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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[suffusion-the-author display='description']
 Posted by at 12:40

  2 Responses to “Letter sent by DPAC before the Lords’ debate on Welfare reform”

  1. Perhaps he should be called Lord Fraud!

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