, a predecessor of DWP) for IT work (renewed 2005). PCAs began in 2000. Schlumberger acquired the Sema Group in 2001 and AO acquired Sema on 29 January 2004. It began running the PCA for Blair’s DSS [7].

 

(Gordon Waddell, Pilowsky, and Bond modified the conservative American sociologist Talcott Parsons’ controversial sick role analysis of rights and obligations during sick leave [8], in a 1989 article on low back pain. Following Gill Thorburn’s discussion of the sick role in my note 2, reference b, I will show elsewhere that this paper is crucial to our understanding of benefit conditionality in the WCA).

 

 

B

 

The PCA was a paper – based assessment, which by 2001 had a large clinical database developed by AO and DWP [9]. The decision was taken then to computerise the PCA. The resulting software was LIMA, Logic Integrated Medical Assessment. Trials began in 2002. LIMA was rolled out nationally in 2003, 2004 [10],

and was operational by July 2004 at the latest, with AO in charge [11].

 

LIMA documentation included ‘LiMA v2 Technical Manual’, dated 12 October 2004, and ‘LiMA V3 Technical Manual’, dated 10 November 2005. A Schlumberger document of 11 August 2003 is ‘EBM Cardiorespiratory and Mental Health’ [12]. According to a Black Triangle post, the first document is or was used in WCA assessments [13]. Call this claim (*).

 

C

 

Angela Rhodes  has been working for UNUM since 1999 [14]. Documents ‘LiMA V3 Technical Manual’, and ‘EBM Cardiorespiratory and Mental Health’, both already mentioned, have her at ‘Training and Development Unit’ (an AO name) 3300 Solihull Parkway Birmingham Business Park Birmingham B37 7YQ’, today an ATOS address [15]. As late as 2014 AO (ATOS since 2011) handled courses in ‘disability assessment medicine’ for the Faculty Of Occupational Medicine, with Ms Rhodes as a contact person in Birmingham. (The FOM website placed her at ‘Atos Origin’, with a Birmingham phone number and an AO email address [16]). We have then, an American insurer in direct contact with a French company that worked then on health matters for DWP, quite possibly influencing Government policy decisions, e.g. as follows:

 

Mansel Aylward joined the Civil Service in 1985. In 1996 he became Chief Medical Advisor, DSS and in 2000 Medical Director and Chief Scientist, DWP. He was appointed Professor at Cardiff University in October 2004, and headed its UnumProvident Centre For Psychosocial And Disability Research, starting June 2004 [17]. Aylward left DWP in April 2005 [18]. This conflict of interest is well – known (see my note 1, esp. Mo Stuart’s papers).

 

Now consider the document ‘LiMA v2 Technical Manual’, mentioned above. It states that in 2004 ‘The Medical Director for DWP’ was its ‘Owner and approver’. By B, this was Aylward. Thus we have,

 

(**)  if (*) is true, then in 2004 Mansel Aylward owned

the document ‘LiMA v2 Technical Manual’ already

mentioned, which would later be used in the WCA.

 

One cannot conclude from all this that he knew in 2004 that

‘LiMA v2 Technical Manual’ mentioned above would be so used, or that he had ever worked on the WCA. But one can say by this document alone, that in 2004 Aylward owned and approved a LIMA document already mentioned, namely ‘LiMA v2 Technical Manual’, prepared by DWP and AO, and that this together with documents ‘LiMA V3 Technical Manual’ and ‘EBM Cardiorespiratory and Mental Health’ already mentioned, connect UNUM with AO and DWP via Ms Rhodes [19]. This shows us an apparent irregularity involving Mansel Aylward:

his being in a position open to indirect influence by UNUM. Opinions can differ as to the propriety of this position. To some it is a temptation to corruption, to others an unacceptable irregularity. Moral political conduct by three governments – Brown, Blair, Cameron –  would not have allowed Aylward’s position to exist [20].

 

 

NOTES

 

 

  1. Debbie Jolly ‘A Tale of Two Models,’ http://dpac.uk.net/2012/04/a-tale-of-two-models-disabled-people-vs-unum-atos-government-and-disability-charities-debbie-jolly/ , Jonathan Rutherford ‘New Labour, the Market State, and the End of Welfare, ’ Soundings Summer 2007, https://www.lwbooks.co.uk/soundings/36/new-labour-market-state-and-end-of-welfare , Mo Stuart, Cash not Care, forthcoming, and her January 2015 paper at Research Gate,‘The influence  of  the  private  insurance  industry  on  the  UK welfare  reforms’.
  2. I could not have written this without the constant inspiration and almost daily assistance of Gill Thorburn. See her well – argued and insightful articles at (a) https://internationalgreensocialist.wordpress.com/illness-as-deviance-work-as-glittering-salvation-and-the-psyching-up-of-the-medical-model-strategies-for-getting-the-sick-back-to-work/

and (b) http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/09/18/dwpatosunum-scandal-an-academic-responds-with-disbelief-to-professor-aylwards-statement-to-black-triangle-and-dpac-outside-the-ifdm2012-conference-on-11th-september-2012/ .

  1. Gordon Waddell & Mansel Aylward, The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits,TSO 2005. A key text.
  2. Rutherford, see my note 1, p. 42. E.g, the Howker Decision http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/howker-v-secretary-state-social-security accessed 5 September 2016.
  3. See Tony Blair, ‘New community, new individualism’ 1993 & ‘The rights we enjoy, the duties we owe’ 1995. Both in his New Britain: My Vision of a Young Country. Fourth Estate, London,1996. It is worrying that such poorly argued talks helped determine New Labour’s policies.
  4. Beastrabban\’s Weblog, https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/from-2000-sema-the-atos-of-its-day/ accessed 30 August 2016.
  5. Schlumberger website; AO http://atos.net/en-us/home/we-are/news/press-release/2005/pr-2005_03_16_02.html & http://atos.net/fr-fr/accueil/nous-sommes/newsroom/communique-de-presse/20040/pr-2004_01_29_01.html both accessed 31 August 2016.
  6. Talcott Parsons, The Social System, New York, Free Press 1951, Chapter X, also London, Routledge 2005.
  7. DWP was formed on 8 June 2001.
  8. ‘The Computer Says No’ Disability News Service 189, December 2005.
  9. ‘LIMA’ and that date occur in the Atos Origin Medical Services ‘Rapport Conference Special’, available at Maxwell Head’s issuu space https://issuu.com/maxhead/docs .
  10. Dropbox links: (1) https://www.dropbox.com/s/yrot14lrt4vfhr6/LiMA%20v2%20Technical%20Manual2.pdf?dl=0 (2) https://www.dropbox.com/s/6agxw63t91fbxxp/LIMA%20V3.pdf?dl=0 (3) https://www.dropbox.com/s/ckgh3m4v03x78ex/SCHLUMBERGER%20EBM.pdf?dl=0
  11. http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2011/06/08/lima-v2-technical-manual-download/ accessed 5 September 2016.
  12. https://touch.www.linkedin.com/?sessionid=2764603441055079&as=false&rs=false&can=https%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Elinkedin%2Ecom%2Fprofile%2Fin%2Fangela-rhodes-8b752815#profile/52062475/name:7XGp accessed 6 September 2016.
  13. http://uk.atos.net/en-uk/home/contact-us/locations/birmingham-business-park.html accessed 6 September 2016.
  14. http://www.fom.ac.uk/education/non-specialist-qualifications-and-training/diplomas/ddam accessed 1 September 2014.This link is still active (6 September 2016), but its page differs totally from the older content. One suspects possibly long – term influences of UNUM on FOM’s disability analyst training, via Ms Rhodes.
  15. Rutherford, see my note 1, p. 43. Also my note 11.
  16. http://webarchive.national.gov.uk/20121128010755/http:www.wales.nhs.uk/siteplus/888/page/44565 accessed 9 September 2014.
  17. I do not know if ownership of the document ‘LiMA v2 Technical Manual’ already mentioned, was bound to the job or to the person (Aylward, in 2004).
  18. For a study of the social climate that enabled the WCA, see Shakespeare et al, ‘Blaming the Victim All Over Again’ Critical Social Policy, 2016 Vol. 36(4): 1 – 20.

 

Thanks go to Anita Bellows of DPAC for much support, for telling me about the Howker Decision, and for critical comments on the penultimate draft. To Alice Besch of Amsterdam for forming some of my positions by example, and to some members of the international ME community for inspiration and education.

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 Posted by at 14:39
Aug 272016
 

The story of David Clapson is well known, but for those who do not, David was a man who died after being sanctioned for missing a DWP appointment. David was claiming JobSeeker Allowance after leaving his army career for looking after her mother. Left without money, David could not pay for the electricity which powered the fridge in which he kept the insulin. Because David was diabetic.  The reason for death was diabetic ketoacidosis, caused by a severe lack of insulin[i].  David died on the 20th of July 2013.

On the 29th of September 2015, (over 2 years after David’s death) a FOI request was sent to DWP asking whether the Department “if any new or updated guidance has been issued to Jobcentres by the DWP on sanctioning people with the medial condition diabetes”. To which DWP responded: “There is no guidance in existence which specifically covers sanctioning people with diabetes”. [ii]

Yesterday in the Salford online, an article was published about another diabetic JSA claimant, David , who was “illegally” and repeatedly sanctioned. By illegally, it has to be understood that there was no grounds to sanction David, but it was still sanctioned and left without money for 4 weeks. During this period, he was unable to control his diabetes, because he had no money for food.  This caused diabetic ulcers which became infected and he had to have a leg amputated. All his sanctions were eventually overturned, but it was too late[iii].

We know that DWP has issued guidance for staff to deal with ‘vulnerable’ people.  It is obvious this guidance is ineffective or that DWP staff don’t follow it. In any case, DWP is guilty. Guilty of David Clapson’s death, guilty of David being amputated, guilty of the misery inflicted on numerous other claimants whose names don’t make the headlines by their senseless, baseless, inhuman sanctions.

If you want to help David and others and bring a case against DWP, you can sign the petition here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/social-security-magna-carta

If you have a bit of money to spare to fund the case, you can help with the crowdfunding here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/alec-mcfadden?utm_id=2&utm_term=wqzVMRZ5g

If you want to follow Salford Unemployed & Community Resource Centre, who are supporting David and other sanctioned claimants, on Twitter, they are here: @SalfordUCRC

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/09/david-clapson-benefit-sanctions-death-government-policies

 

[ii] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/293660/response/713334/attach/3/FOI%204046.pdf

 

[iii] http://salfordonline.com/31135-outrage-disabled-man-salford-benefits-sanction-camapign.html

 

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 Posted by at 17:29
Aug 222016
 

Many thanks to David Morgan @AJobTracker https://medium.com/@binreminded for this article 

The areas of the UK with the highest deprivation and poorest quality housing such as Hartlepool pay over twice as much in council tax as their own MP in Westminster for a property of similar value.

For example Band D — in Hartlepool — council tax costs £1695.32 whereas in Westminster council tax for this band is £672.74 for a property with value in 1991 of up to £88,000. That would be the equivalent of a property worth about £330,000 in 2016 according to Nationwide.

So a council tax Band D property occupier in Hartlepool pays 2.5 times more in council tax than their own MP for a flat in Westminster. The MP would also get a 25% discount if they lived alone.

You have to ask yourself what does a person in Hartlepool get for spending over twice as much as their MP in Westminster on council tax? Council tax is often listed as paying for key services such as schools, rubbish collection, roads, street lighting, policing and the fire service.

Schools — the best school in Westminster typically has 100% of children getting 5 Good GCSEs (mostly As) — whereas in Hartlepool the very best school has only 68% of children getting good GCSEs. So schools are generally better in Westminster.

Policing — Westminster typically has four times the amount of crime as Hartlepool. Is the cost of policing more expensive in Hartlepool with less crime?

Fire service — Westminster has 2 fire stations — Hartlepool has 2 fire stations. Is the cost of the fire service more expensive in Hartlepool?

Refuse collection — there are around 40,000 households in Hartlepool. There are over 105,000 in Westminster. Is the cost of refuse collection more expensive in Hartlepool with fewer properties?

Westminster has a higher number of households, more crime, far better schools and a similar fire service — yet Hartlepool one of the most deprived areas in Britain has to pay more for its council services.

Also if you look at council tax increases for 2016/17 the most deprived areas like Hartlepool have council tax increases of over 3.5% — whereas in Westminster council tax is decreasing.

A fairer system of local taxation is needed. So the most deprived areas get more money from central governmentand so council tax is either the same or less in deprived areas for each council tax property band.

If you want to do your own analysis:

A table of Westminster spending over £500:http://www.spotlightonspend.org.uk/259/City+of+Westminster+Council/Spend

The Hartlepool budget book:https://www.hartlepool.gov.uk/downloads/file/1045/budget_book_2015_-_16

 

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 Posted by at 16:27
May 192016
 

Thanks to David Morgan, who wrote this article to explain the financial implications of being sanctioned under Universal Credit, and how hardship payments which are supposed to help claimants to avoid total destitution, because they are now recoverable, extend the duration of a sanction.

