With an impending high court challenge against the Access to Work cap, the government has announced it is increasing the cap. They say this will affect fewer Deaf and Disabled people.
DPAC thinks that any form of cap is inappropriate and discriminatory. Any cap hits those with the highest support needs, effectively penalising Deaf and Disabled people with the highest support needs and impacting most on certain impairment groups. The new cap has been increased from 1.5 x the average worker’s salary (£42,100) to 2x (£57,200) but is still a fixed limit set in an entirely arbitrary way whereas costs for highly specialised equipment and good quality professional interpreters tailored to an individual’s needs can exceed this amount or vary from year to year. There is no financial reason for a cap given that investment in Access to Work makes a return on investment to the Treasury through taxes, without taking into account the added cost benefits of savings to the NHS or social care budgets.
The cap is also just one issue within a whole range of problems that Deaf and Disabled people are experiencing with Access to Work. These include administrative and financial errors on a scale that is making employment unviable for many, alongside cuts and restrictions to individual support packages that are placing intolerable strain on Deaf and Disabled people doing their best to stay in work. An urgent review of the scheme in consultation with Deaf and Disabled people is well over due.
It is worth looking at the numbers to understand the scale of the issue, and to compare the situation under DLA and PIP.
The main difference between the 2 benefits, apart from the descriptors, which with PIP were meant to lead to a reduction of 500,000 fewer claimants, is the introduction of Mandatory Reconsiderations. Mandatory Reconsiderations are a system of internal appeals, designed to reduce the number of appeals by reviewing and revising if necessary a benefit decision within a shorter timeframe. Where appeals could take one year or even 18 months these days to be heard, a mandatory reconsideration can take around 10 days, because the government has imposed targets. That is the good news. The bad news is as for sanctions, mandatory reconsiderations are under the direct influence of DWP Secretary of State, and are not independent. The initial benefit decision is supposed to be reviewed by a different Decision Maker, but around 84% of initial benefit decisions are being upheld, which leaves a claimant with only one option: to appeal.
The problem is that very few people appeal, and it is obvious that Mandatory Reconsiderations and the Kafkaesque system put in place by DWP, which makes it as difficult as possible for a claimant to get some kind of justice, plus the mistakes and the incompetence of many DWP staff, constitute a real denial of justice. Let’s crunch some numbers:
Before the introduction of PIP in 2012, there were 3,253,810 DLA claimants, but only 71,744 appeals, which is 2,20%. Let’s remind ourselves that claimants could directly ask for an appeal and that DWP would lodge it on their behalf. Now let’s compare this situation with PIP today.
In 2016/2017, there are only 1,409,027 PIP claimants (and still 2,263,162 DLA claimants), and the number of Mandatory Reconsiderations is 669,000. This means that almost ½ the people undergoing a PIP assessment are dissatisfied with the outcome and ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration. Knowing that 80% of mandatory reconsideration upheld the initial PIP decision, you would expect around 535,200 PIP claimants lodging an appeal. In fact, the number is 104,205, which only 19% of the number of claimants expected to appeal.
But what needs to be done is to compare more directly the DLA and the PIP situation:
Without Mandatory Reconsiderations, the number of PIP claimants lodging an appeal would have been 669,000. If the level of overturned PIP decisions is maintained (64%), it means that 424,160 PIP claimants would have had a PIP decision overturned in their favour.
Bromley JCP Protest
Bromley DPAC along with SE London Unite Community have organised a protest outside Bromley Job Centre Against Universal Credit For Wednesday 14th March 2018 12 noon until 2pm
Address Bromley Job Centre Plus
28 Elmfield Road
Kent BR1 1NX
Nearest train station is Bromley South Station accessible from train platform to street level
Buses 61, 208,358,261,126,367,314 all Stop opposite the entrance to Bromley JCP
Lewisham JCP has now closed and half of Lewisham JCP are having to make longer journeys to Bromley causing additional financial hardship. Bromley JCP staff are struggling with the additional influx of claimants leading to backlogs of claimants claims being dealt with and payment delays
Universal Credit cannot be paused and fixed. It is causing poverty and homelessness to rise and causing further distress and harm with the abolition of the severe disability premium, meaning disabled people will be worse off by £2,000 per year
By 2022 it is estimated that 1 million children will be plunged further into poverty under Universal Credit
We are calling for Universal Credit to be stopped and Scrapped
Cara Williams, a PhD student at Lancaster University is conducting research into disabled people’s experience of working for small and medium size organisations (SMEs) , and the SME experience of employing disabled people in their workplace.
She is looking to recruit twenty disabled people and twenty small and medium size organisations to take part in interviews .
The Labour MP Laura Pidcock has secured a Westminster Hall debate on Personal Independence Payments (PIP) next Wednesday (31 January). As debate is focusing on claimant experience, you can share your experiences of the PIP processs on the Twitter thread of Laura Pidcock at @LauraPidcockMPor email her : email@example.com
Today, the 21st of December, the High Court judge Mr Justice Mostyn allowed the claim in the case of RF v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The case was brought by a Disabled person with mental health support needs to challenge the changes the government made to Personal Independence Payment Regulations in March 2017[i].
These changes were urgently introduced to reverse the impact of the Upper Tribunal Judgement in the case of MH v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (PIP):  UKUT 531[ii]
These changes prevent thousands of people who cannot plan and follow a journey due to psychological distress from qualifying for higher rates of this benefit or qualifying at all[iii].