To follow David on Twitter @AjobTracker

On Google: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=a.jobtrackernew&hl=en_GB

 

If you are low paid or unemployed, you are probably aware that Universal Credit will replace both Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and tax credits. Part of your deal to get that benefit payment will be a claimant commitment — a signed promise. That claimant commitment will be to actively job seek — for example for 35 hours each week if you are unemployed or to work and job seek for 35 hours in total. It may also be part of your claimant commitment to get a payrise, work more hours or get a second job. The purpose of the claimant commitment is to decrease your reliance on the government for income and become self-reliant.

The Jobcentre will appoint a work coach to you. That person will track your efforts — either checking what you search for on the DWP web site — Universal Jobmatch or invite you in for meetings to discuss your job seeking efforts. The frequency will depend on whether you are unemployed or employed. It could be 2 weekly, monthly or 3 monthly.

At some point they may decide you have failed in your commitment — for example you didn’t get a second job or a payrise that you said you would or didn’t search for enough jobs. At this point they may decide to sanction your benefit. This will mean losing all of your benefit for a period of time — typically 4 weeks. A benefit that may be paying your rent or enable you to pay for your busfare to work or the jobcentre — or to buy food.

The DWP or CAB may tell you to apply for a hardship payment. The rules to get this payment will mean that you have to be refused help by your relatives first and that you need it for essential things like food or electricity, not for example to pay for your Sky TV box. It will not be easy to get a hardship payment. Before they even process your hardship claim, they will check that you are still following your claimant commitment. So that may require another meeting at the Jobcentre one or two weeks later.

Assuming the Universal Credit basic allowance is £251.77 per month for a single person and assuming the DWP have agreed to pay you a hardship payment that will only be 60% of your normal Universal Credit payment. The single worker might get £151 as a hardship payment and would be £100 short that month. A female lone parent with a severely disabled child might get as much as £2167 normally under Universal Credit — which includes rent and other allowances. If she is sanctioned but gets hardship, she could lose over £876 — that could be equivalent to a month’s rent. And as those payments are loans, they will have to be paid back from future Universal Credit payments. So they will both continue to be short of money on Universal Credit for months.

The month after a sanction, the DWP would automatically deduct 40% from a Universal Credit payment to repay a hardship loan. For the lone parent who was normally getting £2167 to help with a severely disabled child she will have another £867 deducted from her income — again potentially another month’s rent. The single worker would have another £100 deducted to repay the loan. Again perhaps no busfare for work and no money for lunch.

The following month both will still owe 20% of their DWP hardship loans. So another £50 deducted for the single worker and another £433 from the lone parent with the disabled child.

A one month punishment will have been extended to three months for both these people already deemed to be on low incomes and needing the safety net of the DWP.

But it will not end there. Each month the DWP will check their status: “are you job seeking, did you get a payrise or did you get another job”. So they could both have another sanction and then another. It will never end as long as they continue to claim Universal Credit.

In a recent survey by York University, they found cases of people having 5 benefit sanctions one after another. Increasing in length from 4 weeks to 3 years. If you are unlucky enough to have repeated benefit sanctions, this will seriously affect your physical wellbeing and mental health — and that of your children if you have any.

The aim of the government is to make you self-reliant — but Universal Credit sanctions may mean you have to rely on relatives or friends and the goodwill of service providers to not end up in court, homeless or worse.

For more information about benefits and sanctions:

http://www.welfareconditionality.ac.uk/publications/

https://www.turn2us.org.uk/Benefit-guides/Universal-Credit/How-much-Universal-Credit-will-I-get#guide-content

 

 

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 Posted by at 20:38
Apr 162016
 

Reblogged from Charlotte’s blog  https://thepoorsideoflife.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/universal-credit-adverts/ Twitter: @charlotteh71

Follow the great work Charlotte is doing on The Poor Side of Life https://thepoorsideoflife.wordpress.com/

 

You might have noticed these adverts on telephone boxes and bus stops in your local area. Infact the DWP have made sure that they are placed in as many places as possible. They strategically place them in areas where people on low paid work and unemployed people might be using. It’s no mistake. It’s their unofficial announcement that most people will be changed over to universal credit in the near future.
I’ve wrote before about the evils of universal credit, and if you scroll down you will see my previous posts.
In these adverts they state that whilst on universal credit going back to work “pays”. That is a blatant lie.
On the 1st of April this year the in work credit element of universal credit was taken away, therefore leaving people who are on universal credit in a terrible situation. They just won’t be able to survive without struggling a great deal.
So armed with evidence from the department of fiscal studies, child poverty action and the like, who all have proven that being on universal credit, working or not working does make you worse off, we intend to take a stand against these adverts. This is on the basis that the information given “universal credit… Making work pay” is indeed misleading and untrue.
We intend to try and get these adverts taken down by complaining to the advertising standards commission.
Here is the link, please can I ask as many people to fill the form in because they need as many signatures as possible to enable them to look at it and take notice.
https://www.asa.org.uk/Consumers/How-to-complain.aspx
Also tweet this blog #misleadinguniversalcreditads

Here is one of the offending adverts.
Interesting to note. Creative agency Mullen Lowe got paid £250k to produce these posters. There is an endless trickle of money to lie to and to humiliate the poor.

image

Universal credit does not help you when you are in work.
It’s a fact that your appointed work coach will hound you to the point of exhaustion. They will say that you are under employed, and therefore will still have to undergo a 20-38 hour job search as well as having to work your long hours.

Under universal credit work does not pay!

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 Posted by at 13:52
Apr 162016
 

Thanks to Maggie Zolobajluk for allowing us to reblog her article: https://mzolobajluk.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/universal-credit-sanctions-and-the-horror-of-repayable-hardship-payments/   Twitter: @22magoo


It took me a while to get my head around the new policy of Repayable Hardship Payments and how it extends  a four week sanction to seven weeks due to these payments being repayable!

Under the current JSA sanction policy Hardship payments do not have to be repaid, so as soon as the sanction period ends claimants go back to receiving their full benefit.

Under Universal Credit hardship payments MUST BE REPAID once the sanction period has been completed. In effect, the sanction period is extended until the hardship loan has been repaid.

I have calculated the figures below as weekly amounts, as it is easier to explain, although Universal Credit is paid monthly.

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance is paid at a rate of £71.30 for adults over 25.
  • Hardship Payments are paid @ 60% or £42.78
  • Hardship Repayments are repaid at a rate of 40% or £28.52
  • Hardship can be claimed on the 15th day of a sanction if the claimant is not in a vulnerable group
  • The most common benefit sanction is 4 weeks

 

Number of Sanction weeks Hardship payment per week (£) Hardship debt accrued each week (£)
1 0 0
2 0 0
Hardship Payments can be awarded from week 3
3 42.78 42.78
4 42.78 85.56
SANCTION ENDS

 

  • At the end of a 4 week sanction the Repayable Hardship Payment debt is£85.56
  • As stated above Hardship Repayments are repaid at a rate of 40% or £28.52 pw.

 

Number sanction weeks Jobseeker’s Allowance minus hardship repayment (£) Repayment Hardship at £28.52 each week Balance Outstanding
5 42.78 £28.52 57.04
6 42.78 £28.52 28.52
7 42.78 0

 

The debt of £85.56 takes an extra three weeks to repay

so effectively the sanction has been

SEVEN WEEKS!!!!

 

AND

The longer the sanction the longer it takes to repay the debt!

 

Case study: One in-work UC claimant reported being sanctioned for long periods after missing multiple Jobcentre Plus appointments because of unpredictable working hours and variable care demands…

I’m on my court order for the eviction plus because of my arrears… I kept thinking, ‘Why is this happening? Why is this?’… I really was struggling. I fell behind on a lot especially because with the sanctions and then when I got poorly and I wouldn’t work and, because of the sanctions, I still wasn’t getting my main allowance. I was still getting only hardship of £100 odd and I still had to pay the £100, so I was very, very struggling with that… I just asked them, ‘Can you please explain what my money is because I really don’t know? I’ve never had a proper payment and just explain like am I still sanctioned?’ They said, ‘No, your sanctions have now come up’ but now every month I’ve had the hardship, I now have to pay all them back. So, I think it was like £2000 something that they’d actually given me over the year in hardship payments, so I’m still currently paying them off now… You’re in a rut like I’ve been with the bailiffs… I’ve never really been in a debt like that and for it to still carry on now to this day escalating, it’s not nice for people. It doesn’t give you much confidence. It doesn’t really make you want to go into work all happy and carrying on, do you know? It knocks you down and down and it wears you out.

 Read more at Welfare Conditionality

 

It will take 70 weeks to pay back this loan back!

 

How Repayable Hardship Payments effect The Under 25’s

 “If, for example, an individual was in receipt of universal credit at a rate of £249.48 per month (the standard allowance of under 25s), she might receive hardship payments of approximately £149.57 per month during the 13 week sanction period. If s/he then had to repay this at a rate of 40% of the standard allowance rate per month, the period during which her income was reduced by 40% would thus be extended from 13 weeks (the sanction period) to 32 weeks (the sanction period plus the period during which the hardship payment”

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) briefing in advance of the second reading of the Benefit Sanctions Regime (Entitlement to Automatic Hardship Payments) Bill 2015-16

 

I do not think that the consequences of this policy was fully understood when this legislation was passed into law but is an unforeseen consequence, never the less this situation needs to be remedied immediately:

I will be asking my MP to write to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Stephen Crabb MP to ask him to halt the trial of Repayable Hardship Payments that is taking place in Scotland immediately, and to ask him to look at the unintended consequence of this policy and change legislation as necessary.

If you feel as strongly as I do please email and or tweet Your MP

http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/

and Stephen Crabb:

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

Tel:      020 7219 6518

Email: stephen.crabb.mp@parliament.uk                 Twitter: @scrabbmp

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 Posted by at 13:38
Apr 122016
 

There is at this stage no accusation of impropriety or deliberate intent to deceive, but it is obvious that the majority of Tory MPs who voted in favour of the ESA cut and who expressed an opinion about the reasons for doing so were generally uninformed and did not understand what they were voting for. It can’t be expected from MPs to be experts in every single field, but they should be properly briefed, and if they have to rely on template letters to reply to their constituents, or to brief the press, these templates should be accurate and objective, and they should not resort to using selective statistics.  It was a too important vote to play games with people’s lives.

MPs did not know that people in the WRAG have been found unfit for work

What has attracted the most attention is the belief of the new SoS, Stephen Crabb, that people placed in the WRAG are able to work:

There has been a lot of miscommunication about this vote which I want to put right. A decisions was taken by MPs to change the benefit awarded to a specific group of people who receive Employment and Support Allowance.

These people are in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) and they do have a disability or illness but are able to work

He was not the only one. Another 10-15 MPs made a similar statement, including Andrew Griffith who went as far as saying that ‘”It is only those in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance who will be paid at the new rate, which is the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance.  The people in this group are fit to do some form of work, and are actively looking for suitable work”[1] and Mike Fabricant who responded to his Twitter critics that people in the WRAG were people  who ‘failed the medical test’.

Tweet by Tory MP Michael Fabricant which reads ".@MrMalky Only ones to be affected will be those who fail medical test. But I do NOT agree with PIP changes"

Others were sneering on Twitter against people who opposed the cut, like Guto Bebb dismissing critics and saying that existing claimants in the WRAG will be protected, until it was pointed out to him that this protection is not written in the legislation [2]

Twitter conversation between Guto Bebb MP and Tom Evans, Bebb: "Another one who fails to read the legislation. No ESA Claimant loses a penny. Small but important fact", reply by Evans "It doesn't say so in the legislation,Purely at the SoS's discretion to make provision"

It is unlikely that the SoS would renegade on his commitment to protect existing claimants, but nothing prevents him from adding a time limit, or any other restrictions. Ultimately, this protection was not provided for by the legislation and it seems that few MPs understood this, when they claim that existing claimants will be protected.  How many more like Guto Bebb did not understand what they were voting for?

Use of templates by MPs

But the majority of Tory MPs who did make a contribution to the debate, or responded to their constituents concerns used template letters.  The fact that MPs used templates is demonstrated by the following document, which shows that one MP forgot to fill one of the options in brackets when responding to one of his constituents’ concerns: ‘I hope this has also gone some way to explaining the ways the Government is ensuring the system protects those with the most serious conditions, such as [insert relevant condition], including exempting the Support Group component in ESA and its UC equivalent from the benefits freeze and the Benefit Cap’.[3]

But there are real issues with the information provided in these templates.

Issues around the 1 in 100 of ESA WRAG claimants moving the benefit each month compared to 1 in 5 JSA claimants

Around 20 MPs used the figure of 1 in 100 of ESA WRAG claimants moving off WRAG each month compared to 1 in 5 JSA claimants. This figure or the 1% which was used before by Priti Patel, Justin Tomlinson[4], David Freud [5]and Iain Duncan Smith (The Dear colleagues letter), is wrong.

DWP figures show that the cumulative number of claimants placed in the WRAG is 1,061,600 since 2008, and that in May 2015, the WRAG caseload is 476,500 claimants. Which means that 585,100 claimants moved out of the WRAG during this period, or in other terms, 55% of claimants placed in the WRAG left the ESA benefit.

Let’s also not forget that some people in the WRAG were given a prognosis of “two years or more” and that DWP explained that “a prognosis of two years or more is defined as unlikely in the longer term”[6].  Therefore to make a direct comparison between the number of people leaving the WRAG and the people leaving JSA is highly mendacious. Only the people the most ready to move into work should have been considered for this comparison, not the people that even DWP accepts are unlikely to work again, but have been placed in the WRAG because they did not meet the Support Group criteria.

Issues about automatic entitlement to the SG for people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy

More importantly, over 20 MPs (different from the ones mentioned above) wrote to their constituents or on their website that ‘In January 2013, for example, the ESA rules were changed so those receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy will always be placed in the Support Group and the majority of cases will be assessed on medical evidence rather than a Work Capability Assessment’. That is wrong, and very misleading. The Employment and Support Allowance regulations are very clear.  This applies only if ‘the SoS is satisfied that the claimant should be treated as having limited capability for work related activity’.  By SoS, read DWP Decision Maker[7].  There is no automatic entitlement to be placed in the WRAG or the Support Group for people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy.  This is implicitly confirmed by IDS, in the letter he sent to all MPs on the 11th of February 2016, to convince them to vote in favour of the £30 ESA cut, saying that ‘It is essential people suffering with cancer get the right support. Indeed, those who are undergoing or recovering from intravenous, intraperitoneal or intrathecal chemotherapy will be automatically put in the Support Group on paper based evidence and will receive the highest rate of benefit’.

Question: What about people with cancer?

  • It’s essential people suffering with cancer get the right support. Indeed, those who are undergoing or recovering from intravenous. intraperitoneal or intrathecal chemotherapy will be automatically put in the Support Group on paper based evidence and will receive the highest rate of benefit.
  • A healthcare professional will determine the right support for other people with cancer. This will depend on a claimant’s individual circumstances.
  • Macmillan recognises this, stating in a report that: “Many people who are working when they are diagnosed with cancer would prefer to remain in work, or return to their job, during or after treatment.”
  • Existing claimants will not be affected.

In any case, his intention of protecting some categories of claimants has not been communicated beyond the Tory MPs he wrote to.

Issues about statistics of claimants with progressive illnesses placed in the WRAG

There also seems to have been some confusion about the number of people with progressive illnesses placed in the WRAG. Priti Patel led the charge with this, by responding that the claim that 1/3 of people with Parkinson’s were placed in the WRAG was wrong[8]. And she gave the link to prove it[9] which showed that 2,400 people with Parkinson’s were placed in the Support Group and 200 placed in the WRAG as of February 2015, and this information has been relayed again by a number of MPs responding to concerns of their constituents or on their website, stating that 95% of claimants with progressive illnesses have been placed in the Support Group. Unfortunately, Priti Patel had to answer an MP question on the 24th of March 2016, which shows very clearly that around 1/3 of claimants with progressive illnesses have been placed in the WRAG[10]  since 2008.  Let’s remember that in February 2015, Atos was still in charge of the WCA and trying desperately to clear a 700,000 backlog by prioritising paper based assessments (quicker to do than face to face assessments), which means that the most severely disabled people would have been prioritised, and that would have distorted the figures and inflated the number of claimants placed in the Support Group.  It is never good practice to look at statistics at one point in time, unless there is a reason for doing it

What it also means is even  if 95% of people with progressive illnesses had been  placed in the Support Group (and they were not)  that still  leaves  5% of them being  subjected to sanctions or the threats of sanctions if they cannot do what is expected from them by being in the WRAG.

Issue about 61% of claimants in the WRAG want to work

Another point which keeps coming  back in over 20 statements made by MP to justify voting for the ESA cuts is that 61% of people in the WRAG say they want to work.  This figure is taken from the Impact Assessment[11], which takes this figure from a DWP 2013 survey: A survey of disabled working age benefit claimants, July 2013, DWP[12].

The statement which 61% of people in the WRAG agree with was the following:

I currently want to work

But when the same survey asked whether Having a job would be beneficial for my health, only 25% agree or strongly agree with this statement.

And when asked whether I am currently able to work only 14% of people in the WRAG agree or strongly agree with this statement.

So the use of 61% was highly selective and even deceitful, by equating wanted to work with able to work

Issues about the £50bn spent on disabled people

This argument has been used by all MPs and is used on regular basis by the DWP and DWP’s Ministers. It is therefore very strange that in two separate letters, one by Iain Duncan Smith[13], the ex Secretary of State and one by Priti Patel[14], the Minister for Employment, both Ministers refer to only £21bn spent on disabled people.  The 2 letters are almost identical, and a template has obviously been used, but how to explain the use of £21bn rather than £50bn expenditure on disabled people?  Is it because the £21bn figure is closer to the truth, once adult care and expenditure on people over 65 have been removed? [15]

 

[1] http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/Cuts-allowance-misrepresented-says-MP/story-28906161-detail/story.html#ixzz43dcF6s68

[2] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2016/7/section/15/enacted

[3] http://barneteye.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/compassion-barnet-tory-style.html

[4] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160127/halltext/160127h0001.htm

[5] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldhansrd/text/151209-0002.htm

[6] http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2014-07-01a.202738.h&s=speaker%3A11626

[7] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2013/9780111531877/regulation/31

[8] http://www.georgehowarth.org.uk/working_for_you/supporting_docs/parkinsons.pdf

[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/459427/esa-claimants-with-progressive-conditions.pdf

[10] http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2016-03-21.31811.h&s=speaker%3A24778#g31811.r0

[11] http://www.parliament.uk/documents/impact-assessments/IA15-006B.pdf

[12] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/224543/ihr_16_v2.pdf

[13] http://www.georgehowarth.org.uk/working_for_you/supporting_docs/welfare_reform_esa_ids.pdf

[14] http://www.georgehowarth.org.uk/working_for_you/supporting_docs/welfare_esa_patel.pdf

[15] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/186956/foi-774-2013.pdf

 

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 Posted by at 15:12
Apr 012016
 

Thanks again to Joe Halewood which published yesterday an article with a new defining judgement of the Upper Tribunal on the bedroom tax. In its judgement, the tribunal has decided what is a bedroom.

What it means practically: Joe estimates that this new decision will concern around 150,000 claimants, about 1/3 of all people affected by the bedroom tax.  But what it also means is that each and every single tenant can and should appeal a bedroom tax decision and get their local council to inspect their property to check whether their spare bedroom(s) conform to  the definition given by the Upper Tribunal of a ‘bedroom’.  The idea is not only to get the local council to revise some bedroom decisions, but also to clog up the system, to make it unmanageable and too expensive.

Joe’s article is here: https://speye.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/bedroom-tax-the-defining-moment-as-ut-decision-makes-it-history/

It contains an explanation of the Upper Tribunal decision plus a template letter for you to use, and send to your local council.  That is the kind of direct action which can help bring down the bedroom tax .

 

This was the original article by Joe Halewoodpublished on the 3rd February 2016.

Many thanks to Joe Halewood (@SpeyeJoe https://speye.wordpress.com/ for another excellent article which is attached below and which he allowed us to republish.What

In a nutshell, the Upper Tribunal has stated that the Housing Benefit Department of your council should have considered all relevant circumstances of any individual case before making a decision. So within one month of receiving your Housing Benefit decision in March 2016, you should send a letter to ask your council to reconsider the decision as you don’t believe all relevant circumstances have been considered in your case. Joe gives you examples in his article of what might not have been considered.  See below.

And if you don’t like the outcome, you can write another letter to your council to say you disagree with their decision and require the matter go to the tribunal.  It is free and it is legal. Follow all the instructions given by Joe Halewood .

Every one has a right of appeal against the decision and they SHOULD use that right.

It does not mean that the decision will be overturned in your case but it is a direct action to get the government to back down from what is an awful and damaging piece of legislation. If everybody or most people affected appeal, the savings brought by the bedroom tax which are already minimal will disappear, and the bedroom tax will become such an expensive policy that it cannot be defended and sustained.

The bedroom tax will eventually go, but we can make happen earlier rather than later.

 

Bedroom Tax – Let’s all cost DWP £1.26 billion per year and get rid if the bedroom tax

 

When 449,151 bedroom tax households get their new bedroom tax decision notices in March this year, which on average cuts their housing benefit by £795.72 per year then ALL 449,151 could appeal this decision which is their right and if they did then each First-tier Tribunal costs central government £2,800.

The bedroom tax cuts saves government £357.4 million [449,151 x £795.72] yet if everyone appealed the decision then 449,151 bedroom tax appeals will cost government £1.26 billion – or 3.5 times what they wish to save from it.

For every £1 allegedly saved, the government would be spending out £3.50 to defend that decision in simple terms.

Every one has a right of appeal against the decision to impose it and they SHOULD use that right.

It costs nothing to appeal and it would severely damage the policy by a form of lawful direct action.

All it takes is a letter with a signature within one month of receiving the HB decision notice and handed in to your local council’s one stop shop or office.

Sample letter to explain the simplicity of this below.

Include the date and your HB reference number and/or NI number and say as an opening paragraph the following.

Dear sirs,

I request that you reconsider your housing benefit decision dated dd/mm/2016 as I maintain you have not considered all relevant circumstances of my individual case which the Upper Tribunal state you must do as the decision maker in paragraph 54 of the three judge panel in [2014] UKUT 0525 (AAC).

Then you need to say (a) why you maintain a room is NOT a bedroom and then (b) sign it and hand it in.

There are many reasons you could give as to why you maintain the room or rooms upon which you have been deducted bedroom tax are not a bedroom and I cover some of these at the end (also in blue.)

The key issue is that you appeal as part of a direct action protest which is lawful and a legitimate form of protest – else you would not have the right to appeal in the first place – and these appeals all going to the tribunal service would cost central government £2,800 each.

All it takes is one letter with a signature.  Your council’s HB department then have to conduct a reconsideration of the decision and say, in writing to you, why they maintain the original decision was correct to impose the bedroom tax.

Then you could email your council’s HB department (this second step does not necessarily need a signature though the first step does, hence a letter) to say you disagree with their decision and require the matter go to the tribunal.

One letter and one email is all it takes.

Is 1 letter and 1 email worth the trouble to potentially save £795.72 per year?  Of course it must be and note many of the 449,151 bedroom tax cases could have very legitimate reasons of appeal.

If EVERYONE appealed which I restate is your absolute right, then this would cause an almighty political stink as well as cost the government much more than they could possibly save.  So what!

The fact such a direct action protest would bring the matter to a head and do to IDS what he is now doing by using taxpayers money to appeal the Court of Appeal decisions which will cost more to appeal than the government gets if it wins – is example the same principle.

Do unto IDS as he is doing unto you!!

____________________

Some valid and arguable reasons why a room is not a bedroom are below and kept deliberately short.

  1. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it does not conform to the minimum size requirements in order to be a functional bedroom in accordance with Tudor Walters issues as stated in paragraph [55] of the above 3JP case
  2. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as of its unusual design and layout 
  3. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as to put a bed in that room would deny access to a built-in cupboard
  4. I maintain 1 room is not a bedroom as it has no window
  5. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not ventilated in the same way as other bedrooms
  6. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not heated as other bedrooms
  7. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is needed for therapeutic other uses.
  8. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not of normal height
  9. I maintain that 1 room has a sloping roof and it not a bedroom

All of the above are very legitimate legal reasons why a room is not a bedroom even if the landlord says it is a bedroom and you only need to add one reason in the original letter and in addition to the opening paragraph as drafted.

There will be and are dozens more reasons that have all been upheld at tribunals or in which the decision has been changed before the matter going to a tribunal.

One such reason which was an example of common sense and good practice was a case where an 8 year old girl and her 5 year old brother were sharing a bedroom which is what the regulations say.  Two children of opposite sexes can share a room if both under 10.

Yet the 8 year old girl started her periods and after discussion and consideration the council bedroom tax decision maker agreed that the girl needed a bedroom of here own which she clearly did.  Note too that the NHS have this on their website:

Most girls start their periods when they’re about 12, but they can start as early as 8, so it’s important to talk to girls from an early age to make sure they’re prepared before the big day.

So we see the NHS admitting that some girls start their period as young as 8 years of age.

Regrettably many councils believe they do not have the discretion to do this and must stick rigidly with 2 children under 10 must share a room for bedroom tax purposes.  However every council decision maker DOES have discretion and they are free to determine in the individual circumstances that the housing need in terms of bedrooms was not 1 for the 8 year old girl and her 5 year old brother, but, as a matter of correctness 2 bedrooms or a bedroom each.

The example above is used because it illustrates what I drafted in the opening paragraph of the letter above in the council decision maker considering all relevant circumstances on a case by case basis which is what paragraph 54 of the legal precedent says.  In discussing what is and is not a bedroom and how decision makers approach that question paragraph [54] says:

We also agree with the Secretary of State that the choice by Parliament of a test using an undefined familiar or ordinary English word supports the view that Parliament intended to allow decision makers to take account of all relevant circumstances on a case by case basis

All relevant circumstances on a case by case basis is discretion for the decision maker and so decision makers – and they are your local councils HB department and no one else – have to consider my points 1 – 9 above and also have to consider the much rarer examples of an 8 year girl starting her periods as I illustrate.

In summary, the most important issue and for me the quickest way to get rid of the bedroom tax is if all 449,151 households who are currently affected write 1 letter and then insist in 1 email their council refers their individual case to tribunal to cost the government £2,800 or so.

 

 

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 Posted by at 17:27
Feb 032016
 

Thanks again to Joe Halewood which published today an article with a new defining judgement of the Upper Tribunal on the bedroom tax. In its judgement, the tribunal has decided what is a bedroom.

What it means practically: Joe estimates that this new decision will concern around 150,000 claimants, about 1/3 of all people affected by the bedroom tax.  But what it also means is that each and every single tenant can and should appeal a bedroom tax decision and get their local council to inspect the property to check whether their spare bedroom(s) conform to  the definition given by the Upper Tribunal of a ‘bedroom’.  The idea is not only to get the local council to revise some bedroom decisions, but alsoto clog up the system, to make it unmanageable and too expensive.

Joe’s article is here: https://speye.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/bedroom-tax-the-defining-moment-as-ut-decision-makes-it-history/

It contains an explanation of the Upper Tribunal decision plus a template letter for you to use, and send to your local council.  That is the kind of direct action which can bring down the bedroom tax .

 

This was the original article by Joe Halewoodpublished on the 3rd February 2016.

Many thanks to Joe Halewood (@SpeyeJoe https://speye.wordpress.com/ for another excellent article which is attached below and which he allowed us to republish.What

In a nutshell, the Upper Tribunal has stated that the Housing Benefit Department of your council should have considered all relevant circumstances of any individual case before making a decision. So within one month of receiving your Housing Benefit decision in March 2016, you should send a letter to ask your council to reconsider the decision as you don’t believe all relevant circumstances have been considered in your case. Joe gives you examples in his article of what might not have been considered.  See below.

And if you don’t like the outcome, you can write another letter to your council to say you disagree with their decision and require the matter go to the tribunal.  It is free and it is legal. Follow all the instructions given by Joe Halewood .

Every one has a right of appeal against the decision and they SHOULD use that right.

It does not mean that the decision will be overturned in your case but it is a direct action to get the government to back down from what is an awful and damaging piece of legislation. If everybody or most people affected appeal, the savings brought by the bedroom tax which are already minimal will disappear, and the bedroom tax will become such an expensive policy that it cannot be defended and sustained.

The bedroom tax will eventually go, but we can make happen earlier rather than later.

 

Bedroom Tax – Let’s all cost IDS £1.26 billion per year and get rid

Jeremy Corbyn tweets a story in today’s Mirror which says that the Tories are to spend more in legal fees appealing last weeks Court of Appeal defeat than the ruling would cost them to implement.

corbyn bedroom tax

IDS is prepared to waste taxpayer’s money in spitting out his dummy is the implication and it’s a correct implication.

So is what is good for the goose good for the gander?

When 449,151 bedroom tax households get their new bedroom tax decision notices in March this year, which on average cuts their housing benefit by £795.72 per year then ALL 449,151 could appeal this decision which is their right and if they did then each First-tier Tribunal costs central government £2,800.

The bedroom tax cuts saves government £357.4 million [449,151 x £795.72] yet if everyone appealed the decision then 449,151 bedroom tax appeals will cost government £1.26 billion – or 3.5 times what they wish to save from it.

For every £1 allegedly saved, the government would be spending out £3.50 to defend that decision in simple terms.

Every one has a right of appeal against the decision to impose it and they SHOULD use that right.

It costs nothing to appeal and it would severely damage the policy by a form of lawful direct action.

All it takes is a letter with a signature within one month of receiving the HB decision notice and handed in to your local council’s one stop shop or office.

Sample letter to explain the simplicity of this below.

Include the date and your HB reference number and/or NI number and say as an opening paragraph the following.

Dear sirs,

I request that you reconsider your housing benefit decision dated dd/mm/2016 as I maintain you have not considered all relevant circumstances of my individual case which the Upper Tribunal state you must do as the decision maker in paragraph 54 of the three judge panel in [2014] UKUT 0525 (AAC).

Then you need to say (a) why you maintain a room is NOT a bedroom and then (b) sign it and hand it in.

There are many reasons you could give as to why you maintain the room or rooms upon which you have been deducted bedroom tax are not a bedroom and I cover some of these at the end (also in blue.)

The key issue is that you appeal as part of a direct action protest which is lawful and a legitimate form of protest – else you would not have the right to appeal in the first place – and these appeals all going to the tribunal service would cost central government £2,800 each.

All it takes is one letter with a signature.  Your council’s HB department then have to conduct a reconsideration of the decision and say, in writing to you, why they maintain the original decision was correct to impose the bedroom tax.

Then you could email your council’s HB department (this second step does not necessarily need a signature though the first step does, hence a letter) to say you disagree with their decision and require the matter go to the tribunal.

One letter and one email is all it takes.

Is 1 letter and 1 email worth the trouble to potentially save £795.72 per year?  Of course it must be and note many of the 449,151 bedroom tax cases could have very legitimate reasons of appeal.

If EVERYONE appealed which I restate is your absolute right, then this would cause an almighty political stink as well as cost the government much more than they could possibly save.  So what!

The fact such a direct action protest would bring the matter to a head and do to IDS what he is now doing by using taxpayers money to appeal the Court of Appeal decisions which will cost more to appeal than the government gets if it wins – is example the same principle.

Do unto IDS as he is doing unto you!!

____________________

Some valid and arguable reasons why a room is not a bedroom are below and kept deliberately short.

  1. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it does not conform to the minimum size requirements in order to be a functional bedroom in accordance with Tudor Walters issues as stated in paragraph [55] of the above 3JP case
  2. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as of its unusual design and layout 
  3. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as to put a bed in that room would deny access to a built-in cupboard
  4. I maintain 1 room is not a bedroom as it has no window
  5. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not ventilated in the same way as other bedrooms
  6. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not heated as other bedrooms
  7. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is needed for therapeutic other uses.
  8. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not of normal height
  9. I maintain that 1 room has a sloping roof and it not a bedroom

All of the above are very legitimate legal reasons why a room is not a bedroom even if the landlord says it is a bedroom and you only need to add one reason in the original letter and in addition to the opening paragraph as drafted.

There will be and are dozens more reasons that have all been upheld at tribunals or in which the decision has been changed before the matter going to a tribunal.

One such reason which was an example of common sense and good practice was a case where an 8 year old girl and her 5 year old brother were sharing a bedroom which is what the regulations say.  Two children of opposite sexes can share a room if both under 10.

Yet the 8 year old girl started her periods and after discussion and consideration the council bedroom tax decision maker agreed that the girl needed a bedroom of here own which she clearly did.  Note too that the NHS have this on their website:

Most girls start their periods when they’re about 12, but they can start as early as 8, so it’s important to talk to girls from an early age to make sure they’re prepared before the big day.

So we see the NHS admitting that some girls start their period as young as 8 years of age.

Regrettably many councils believe they do not have the discretion to do this and must stick rigidly with 2 children under 10 must share a room for bedroom tax purposes.  However every council decision maker DOES have discretion and they are free to determine in the individual circumstances that the housing need in terms of bedrooms was not 1 for the 8 year old girl and her 5 year old brother, but, as a matter of correctness 2 bedrooms or a bedroom each.

The example above is used because it illustrates what I drafted in the opening paragraph of the letter above in the council decision maker considering all relevant circumstances on a case by case basis which is what paragraph 54 of the legal precedent says.  In discussing what is and is not a bedroom and how decision makers approach that question paragraph [54] says:

We also agree with the Secretary of State that the choice by Parliament of a test using an undefined familiar or ordinary English word supports the view that Parliament intended to allow decision makers to take account of all relevant circumstances on a case by case basis

All relevant circumstances on a case by case basis is discretion for the decision maker and so decision makers – and they are your local councils HB department and no one else – have to consider my points 1 – 9 above and also have to consider the much rarer examples of an 8 year girl starting her periods as I illustrate.

In summary, the most important issue and for me the quickest way to get rid of the bedroom tax is if all 449,151 households who are currently affected write 1 letter and then insist in 1 email their council refers their individual case to tribunal to cost the government £2,800 or so.

Do unto IDS as he is doing unto you!

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 Posted by at 19:41
Jan 252016
 

 

Dear Members of the House of Lords

A number of letters from Lord Freud have come to the attention of DPAC, some sent as part of the briefing to peers about Welfare Reform (namely Welfare Reform and Work Bill Policy Brief addendum Clauses 13 & 14 http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2015-1009/151203_Peers_Briefing_Addendum_-_Clauses_13_and_14.pdf ) and others responding to the Lords’ questions  and concerns.  DPAC feels that some issues were not fully addressed and wishes to add its contributions to Monday’s debate.

2 issues are being dealt with

1) The rationale for cutting ESA benefit in the WRAG, as providing an incentive for work, when DWP own statistics show that claimants have been wrongly assessed and placed in the wrong group with a too short prognosis. Evidence is provided

2) Suicide of benefit claimants. Although a causal link between claiming benefit and suicides would be too difficult to establish at this stage, 2 coroners wrote Preventable Deaths Reports stating that being found fit for work and losing benefits was the trigger in 2 cases of suicides. DWP also recognised implicitly this link in a 2012 internal memo

 

Regarding the Document Welfare Reform and Work Bill Policy Brief addendum Clauses 13 & 14

Explanation of the 1% figure used in the policy note

Although only 17,000 of the 477,000 claimants left the benefit between March and May 2015, which is lower than expected, and the claims also longer than expected (average of 2 years), the explanation for these small numbers can be found in the following section, which deals with the rationale for cutting disability benefits for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG)

Provide evidence review of work incentives

Lord Freud quotes 2 sentences from a 2005 OECD report which looks at In-Work Benefits (rather than out of work benefits), and which never mentions disabled people or disability. From these 2 sentences, Lord Freud extrapolates the report’s findings to disabled people.
It would have been better to use the 2014 OECD report Connecting People with Jobs: Activation Policies in the United Kingdom which looks at the Work Programme (WP) and specifically at the WP’s poor work outcomes for New ESA Claimants.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=L9sGBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA72&lpg=PA72&dq=ex+ib+claiming+jsa&source=bl&ots=FmZ1pYubMx&sig=OVVelJOGG0v_k_B6Vb_jSnx7BWA&hl=fr&sa=X&ei=3eegVainAcTiUbnIkOgF&ved=0CFMQ6AEwBg#v=snippet&q=prognosis&f=false

 

Apart from recommending improved interventions by providers, the report suggests that ‘an improved WCA process may help better identified claimants where a 3-6 months prognosis is justified, thus increasing the average health level of this group’ (page 214).

In other terms, what the OECD report says is that New ESA Claimants, who for the purpose of the WP are split into 2 groups (one group with a 12 month prognosis and the other excluding 12 month prognosis), have been wrongly assessed as to their readiness to work.

 

This is supported by DWP’s own statistics.

A FOI request made in February 2015 shows that 483,900 ESA claimants with progressive conditions have been placed in the WRAG

Of these 483,900 claimants, 1,200 were suffering from Multiple Sclerosis

Progressive condition ESA in WRAG

2 further FOI requests were made regarding these claimants with Multiple Sclerosis

The first, made in December 2015, asks for the total number of these claimants placed in the WRAG between October 2008 and March 2015 and their prognosis: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/303706/response/746743/attach/3/FOI%202015%204905%20Response.pdf

2600 MS

As can be seen, 2,600 claimants with MS were placed in the WRAG, of whom 1,800 had a prognosis up to 12 months, and would have been referred to the WP.

The second FOI request, also made in December 2015, asked how many of the 2,600 claimants with a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis placed in the Work Related Activity Group were found fit for work at repeat assessment https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/307910/response/757874/attach/3/FOI%202015%205230%20Response.pdf

The DWP’s response is 100 claimants

100 MS found FFW

So between October 2008 and June 2015, only 100 claimants with MS were found fit for work at repeat assessment, although they had been placed in the WRAG, 900 of them with a 3-6 months prognosis. These 1,800 claimants, with a prognosis up to 12 months, represents 5.5%, which is in line with the performance of the WP for New ESA Claimants.

It is likely that most claimants would have subsquently been moved into the Support Group, where they should have been placed at initial assessment if they had been correctly assessed. This question was asked of DWP, through a FOI request, to which it did not respond. But it shows that the WCA is failing to properly assess claimants’ capacity for work, and that in the WRAG there are people who have very severe illnesses or disabilities. These are the people who from next year are expected to survive on the same income as JSA claimants, without recognition of the extra costs (transport, heating, diet etc.) associated with disability.

Benefits in UK are considered by the Council of Europe as being among the lowest in Europe http://hudoc.esc.coe.int/eng#{“fulltext”:[“united kingdom”],”ESCDcCreator”:[“European Committee of Social Rights”],”ESCDcLanguage”:[“ENG”],”ESCStateParty”:[“GBR”],”ESCDcIdentifier”:[“XX-2/def/GBR/12/1/EN”]}

‘The Committee holds that even if the minimum levels of short term and long term incapacity benefits, state pension and job seeker’s allowance may satisfy the requirements of the European Code of Social Security, they are manifestly inadequate in the meaning of Article 12§1 of the Charter as they fall below 40% of the Eurostat median equivalised income.’

So following Lord Freud’s reasoning that low benefits help to move benefit claimants into work, the UK should have the highest number of disabled people moving into work. This is not the case. The government is exploiting the failings of the WCA against disabled people to justify cutting their benefits.

 

Suicides linked to claiming benefit

Another letter was written by Lord Freud in December 2015, in response to concerns expressed by Lord Beecham about a recent research linking the WCA to suicides. http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2015-1009/151222_Lord_Freud_letter_following_9_Dec_Committee.pdf

DPAC recognises, as does Lord Freud, that ‘suicide is a tragic and complex issue’. Lord Freud concludes ‘Whilst any death is extremely distressing for the family no causal link whatsoever can be made between the likelihood of dying and the fact that someone is claiming benefits’.

It is very difficult in these circumstances to establish a causal link between the likelihood of dying and claiming benefits, but 2 Coroners wrote Preventable Future Deaths Reports explicitly linking the fact that the 2 persons who committed suicide had been found fit for work and lost their benefits.

The 1st report in 2010  speaks specifically of a ‘trigger’:

Stephen Carre

The above letter was addressed to Yvette Cooper, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and coincided with the election. So the Coalition government would have inherited this letter, but no follow up was ever given to it (as is supposed to happen within 56 days), and the coroner’s recommendations were implemented a few years later after several WCA reviews

 

The second report in January 2014 also states that being found fit for work was the trigger for suicide.

Michael O'Sullivan

.

Many other coroners have cited the WCA and WCA outcomes as contributing factors in ESA claimant suicides, although they have not gone as far as writing a Preventable Deaths Report.

And DWP implicitly recognised this link in an internal memo written in 2012 by Job Centre Plus senior managers (attached), when DWP started a new round of assessments called ESA (c), making decisions on revised benefit entitlement. Within one month of this new programme of reassessments, DWP encountered its first suicide attempt by an ESA claimant who had just been told that his benefits had been stopped

JCP suicide warning

Finally, it has come to light that DWP has conducted 49 peer reviews into claimant’s suicides. Although DWP refuses to disclose anything about these peer reviews, their Terms of Reference indicate that they only ascertain whether the right procedures were followed.

A freedom of information request made in May 2015 reveals that 10 of the 49 peer reviewed claimants who committed suicide, had been sanctioned, which represents 1 in 5. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/252562/response/650114/attach/2/VTR501%20Bellows.pdf

10 in 49 were sanctioned

A responsible and accountable government would want to immediately open a public inquiry into suicides linked to the Welfare Reform.

DPAC thanks you in advance for taking the time to read this submission, which will hopefully inform Monday’s debate.

Yours sincerely,

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)

NB: some links need to be copied rather than clicked on

 

 

 

 

 

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 Posted by at 12:40
Dec 172015
 

People who make a claim for PIP normally undergo a medical assessment (carried out by Atos or Capita, commercial contractors). If not, their claim is assessed based on the merits of the medical evidence and the PIP form they have sent to the assessors.

Let’s not forget that assessors only make recommendations. It is the Department of Work and Pensions Decision Maker who decides to award PIP to a claimant. But assessors do have to make recommendations which will influence the duration of the PIP award. Contrary to what is generally assumed, assessors do not make a recommendation for the duration of the award. They only recommend the date for a PIP review.  This recommendation will take into account whether a claimant’s condition is likely to improve or worsen, or whether a claimant has been awarded the highest rate and the medical condition in unlikely to improve. In the latter case, the award period will be of at least 11 years or indefinite and there will be no review date. This should be mentioned in the PIP award letter:

“All awards must be reviewed, as your condition is unlikely to change I have selected the maximum possible review period.”

For all other PIP claimants, the assessors will have recommended a date for a PIP review. When the Decision Maker receives this information from the assessors, and enters it in the computer, the duration of the PIP award is automatically generated as follows:

‘Awards

Where an award is made, the CM {Case Manager is the name given to DWP Decision Maker for PIP} must include the “Date of assessment” and “Review Period”. This will generate a review date and end of award date. The “Review period” is the period of the award up to the date the award review is planned for which will normally be the date recommended by the AP. You can enter “Indef” or a number of years/ months, as appropriate. The “Review period” generates the “Award end date” which will be indefinite or one year beyond the “Review date”.’ https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/263680/response/648138/attach/3/DMR%20Template%202015%20User%20Guide.pdf

 

Let’s say an assessor recommends that a claimant should have a PIP review in 2 years time. Once this information is entered in the computer by the Decision Maker, the claimant will automatically be given a PIP award for 3 years. The letter informing a claimant of a PIP award should mention the PIP review date, but it is done in such a way that many claimants are not aware of a PIP review, nor of what it entails. Claimants assume that they have been awarded PIP for the duration mentioned in the DWP letter, but in fact this duration is equal to the duration of the PIP award minus 1 year.

The terminology is also confusing as it seems that a PIP review is very similar to a new PIP claim or a reassessment, when the claimant has to fill in the PIP2 form. The only difference seems to be the reason why it is happening.

But there is also a very nasty, vicious regulation, Regulation 11, which gives the Secretary of State the authority to determine afresh whether a claimant still qualifies for PIP, for any reason and at any time.  http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2013/9780111532072/pdfs/ukdsi_9780111532072_en.pdf

 

Re-determination of ability to carry out activities

‘11. Where it has been determined that C {Claimant} has limited ability or severely limited ability to carry out either or both daily living activities or mobility activities, the Secretary of State may, for any reason and at any time, determine afresh in accordance with regulation 4 whether C continues to have such limited ability or severely limited ability.’

So it seems that the Secretary of State ha the authority to request a PIP review at will. The guidance is a bit clearer about this:

‘This is a key piece of information not fully covered in the system notifications so should be included in the reasons so the claimant knows we’ve not specifically targeted them for planned award review action. This doesn’t stop us choosing to review the case before this date but this would only be where we receive new information or the law changes’.  

So although a PIP review can be done at any time during the duration of a PIP award, it would seem that there should be some justification for it, either because new information has been received, or because of a change in law. Although far from being clear, it would seem that the decision to review a PIP claim could be legally challenged, if there is no basis for the review, and if there is reason to believe that DWP is punishing or harassing a claimant who has, for example, made a complaint. As it has not been tested in court, it is difficult to be certain, but the bottom line is that claimants should know that their PIP claim will be systematically reviewed one year before the end of their award.  This information should be clearly mentioned in the letter they received informing them of the duration of their award. And they should challenge DWP if no review date has been mentioned in their letter but they are called for a review.

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

 

 

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 Posted by at 13:43
Nov 242015
 

Last week John Pring highlighted a case showing not only that the system dealing with unemployed and disabled people has not improved, but is reminiscent of the worst days under Atos

 

But this time, it is Maximus which is the henchman. It is Maximus which had been informed by Mandy McGuire, project manager of the charity Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC), that Alan McArdle, whom she had supported for 16 years, was too unwell to contact Maximus as he had just left hospital, and it is Maximus which referred him to the DWP for sanction. One hour after reading the DWP letter telling him he was at risk of losing his benefits because he failed to contact Maximus, Mr McArdle collapsed and died of a heart attack.

 

His case embodies the long catalogue of failures associated with the WCA and DWP that we have become accustomed to seeing.

To start with, he was wrongly placed in the Work Related Activity Group, and with a prognosis short enough that he had to attend the the Work Programme. Suffering from diabetes, he had no feeling in his arms and legs, and also suffered from other medical conditions, in addition to being alcoholic.  It was his lack of feeling which caused his fall, leading to his hospitalisation. He was so unwell before his fall that Maximus had agreed to keep in touch by telephone as Mandy McGuire found it impossible to transport him to the meetings because his mobility was so poor.

Once in the Work Programme, he had to keep in touch with the Work Programme private contractor Maximus in order to receive his benefits. When he failed to do so, he was referred to the DWP for sanction. The likely response of Maximus to any criticism is that private contractors don’t legally have the discretion to review good cause. This is true, but it does not take away the fact that Maximus is now in charge of administering 2 lethal schemes, the WCA and the Work Programme, both of them fundamentally flawed.  Obviously Maximus has no interest in seeing their ‘clients’ dying, as it makes a huge amount of money out of their misery.

In other news, Maximus share prices have floundered as it is not processing the required number of ESA assessments. The explanation given by Maximus is the recruitment, training and retention issues the company faces.  Which explains why it is offering such attractive salaries.

Maximus salaries

 

 

But it takes a certain kind of person to knowingly deprive some very disabled people of benefits because they did not tick the right boxes. Although the salaries are attractive, are they big enough to buy a conscience?

The last words are left to people by Trinity who cared of Alan McArdle: http://wearetrinity.org.uk/who-matters/

“One of the people we work with, from our day centre in Slough, died recently. He wasn’t living on the streets – he had found housing. He had multiple health problems and had recently been in hospital. The private company who had been tasked with deciding who was fit for work – no longer the job of the civil servants employed by the jobcentre – had put him on the work programme. This meant he had to keep a number of appointments, apply for jobs and was expected to work. He missed an appointment. He had just left hospital and one of our people had written letters and made calls on his behalf to ensure that the people from the work programme knew why the appointment was missed. He was too poorly to leave the house.

He received a letter telling him his benefits had been stopped – he was being sanctioned for not attending his appointment. His ill-health was irrelevant. He died after opening this letter. He collapsed and was gone. They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die, I would hazard a guess that it was his future that flashed before his: losing his home, returning to the streets, perhaps dying there.

Does his life matter?

It matters to us”

 

It also matters to us. You were a precious, unique human being. Rest in peace, Alan

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 Posted by at 23:30
Nov 242015
 
Thank you again to Nick Dilworth for this important post: ( http://ilegal.org.uk/thread/7258/serious-flaws-governments-statistics?page=24&scrollTo=23023)

 

 

Sickness claim levels fall for
first time in 2 years

 

It was only a question of time.

For sometime I’ve been tracking signs of movement on the Maximus front.

On the face of it, the latest Work Capability Assessment (WCA) statistics from the DWP provide a very limited insight into how busy they are finding sick people ‘fit for work’ or placing them in the Work Related Activity or Support Group of the Employment & Support Allowance.

The current outcome statistics tail off dramatically showing a much lower number of assessments being carried out (see previous posts and others on ‘ESA Chaos‘)

But don’t be fooled, Maximus are coining it in and the latest claimant count figures for those on the sick show us that for the first time in two years, the numbers have fallen.  In my estimation, it’s only the start, the worst is yet to come.

Fist pumping Duncan Smith will be secretly delighted, but he’ll not make any noise over it; – for now.

Here’s the figures….

Note the fall from 2,533,220 to 2,521,160 between February 2015 and May 2015?

Not a huge drop, but all heading in the right direction as far as Duncan Smith is concerned.

Don’t forget these figures from the DWP are always living in the past.  Although, from looking at separate figures fromDWP expenditure tables we can get a much more up to date idea of just how busy Maximus – aka – Centre for Health & Disability Assessment Ltd – have been.  In the 7 months from March 2015, the start of the their new contract with the DWP, they’ve raked in over a cool £60Million pounds.  Nice to know our corporate friends are starting to coin it in….

Yet, a look at the DWP’s record of assessment outcomes tells us that in March 2015, a limited number of assessments have been carried out by Maximus.  There are no figures available beyond March because these are the latest available.

The DWP ‘outcome’ statistics tell us that in March 2015, Maximus conducted a grand total of 56,400 assessments, 42,400 for new ESA claims and 14,000 for ‘repeat’ assessments – there are no figures beyond December 2014 for claims migrated from old incapacity benefits. In the month of March 2015, 36% of new claimants were found fit for work.

In the preceding six months from September 2014 to February 2015, the average percentage of new ESA claimants found fit for work was 29%.  In six month sector from March to August 2014 the fit for work percentage was also 29% and for the sector September 2013 to February 2014 we were looking at 28.6%.

Under Maximus, in the first month alone, the numbers found fit for work has jumped to 36%.

As previously stated, Maximus are said to be working to a target of 1 million assessments by the end of 2015. This averages out at around 100,000 a year, the assessment records are only showing us 56,000, the payments indicate considerably more assessments are being carried.

It amazes me how the DWP are always unable to produce up to date statistics due to ‘data lag’, yet Maxmimus appear to have no difficulty in invoicing the DWP to get their payments – I assume they do so on the basis of up to date information detailing precisely how many assessments they are carrying out?

Like I say, this is the first clear indication that Maximus are putting the boot in, Duncan Smith is looking to cleanse the sick of their illnesses and knock a few billion off his welfare bill, now he’s cleared the election he’ll not worry too much about a few thousand more on Jobseeker’s Allowance.  “That’s because our new measures at improving Labour’s broken Employment & Support Allowance system are now working, we’re getting people off the sick and in to work just as we said we would” – that’ll be his words in a few months to come.

The real casualties will be those in the Support Group.  Moving thousands from this group is fraught with potential disasters as is limiting the number of formal appeals along with the restriction on re-claims.  I dare say we will see an increase in the number of deaths associated with the wretched process – no matter how much IDS tries to deny it.

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 Posted by at 16:57
Nov 162015
 

From the WCA, the disability assessment test which was supposed to be the panacea for all ills, helping 1 million disabled people moving into work and thereby reducing the employment gap, supporting financially those not well enough to work, the WCA has turned to be a blunt and lethal instrument. What DPAC has known for years, through the letters sent by thousands of disabled people, has now been confirmed by a scientific study.

 

The WCA is linked to more suicides, mental ill health and antidepressant use as evidenced by experts from Oxford University and Liverpool University’s study, which found  that after taking account of the impact of baseline deprivation, economic trends, and long-term trends in mental health,  there were around six extra suicides, 2,700 more cases of mental ill health and an extra 7,020 prescriptions for anti-depressants for every 10,000 people reassessed during this period, which equates to 590 additional suicides, 279,000 extra cases of mental ill-health and 725,000 more prescriptions for anti-depressants across the country as a whole between 2010 and 2013.

Linked does not always mean ‘causal’, although several coroners’ inquests into suicides have now shown it to be the case.

Despite mounting evidence, the government has always refused to acknowledge the harm done by the WCA, and keep parroting that work is good for health.

 

What this study shows is that harm is not only done by benefits loss, but by the fear of it, a testimony to the arbitrary nature of this assessment. Harm is done by giving too short prognosis, in case somebody would spend an extra day on benefits than he/she should have done, leading to endless reassessments. Harm is done by cancelled appointments, and assessors’ lack of sensitivity. Harm is done by having to prove endlessly your impairments or chronic health condition, and by not being believed. Harm is done by mistakes or deliberate and systematic errors. Harm is done by being left destitute after the loss of ESA. Harm is done by the Work Programme and its long litany of sanctions, misery and suffering

 

As early as 2010, the DWP knew that this test was the direct cause of at least one suicide. Somebody at DWP decided to sit on it. Prior to that, in the last weeks of the Labour government (who introduced the test, the DWP were warned of the harm it would cause

Not only has the time come to scrap the WCA, but also to hold people, from whichever party, accountable for this atrocity.

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 Posted by at 23:47
Sep 232015
 

Caution: this article deals with suicide

A Senior Coroner has written to Newham Borough Council to send them a REGULATION 28: REPORT TO PREVENT FUTURE DEATHS

The case was extensively covered by The Independent  and concerns the suicide of a 66 year old pensioner caught in the nightmarish UK benefit system. Mr Burge worked all his life, but had to give up work to look after his father who had developped Parkinsons. A situation not dissimilar to David Clapson, who also had to give up work to become a carer, and had to rely on Jobseeker Allowance after his mother’s death.

Due to an administrative mistake from Newham Borough Council, Mr Burge received £800 in housing benefit overpayments.  Newham sought resolution by at first deducting a weekly sum from his meagre income before eventually resorting to legal action. Mr Burge received confirmation that he was the subject of a court action from his local authority on the day of his death

This followed Mr Burge’s many attempts to resolve the matter with the Council, while expressing his distress at the situation and especially in his final letter to the council that he was ‘ more stressed, depressed and suicidal than any of my previous letters’. Mr Burge’s attempt to resolve the matters were frustrated by the Kafkaesque telephone system which kept him on hold until an automated voice told him to consult a website. Mr Burge did not have a computer and did not know how to use one. He used to write letters by hand and carbon paper to make copies.  He was also somebody said to have a ‘traditional attitude to debt’. For somebody who had at times battled depression in his life, the situation would have been overwhelming.

Finally, he decided to drive to Cheddar Gorge and set himself on fire. He died after suffering 100% second degree burns.

 

The coroner’s report highlights the Council’s failure and established a clear link between the action of the council and Mr Burge’s suicide: The Court understand that the deceased had never before owed money or been in debt but due to a number of factors in particular his age, lack of mental awareness, inability to both understand and use the internet and modern telephone procedures communicate his problems to the Council and as a result took the drastic action that brought about his death.

And recommends  that the Council, before initiating any proceeding to recover money, checks whether the person understand the proceedings and what is involved.

 

It seems to be a reasonable recommendation, but one which does not stand scrutiny. What is striking in Mr Burge’s case, and also in David Clapson’s case, which is why he was mentioned earlier, is that these 2 men were able to function properly before being caught in the benefit system. They both held a job for a long time, both became carer for their ageing parents, and both died because the system devised to deal with people who need support at some stage in their lives has become robotic, heartless and hostile.  It may be one occasion when the word ‘vulnerable’ needs to be used. The current benefit system makes people vulnerable and creates vulnerabilities where none existed, for which people are paying with their lives.

 

NB: Newham Borough Council has acknowledged “delays and deficiencies” in its communications with Mr Burge and apologised “if this contributed to his death in any way”. But it should be noted that the Council is receiving a very high number of complaints: 145 in 2013 for its dealing with benefit claimants, much much higher than the average number of complaints received by other councils

http://www.lgo.org.uk/documents/annualreview/2013/newham.pdf

 

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 Posted by at 13:12
Sep 232015
 

Channel 4 Dispatches is doing a programme about the sanction regime and is looking for people who have been sanctioned and who had subsequently their sanction overturned.

Please contact DPAC if you are interested and want to take part in this programme.

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 Posted by at 12:58
Jul 272015
 

So much has been happening lately, with the General Election, the announcement of benefit cuts, especially the alignment of the ESA WRAG on JSA, and the shameful abstention of Labour on the Welfare Reform Bill, that it has been difficult to keep track of what is happening with Maximus, and more specifically how claimants are being dealt with, within the system.

This is not about the WCA which we all know is flawed, and the newspapers, including the Daily Mail, have reported almost daily further failures of the WCA to assess correctly claimants’ability to work. Behind each of these failures, there is a human tragedy.

But we at DPAC have been receiving more and more evidence about how dysfunctional the system is.

 

  • It seems, from anecdoctal evidence, that the use of an old ESA50 form (among other things) leads to a large number of appointments being cancelled, sometimes on the day, while claimants are waiting to be seen by a Maximus assessor. The appointments take longer than anticipated, because claimants have developed other conditions since their last ESA50, as was explicitly stated by a Maximus receptionist.

 

  • Finally, what we are hearing is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Atos period: HCPs just ticking boxes, selective information finding its way into reports, statements on activities the claimant can do which were never discussed or observed, leading to an over-optimistic and unrealistic assessment of a claimant’s capacity for work. Maybe, that was to be expected. Maximus is using former Atos staff, and the culture is unlikely to have changed.

 

So here we are giving you very useful information to make a complaint with Maximus. All our thanks to Ephemerid @ephemerid213 on Twitter and her informative articles on this website: https://thegrimsqueakerreturns.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/limping-labour-and-the-lack-of-leadership-lament/  She is unfortunately very experienced (5 WCAs), but also very knowledgeable in these matters and she forwarded us this information.

 

  1. In the first instance, phone 0800 288 8777 Mon-Fri 8am to 8pm or Sat 9 to 5 – and if you can’t afford (or don’t want) to hang on, a Customer Service Manager MUST call you back Mon-Fri 9 to 5.
  2. Email is not much use, but it’s worth a try – customer-relations@chdauk.co.uk and as the website does not clarify what the complaints procedure actually is, demand a copy of it by email or letter. They must have a proper complaints procedure.

 

  1. If your complaint is about Customer Experience, you should send your letters – of complaint – to Sue Marsh, Head of Customer Experience, Health Assessment Advisory Service, Room 4E04, Quarry House, Leeds LS2 7UA.It is interesting to note that neither the website nor the postal address mentions the name Maximus. It is particularly interesting that no formal complaints procedure is mentioned anywhere.Obviously, if you don’t know how to complain or who to complain to, there’s only one thing to be done.
    Complain to the District Manager of DWP for your area – and here they all are……
    gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/442311/jcp-district-managers-july-2015.pdf

 

What we are also doing is a claimant survey in order to gather evidence on claimants’ experience of Maximus in a more structured way. You will find the survey here: http://dpac.uk.net/2015/07/have-you-had-a-wca-since-1st-march-this-year-if-so-please-fill-in-our-survey/

 

 

 

 

 

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 Posted by at 08:55
Jul 172015
 

This is a response to Mario Dunn, Maximus Marketing Director, the only person from Maximus or the DWP to respond to our Open letter (http://dpac.uk.net/2015/06/10484/). His response is at the bottom of the letter

 

Thank you Mr Dunn for your response. Although the information forwarded is very useful, it does not address the issues raised by DPAC.

To restate our complaint, so that you may have another chance to respond:

We have received many letters from claimants, asked to attend a Work Capability Assessment without having filled first an ESA50 form, or asked to attend a WCA having filled an ESA50 form 2 or even 3 years before, for their previous assessment. This is something that these claimants have found unacceptable, as have the courts which have to rule on these cases.

As you should be well aware, a Work Capability Assessment is a snapshot in time of a claimant’s medical or functional condition, and it is the responsibility of your company – HDAS to send an ESA50 to an ESA claimant as stated in the ‘Health and Disability Assessment Services Service Requirement’ (HDAS – Schedule 2.1 (Service Requirements).pdf)

Referrals

19.6. There are two parts to the evidence gathering process for ESA. The ESA claim form gathers personal details and basic information on the Claimant’s health conditions and disabilities. A separate questionnaire (currently the ESA50 / ESA50A) gathers further information from the Claimants on their health conditions and disabilities, and the extent to which the Claimant considers that these affect their daily lives.

19.7. In most cases, on receipt of a referral, the Supplier must issue the relevant questionnaire to the Claimant. This is currently a clerical form completed by the Claimant.

19.8. The Claimant has 28 calendar days to complete the questionnaire and return it to the Supplier, unless an extension is agreed by the Authority.

19.9. As a minimum, if the form has not been returned within 21 calendar days of issue, the Supplier must issue a reminder to the Claimant.

19.10. Once the questionnaire has been returned, the Supplier must undertake an initial paper-based review of the case to decide the next appropriate steps. This can include completing the assessment on the information available, gathering FE or scheduling a Face-to-face consultation. This review must be undertaken by a HCP as defined in Part F. Further information on the current policy is outlined in paragraphs 19.19 and 19.20

This is also referred to in Chapter G1: Work Capability assessement: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388614/admg1.pdf

G1080

Medical services is responsible for gathering any information required to support the WCA process. This includes

  1. sending the questionnaire (form UC50)
  2. sending a reminder if the claimant does not reply within three weeks
  3. deciding if further medical evidence is required from the claimant’s GP or health care professional.

 

It is very clear from the above that evidence gathering is a 2 step process and that the decision to hold a face to face Work Capability Assessment is only made after consideration of the evidence contained in the recently supplied, current ESA50 form, and after asking for Further Medical Evidence if necessary.

It is implicit that the evidence should be as recent as possible, otherwise the DWP would not reassess claimants endlessly to check whether their condition has changed.

One case highlighted in our Open letter showed that the ESA50 used for a recent WCA was 3 years old, and led at the time to an overturned decision by a judge after ESA was refused.

ESA was again refused this time and the claimant is once again having to go through the long process appealing essentially the same wrong decision.

You will admit that it is a waste of money, time and energy, and stress placed upon the claimant, which could have been avoided if the claimant was sent a new ESA50 before being asked to attend a WCA.

One recording of a claimant’s telephone conversation with Maximus staff shows that Maximus’ responsibility to send the ESA50 is flatly denied by your employee.

Claimants should not have to go to the job centre or download a form after being required to attend a WCA. That is not their responsibility and it is an extra hurdle they do not need. http://www.phobosanddeimos.net/the-dwp-and-maximus-no-esa50-fraud/

The second point is that claimants have to negotiate with Maximus the rearrangement of their WCA appointment in order to have the time to fill the ESA50 form.

Again we are aware of claimants asked by Maximus to bring their ESA50 with them for their WCA or to fill it as quickly as possible in order for Maximus to make a decision on whether a face to face assessment is needed.

The time limit imposed by DWP for the return of the questionnaire is only DWP internal policies. The law is very clear: ‘As in G1096, the law imposes time limits on the Secretary of State in relation to the sending of the questionnaire and the reminder. However, there is no law imposing a time limit on the claimant for the return of the questionnaire’.

It means a claimant would have grounds for appeal if he was not given the time necessary to fill the ESA50 form, especially compared with other claimants who met the time limit imposed by DWP internal policies, and this claimant could argue he has been placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to them.

DPAC is in no doubt that the WCA is not fit for purpose, and is a distressing process for many claimants as illustrated by the evidence received only yesterday [1].

But it is made even more distressing when corners are being cut, as it seems to be the case with the ESA50 form, and this seems to have a very negative impact on the length of appointments and on the claimants themselves, as illustrated by the person who wrote to us (see the footnote).

What we are expecting from Maximus is the reassurance that every single claimant referred for a WCA will be sent first an ESA50 form to fill, and that they will be given as a minimum the time limit imposed by DWP internal policies to do so in order for the decision to attend a face to face assessment to be made. This should minimise the number of face to face assessments necessary and the need for Maximus to cancel assessments at the last minute, while claimants are waiting to be seen in the assessment centre.

 

 

Email received from Mario Dunn:

Subject: ESA50 form

Dear DPAC We hope you are well. You asked some questions regarding ESA50 forms. We have provided guidance for this on our website:https://www.chdauk.co.uk/updates/2015/07/capability-work-questionnaire-esa50-and-your-assessment Hope this clarifies matters. Kind regards Mario Dunn MAXIMUS (CHDA)

 

Response copied to:
Mario Dunn,  Maximus Marketing Director

Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Disabled People

Sue Marsh, Head of Customer Experience

Kate Green, Shadow Minister for Disabled People

 

[1]              While writing this letter, DPAC received an email from a person who had to negotiate with Maximus in order to use a recent ESA50 and to have enough time to fill it. She succeeded at last and went for her WCA at end of June. After waiting for an hour and a half, she was sent home along with 5 other people without being seen: ‘I have to go again on Monday. It has turned my world upside down.  I took an overdose the day after as I just couldn’t take any more. I am now on diazepam from my doctor and struggling with everyday stuff and with getting any sleep.  I am terrified of what could happen if I get refused ESA but I’m trying very hard to just take one day at a time.  It’s awful to think of all of the sick people out there being legally put through the wringer by this system.  No wonder they don’t want to publish the figures of deaths associated with this procedure’.

The reason given to her by Maximus to cancel the appointment was ‘We are seeing lots of people who have had other conditions diagnosed since they filled in their ESA50s so they have to thoroughly investigate and are taking a long time with appointments’. 

Although this person’s identity will always been protected, DPAC has the evidence available, should anybody doubt this story.

This person had a WCA on Monday. When she arrived, the Maximus Assessor did not have and had not read her ESA50 form. Fortunately, she had a copy in her bag. Her recommendation is:  ‘I would just like to get the message out there that everyone should take a copy of their form with them no matter what otherwise they will definitely be on the back foot and at a huge disadvantage’.

So please, make a copy of your ESA50 and take it with you. What it means is that Maximus is not following the DWP procedures, and reviewing first the ESA50 form before deciding that a face to face assessment is needed.

                 

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 Posted by at 15:55
Jul 152015
 

The first part of this article showed that the decision to cut ESA benefits for the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group) relied on the complexity of the system in order to drive cuts[1], which would be considered unacceptable, if people who should know better understood the system. BBC journalist Nick Robinson wrote on his blog before the cuts were announced:

He had to amend his blog after being told that nobody claiming ESA, either in the WRAG or Support Group, has been ever been ‘deemed capable of work’.

These cuts seem even more surprising in the light of the Government announcement that a record number of disabled people moved into work (a claim which will be scrutinised further in future), and of 3 million ESA claimants closing their claims since 2010. Furthermore, disabled people are the only group to have fared worse in terms of poverty[2]. There is a 2 percent point increase in disability poverty after taking into account housing costs, which is not surprising as 2/3 of households hit by the bedroom tax include a disabled person, and people in the WRAG are not exempted from the benefit cap. This is going to get worse.

Disability costs:

Disability is associated with higher costs. Somebody with limited mobility needs more heating and will have higher heating or electricity bills, another might need incontinence pads, dietary supplements, or the use of special transport or equipment.

There also would be repeated trips to the hospital or the GP

Higher insurance premiums because of disability

Over the counter medications

Extra bedding or clothes/shoes

Servicing of any aids or equipment etc.

Apart from the costs associated with disability, a Demos research paper [3]identifies the poverty drivers for disabled people:

  • unsuitable accommodation
  • private rented accommodation
  • reliance on public transport
  • no informal support from family and friends
  • requiring higher levels of care and support
  • unemployed
  • living in London
  • receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • no savings, in debt and no bank account

 

These are costs which will now have to be met on the equivalent of JSA, which is worth £73.10 per week for over 25s.  It is what “the law says you need to live on each week”  and according to DWP: ‘Benefits are not made up of separate amounts for specific items of expenditure such as food or fuel charges, and beneficiaries are free to spend their benefit as they see fit, in the light of their individual needs and preferences’[4].

 

The findings of a report by Scope[5] were that disabled people pay on average £550 per month on extra costs related to disability. How a £30 cut in ESA, bringing it to the level of JSA, will help disabled people assessed as unfit for work move into work is anybody’s guess, when it is likely to make them poorer and even more socially isolated that they already are.

 

In fact this cut in benefit has nothing to do with incentives or disencentives to move into work. The 2011 impact assessement of Time limit Contributory Employment and Support Allowance to one year for those in the Work-Related Activity Group[6] spells it out very clearly:

This is nothing more than a cost saving exercise, disguised as a policy realignment under the pretext that not enough disabled people have moved into work.

 

WCA failures:

The same document states: There may be an increased movement into work from people on ESA due to the change in emphasis towards ESA being a shorter-term benefit. The scale of this effect is very difficult to estimate at this stage.

 

Roughly, ESA is split into 2 groups:

The Support Group for the most severely disabled, or terminally ill people

The WRAG which is supposed to be a short-term benefit and which is also split into 2 groups for Work Programme purposes:

  • ESA WRAG with 12 Month or longer prognosis, which means claimants are not expected to be work ready before 12 months or later, and their participation in the Work Programme is optional
  • ESA (IR) WRAG with 3-6 Month prognosis, and claimants are mandated onto the Work Programme.

 

These distinctions between different types of ESA (SG and WRAG) and different types of WRAG (12 months and 3-6 months) assume from the Work Capability Assessment a level of sophistication greater that it actually has.  There have been too many WCA failures to list here, but stories about terminally ill people, or people with degenerative illnesses being found fit for work or placed in the wrong group are numerous, as illustrated by the Work and Pensions Committee’s report on the WCA in 2014[7]:

 

 More than 80,000 new ESA claimants and IB claimants undergoing reassessment, many of them with progressive conditions, have been placed in the WRAG since ESA was introduced, with a prognosis statement that a change in their functional abilities is unlikely in the longer term. The purpose of the WRAG is to provide work-related support for people who are expected to be fit for work in the short to medium term. Work-related conditionality accompanies this designation. We believe that it is wholly inappropriate to place people in the WRAG if they have a condition which is unlikely to improve and which makes their prospect of returning to work remote. We therefore recommend that DWP changes its practice so that claimants with this prognosis are allocated to the Support Group and not to the WRAG.

 

 

There is also the case of 4,900 claimants stuck on the WRAG for years, some since 2008 (like the FOI request shows below), or like Jon, placed in the WRAG since 2010, and who has been classified as being “unable to work in the longer term”. He is currently undergoing his 8th WCA[8].

 

The failures of the WCA have even been noticed by the OECD which addressed the issue of the small number of ESA claimants with a 3-6 months prognosis moving into work: ‘An improved WCA process may help to better identify claimants were [sic] a 3-6 months prognosis is justified, thus increasing the average health level of this group’. [9]

What George Osborne and his government are doing is cutting benefits for people who have been wrongly assessed as being work ready within 3 to 6 months, and who will have no possibility to offset the shortfall by working as they are unable to do so.

It is already tragic that so many unemployed people have to live on such a pittance as JSA, but the tragedy is compounded (if the OECD is right and there is no reason to believe it is not, as it has no political mileage to gain from not telling the truth as opposed to the government) by disabled people being wrongly assessed as almost work ready when they are not and having to meet the costs of disability on an ever shrinking allowance.

 

Higher level of conditionality

The last worrying aspect about singling out this group as needing incentives to move into work, apart from suggesting that disabled people prefer to languish on disability benefit rather than working, is the suggestion to consider a higher level of conditionality by the Reform report[10]. It is already obvious that the level of conditionality for this group is much too high: Over 3,000 sanctions were imposed in December 2014 on disabled people, 4.5 times more than in the same quarter in 2013[11].  Disabled people (and non disabled people) have been driven to homelessness, destitution and suicide by sanctions.

What the government may have not noticed, is that it has toxifed the Work Related Activity Group and that more and more claimants and their GPs realise that this group presents a real danger to claimants’ physical and mental health.  It is on this basis that claimants should use Regs 29 and 35 to get the protection they need against a ruthless, ineffective and harmful regime.

 

Reg 29:[12]

Reg 35:[13]

Please contact a Welfare Adviser, CAB etc. about the use of these regulations.

 

 

[1] http://dpac.uk.net/2015/07/esa-claimants-not-incentised-enough-to-work-the-oecd-does-not-think-so/

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/437246/households-below-average-income-1994-95-to-2013-14.pdf

[3] http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Counting_the_Cost_-_web.pdf?1292598960

 

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/186931/foi-844-2013.pdf

[5] http://www.scope.org.uk/Scope/media/Images/Publication%20Directory/Priced-out.pdf

 

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/220181/esa-time-limit-wr2011-ia-revised-apr2011.pdf

 

[7] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmworpen/302/30206.htm

 

[8] http://dpac.uk.net/2015/07/the-paradox-of-esas-work-related-activity-group-and-nasty-plans-to-cut-it/

 

[9] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=L9sGBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA72&lpg=PA72&dq=ex+ib+claiming+jsa&source=bl&ots=FmZ1pYubMx&sig=OVVelJOGG0v_k_B6Vb_jSnx7BWA&hl=fr&sa=X&ei=3eegVainAcTiUbnIkOgF&ved=0CFMQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=chapter%204&f=false (Page 214).

[10] http://www.reform.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/HTRAC-WA-Welfare.pdf

 

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28776102

[12] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2008/794/regulation/29/made

[13] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2008/794/regulation/35/made

 

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 Posted by at 07:42
Jul 132015
 

As anticipated, George Osborne announced in the 2015 Summer Budget that from 2017 “new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group will therefore receive the same rate as those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance”. The reason given is that “The current system creates a financial incentive to claim sickness benefits over Jobseeker’s Allowance”. [1]In his speech, he also added: “The number of JSA claimants has fallen by 700,000 since 2010, whilst the number of incapacity benefits claimants has fallen by just 90,000. This is despite 61% of claimants in the ESA WRAG benefit saying they want to work”.[2]

Although technically true, the impression given is that after over 4.6 million Work Capability Assessments, only 90,000 claimants left incapacity benefits. In fact the picture is very different. Between May 2010 and November 2014, there were 5,274.740 new ESA claims (on flows) and this includes the IB claimants who upon being reassessed and entitled to ESA became New claims. And during the same period, 2,728.670 ESA claims were closed (off flows)[3]. Almost 3 million claimants who did not feel that ESA created a financial incentive for them. Although these numbers look big, because of DWP incompetence and the WCA disaster, proportionally more claimants left ESA or Incapacity Benefit under the previous Labour government than under Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP leadership, during which he has presided over a backlog of well over ½ million ESA claimants. In fact, their numbers were decreasing before the 2010 elections.

But where there is real deception is to imply that ESA is more attractive than the Jobseeker’s Allowance, discouraging claimants from finding a job.  This argument was made in a recent report:  How to run a country: Working age welfare [4]co-written by Charlotte Pickles, an aficionado of the revolving door between DWP and the CSJ (the right wing think tank set up by Duncan Smith), and who now works for Reform, another think tank set up by Conservative members, although one of advisory board member is Frank Field, who could qualify as an Honorary Tory.

This ‘report’ looks at the Work Programme and concludes:  ‘Provider payment rates are higher for those in the JSA ex-IB group (ie. for claimants who moved from IB onto JSA) than for participants in the ‘new ESA’ payment group because they are judged harder to get into work. Yet the job outcome rates for the harder to help JSA ex-IB cohort are 18 per cent higher than those  for the short prognosis new ESA claimants. DWP should look into what is driving this, paying particular attention to the effect of the differing levels of conditionality for JSA and ESA’.

The argument being that claimants in the JSA ex-IB group, who are supposed to be harder to help, fare better on the Work Programme in terms of job outcomes than new ESA claimants with a 3-6 months prognosis, and the explanation can only be, at least for the authors, that the level of conditionality for the WRAG group is not high enough (translated as not enough job searches, interviews etc. leading to more  sanctions), which makes ESA more attractive.

What seems to have eluded this report’s authors is the differing status between claimants. The Ex-IB JSA claimants have been found fit for work, which is not the case for the new ESA claimants. Different levels of conditionality are applied, because it is recognised that the ESA claimants may work in the future, but are currently unfit to work. Although it is mandatory for them to undertake some work related activity or to attend some Job Centre work related interviews, they have no obligation to look for and apply for jobs, because they were assessed as unfit for work.  Therefore, it is inappropriate but also disingenuous to make a direct comparison between the two groups.

However, the dishonesty does not stop there. The abysmal performance of the Work Programme, in relation to ESA claimants job outcomes, highlighted by the report and used by Osborne as the justification to cut benefits, may have a different explanation, and the OECD, that bastion of socialism, suggests that beyond improved interventions of providers and a better labour market situation, an improved WCA process may help to better identify claimants were [sic] a 3-6 months prognosis is justified, thus increasing the average health level of this group’. [5]

It seems that even the OECD has heard of the WCA disaster and of its complete inability to assess accurately claimants’ fitness for work.  What the OECD is saying is that claimants are given a too short prognosis and are nowhere near ready to move into work within 3 to 6 months, which explains why job outcomes for this cohort is so low (especially compared to ex-IB JSA claimants to whom they should not be compared anyway). At no point does the OECD mention that ESA creates a financial incentive or is more attractive financially or otherwise than JSA, and had it been the case, the OECD would be the first to say so.

The OECD also refers to something very interesting about the ex-IB JSA claimants on which the report’s comparison and Osborne’s justification for cutting disability benefits are based.  According to the latest statistics released and updated in July 2015 by DWP[6], 257,700 reassessed IB claimants were found fit for work, but only 33.490 were referred to the Work Programme.

Put otherwise, 88% of IB claimants who have been assessed as fit for work do not go on to claim JSA and never appear on the Work Programme. They simply disappear from the statistics, neither in work, nor on benefits, a mystery also puzzling to the OECD[7].   Looking at the number of IB claims closed before assessment (just over 53,000 in September 2014, the most recent figures for this cohort[8]), it is not too stretching to suggest that the small number of IB claimants who go on to claim JSA are among those who closed their claims before assessment because they got better, and to look at this small cohort as a self-selected group of the healthiest claimants, ready to move into work, while the rest disappear under the radar. This would also explain why they fare better than the ESA claimants on the work programme.

An honest report would have looked objectively at all the evidence, and would not have had any pre-determined outcomes or used selective data to support a tighter alignment of ESA on JSA.

And an honest Chancellor would not portray the ESA claimant’s inability to move into work as an indicator of perverse incentives in the system and knowingly exploit the failure of the WCA to accurately assess them in order to cut disability benefits.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/443232/50325_Summer_Budget_15_Web_Accessible.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/chancellor-george-osbornes-summer-budget-2015-speech

[3] http://tabulation-tool.dwp.gov.uk/flows/flows_off/esa/cdquarter/esa_phase/a_carate_r_cdquarter_c_esa_phase.html (accessed July 2015)

[4] http://www.reform.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/HTRAC-WA-Welfare.pdf

[5] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=L9sGBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA72&lpg=PA72&dq=ex+ib+claiming+jsa&source=bl&ots=FmZ1pYubMx&sig=OVVelJOGG0v_k_B6Vb_jSnx7BWA&hl=fr&sa=X&ei=3eegVainAcTiUbnIkOgF&ved=0CFMQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=chapter%204&f=false (Page 214).

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-business-plan-transparency-measures/dwp-business-plan-transparency-measures

[7] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=L9sGBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA72&lpg=PA72&dq=ex+ib+claiming+jsa&source=bl&ots=FmZ1pYubMx&sig=OVVelJOGG0v_k_B6Vb_jSnx7BWA&hl=fr&sa=X&ei=3eegVainAcTiUbnIkOgF&ved=0CFMQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=ex-ib&f=false (Page 72)

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/esa-outcomes-of-work-capability-assessments-claims-made-to-sep-2014-and-appeals-to-mar-2015 (see table 10)

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 Posted by at 22:50
Jun 172015
 

Reblogged from Kate Belgrave’s blog: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2015/06/and-so-the-dwp-washes-its-hands-of-the-independent-living-fund-meltdown/ Twitter: hangbitch

 

There are now just two weeks left until the Independent Living Fund closes.What a shambles this closure is.

The ILF is a fund that severely disabled people use to pay for the extra carer hours they need to live independent lives. But never mind that: the government will close the ILF on 30 June – a monumentally unpopular and unnecessary decision which disabled campaigners have fought since the closure was announced in 2012. With just two weeks to go, the thing is in meltdown. Some ILF recipients in England still don’t know if their councils will pay for the care that the ILF covered, especially in an ongoing way (ILF funding in England will be devolved to local authorities for just a year). You can imagine the distress this is causing disabled people and their families. You can read about thathere and here.

This 30 June closure was a coalition government decision out of the DWP, but you can forget about that lot taking responsibility for the distress and the mess. Government and the DWP have already washed their hands of it. The official line is that any problems with the ILF closure in England – and there are plenty, as I say – belong firmly to councils. We may as well note this for the record.

I asked the DWP about support it could offer to people who still hadn’t alternative care packages in place by 30 June, or who still didn’t know what would happen to their care when the ILF closed. The DWP didn’t quite say Don’t Bore Us With That, but it might as well have: from 30 June, the department said, “sole responsibility” in England for “former-ILF user” care lay with councils. No point making calls to the department in the meantime, either: “Any ILF user who has concerns about future funding from their local authority should contact the local authority directly.” Not Our Problem, in other words. Government has left the building. Disabled people and councils have been left to fight it out.

Disabled People Against Cuts and supporters will lobby MPs about the ILF closure on 24 June. Details here.

Video: Corrie stars back the Independent Living Fund:

Video: Disabled campaigners occupy Westminster Abbey in June 2014 to protest government plans to close the Independent Living Fund:

Picture: police stand on tents to stop disabled people setting up a Save The Independent Living Fund protest camp at Westminster Abbey last year.

Police standing on tents

Video: Independent Living Fund recipient Gabriel Pepper explains why he needs the extra carer hours that the ILF pays for. Gabriel has had three brain tumours. He is one of the ILF recipients who still isn’t sure if his council will meet all his care needs after 30 June.

 

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 Posted by at 16:24
Jun 172015
 

We are reproducing in full the letters published by the Guardian in response to the letter by Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Disabled People, published in the same newspaper:  http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jun/11/impact-of-changes-to-disability-benefits

ILF

Justin Tomlinson’s letter in response to Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (Disabled people have become human collateral in an ideological war, 9 June) is a travesty of the truth. One glaring inaccuracy is his claim that under current government proposals closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) and transfer to Local Authorities (LAs) will not take support away.

 

In the high court last year the DWP argued that the then Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning was made fully aware of “the inevitable and considerable adverse effect” that closure of the ILF and transfer to LAs would have on disabled people.  In the judgment passed down on 8 December 2014 Justice Andrews concluded that the assumption on which Mr Penning based his decision was that “independent living might well be put seriously in peril for … most (or a substantial number of) ILF users”.

 

The straight contradiction between the DWP’s arguments in court and Justin Tomlinson’s assertions to the Guardian mean that either the DWP were lying then or that the Minister is lying now.

 

The amount of funding being transferred to LAs is less than what is currently paid out disabled people through the ILF. Local Authorities also operate different eligibility criteria to the ILF which will exclude some disabled people from support. The government response to their consultation on the closure of the ILF stated that; “We expect that some users are likely to see changes in their funding packages as eligibility is aligned using local authorities’ criteria… Whilst some Group 1 users may find that their levels of need will mean they are not eligible for support”.

 

There is plenty of evidence from the reviews and reassessments of ILF recipients by their LAs that are currently taking place ahead of closure at the end of June that demonstrate the very real cut in support that transfer means. We are more than happy to share this with the Minister but responses to a number of requests to meet him on this issue have informed us his diary is too busy until October.

 

Ellen Clifford, Disabled People Against Cuts

Linda Burnip, Disabled People Against Cuts

Tracey Lazard, Inclusion London

Mark Harrison, Equal Lives

Alison Playford, Occupy London

Kate Belgrave, journalist

Debbie Jolly, Disabled People Against Cuts

Paula Peters, Disabled People Against Cuts

Anita Bellows, Disabled People Against Cuts

Bob Ellard, Disabled People Against Cuts

Roger Lewis, Disabled People Against Cuts

 

Access To Work

 

The gap between the rhetoric of the new Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson (“We’ve got thousands more disabled people into work, but there’s more to do” 3 June 2015) and the true impact of his government’s policy on disability employment support is staggering.

 

Tomlinson says “I am pleased that recognising disabled people’s abilities and providing support to enable them to realise their aspirations is higher up the agenda than ever before”.

 

The reality for Deaf and disabled people is one where we are increasingly held back from fulfilling our potential, particularly within the field of employment, as a direct result of changes to government policy.

 

On 12 March 2015 the DWP published proposals to limit spend on Access to Work, the government’s very successful disability employment support programme. The impact of this will be to set a cap on ambition, restricting the aspirations of Deaf and disabled people with anything but minimal support needs and barring people from certain jobs and careers, not because they don’t have the skills but because they have an impairment.

 

Besides the equalities argument there is also a strong economic case for investment in Access to Work (ATW), which brings back to the Treasury more than it costs. The Sayce Report found that for every £1 invested in ATW, £1.48 comes back through taxes. This is without taking into account wider net savings from health and social care.

 

The government has nevertheless failed to carry out the financial review recommended by the Work and Pensions Select Committee or to explore an AME/DEL switch for ATW where funding saved from future benefit expenditure is invested into the scheme as people move into work.

 

Instead they are pushing ahead with plans which will curtail Deaf and disabled people’s ability to get into and stay in work. Meanwhile, employment rates for disabled people are still below the 2007 figure.

 

We would urge the new Minister to think again.

 

Geraldine O’Halloran, co-founder, StopChanges2ATW

Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director, Graeae theatre Company

Nicky Evans, Secretary, National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters

Tracey Lazard, Inclusion London

Linda Burnip, co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)

Debbie Jolly, co-founder, DPAC

Ellen Clifford, National Steering Committee, DPAC

Paula Peters, National Steering Committee, DPAC

Bob Ellard, National Steering Committee, DPAC

Anita Bellows, DPAC

Andy Greene, National Steering Committee, DPAC

Ann Whitehurst, DPAC

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 Posted by at 16:18
Jun 102015
 

With just over three weeks to go before the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), soap stars and disabled campaigners have launched a new petition to defend disabled people’s right to independent living. The petition hosted by 38 degrees includes a film featuring the cast of Coronation Street and disabled actors Lisa Hammond (Eastenders) and Liz Carr (BBC Silent Witness) along with ILF recipients themselves.

 

The ILF was set up in 1988 to provide support to disabled people with the highest support needs to live in the community. Since then it has enabled thousands of disabled people to live full and meaningful lives, able to contribute to society and participate through education, employment, volunteering and taking on caring roles within their own families. ILF recipients employ teams of Personal Assistants thereby contributing to their local economies.

 

At a time when the wider social care system is in crisis,  the ILF works extremely effectively with high satisfaction rates and excellent value for money (1). It seems nonsensical then that the government is planning to permanently close the ILF from June 30 2015 and transfer responsibility to struggling cash strapped local authorities (2). A high court ruling last year about the decision to close the fund referred to “the inevitable and considerable adverse effect” this would have on disabled people and how “independent living might well be put seriously in peril for… most (or a substantial number of) ILF users” (3).

 

The petition calls on David Cameron to over-turn the decision to close the Independent Living Fund which was taken without a vote in Parliament, or to at the very least ringfence monies devolved to local authorities specifically for the needs of ILF recipients and social care. Whereas the government’s of Scotland and Northern Ireland have committed to create their own versions of the ILF, and the Welsh government has said it will put money aside to help recipients for 9 months, disabled people currently receiving the ILF in England will be left unprotected.

 

Cherylee Houston who plays Izzy Armstrong in Coronation Street and who has been the driving force behind the petition said: “I had to speak up, I realised I have a voice and I couldn’t stand by and let this happen to my community.  I remember when I first became disabled I researched our history – the Independent Living Fund was the thing which allowed us to live in and contribute to the community; without this we are going back to where disabled people were ‘locked up’, it makes me want to weep – we’ve fought so hard for equality and how can anyone take away another human being’s independence?  Please please help us not going backwards, we’re the section of society who has a smaller voice than the rest of you – we need help to make that voice stronger  – please don’t stand by whilst it’s smothered.”

 

To sign the petition go to: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/defend-disabled-people-s-right-to-independent-living

The campaign Disabled People Against Cuts has called a lobby of Parliament for 24th June for a final call on Parliament to reverse the closure. For more details go to: www.dpac.uk.net/2015/06/SaveILF-lobby-Wednesday-24th-June-London/

 

For more information contact:

Ellen Clifford

07505144371

Ellen.clifford@inclusionlondon.co.uk

 

 

Notes for editors

 

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-living-fund-annual-report-and-accounts-2013-to-2014

 

  1. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has warned that Councils in England are facing a £1.1bn shortfall this year, on top of “almost unendurable” cuts since 2010:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32997697

 

  1. The full judgment can be read here: http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2014/4134.html&query=title+(+aspinall+)&method=boolean

 

  1. For information on what is planned in the devolved administrations:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/scottish-governments-decision-on-a-scottish-independent-living-fund

http://www.welfareweekly.com/northern-ireland-independent-living-fund-to-be-administered-in-scotland/

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2015/03/13/waless-independent-living-fund-users-given-nine-months-protection-cuts-agency-closes/

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 Posted by at 00:07