The Public Law Project, who represented RF argued in court that the changes are discriminatory and unlawful, because they go against original policy intent of PIP[iv].
The court said today that the regulations were discriminatory, and they have been quashed but it won’t take affect until the court of appeal decides the government can appeal
“This is a hugely important case. It challenges the discriminatory way the government treats Disabled people with mental health support needs. The outcome can make a difference to thousands upon thousands of Disabled people. We have always believed that these changes are discriminatory and unfair and should have never been introduced. It is incomprehensible that the government pledges more support for people with mental health support needs and at the same time introduces, through the back door regulation changes that prevent many thousands of Disabled people with mental health support needs from qualifying for this essential benefit.
The government’s actions to change PIP regulations and single out people who cannot travel because of psychological distress are a brutal attack on the rights of Disabled people. Today’s case illustrates the lack of concern for Disabled people and the government’s inability to listen to us and engage with us. It is extremely worrying that many of us feel the legal action is the only way for us to get heard”.
“We are pleased with the judgement today. It will make a huge difference for thousands of Disabled people with mental health support needs.
We have to remember that this challenge is taken in a context when the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found systematic and grave violations of Disabled people’s rights a year ago. And again in August it called the situation Disabled people are in a ‘human catastrophe’. The UN specifically called on the Government to repeal changes to PIP regulations because they breach our human rights under the Convention”.
[i] Personal Independence Payment is a new benefit which replaced Disability Living Allowance for Disabled working-age claimants. The purpose of the benefit is to compensate for extra costs of disability. Eligibility for PIP is a points-based system where points are assigned to descriptors illustrating the difficulties person experiences in carrying out specific activities.
Inclusion London supported the case from the start and provided a witness statement.
[iv] Statements made by the Government prior to 2014 as well as the Government’s 2012 Response to the consultation on PIP clearly express the intention of PIP to assess need rather than make decisions on the basis of impairment labels.
Statement from PLP
Statutory Instrument Quashed by the High Court
2017 Personal Independence Payment Regulations are Discriminatory
The High Court has found that part of the rules governing Personal Independence Payments are unlawfully discriminatory against people with mental health impairments. The Public Law Project’s client, RF, won on all three grounds of her challenge (RF v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions). The judge quashed the 2017 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Regulations because they discriminate against those with disabilities in breach of Human Rights Act 1998 obligations. Because they were discriminatory, the judge also found that the Secretary of State did not have lawful power to make the Regulations (i.e. they were “ultra vires”), and that he should have consulted before making them, because they went against the very purpose of what PIP regime sought to achieve.
The judge heard that the Regulations were laid by negative resolution in February 2017, received relatively little parliamentary attention, and were rushed through the parliamentary process by the Secretary of State without prior reference to checks by relevant committees. Contrary to the Secretary of State’s defence, the judge found that the decision to introduce the Regulations was ‘manifestly without reasonable foundation’ and commented that the wish to save money could not justify such an unreasonable measure.
During the course of the trial, the Secretary of State accepted that the testing carried out for PIP had not looked at whether the basis for treating those with psychological distress differently was sound or not, and the testing actually done was limited.
RF’s claim was supported by The National Autistic Society, Inclusion London, Revolving Doors and Disability Rights UK. All of those organisations gave statements to the court that the Regulations were unfair and that the intention to treat those with psychological distress differently had not been made clear in the early PIP consultation stages. The claim was also supported by two interveners: Mind and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC made written submissions to the Court on the ongoing and persistent breaches by the UK Government of its obligations under UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities arising from its austerity measures. The Judge found that this inconsistency with the UN Convention supported his finding that the measure had no objective justification.
RF commented: “This judgment is important for a community of people with mental health problems fighting for their lives against discrimination.”
Note to Editors:
The case was previously known as SM and RF, but is now known as RF v Secretary of State for Department of Work and Pensions. There is an anonymity order in place protecting SM and RF.
The Government intends to appeal the decision. The Regulations will not be quashed until the Court of Appeal decides whether or not the appeal should proceed. RF is anticipating a decision on this in early 2018.
The Committee invites evidence on the role of assistive technology in improving disabled people’s employment rates, drawing on the Government’s response to the Committee’s Disability employment gap report.
The Committee welcomes submissions addressing any or all of the following questions:
What role can assistive technology play in removing barriers to work and helping disabled people stay in work?
How should the Government support the development of this technology, and are there any particular innovations it should look to support?
Is Access to Work the most effective means of providing access to assistive technology? Should other funding models be considered?’
Additional questions from Inclusion London:
Are there barriers to obtaining assistive technology needed, if so what are the solutions to this?
What are the greatest barriers to disabled people obtaining and maintaining work – is it lack of assistive technology or other issues?
You are welcome to send a submission directly to the Select Committee. The deadline for this inquiry is 19 January 2018.
Work & Pensions Committee hears from specialist disability groups on the PIP and ESA assessments on Monday
One of the big concerns the Committee has heard about DWP’s contracted PIP and ESA assessors is how their staff are qualified to assess the impact of multiple, serious and complex physical and mental health conditions on people’s lives, and how those conditions can affect the assessment process itself. Mencap’s evidence to this inquiry includes instances like a claimant being asked what medication he was on for Down’s Syndrome and learning disability – displaying deep ignorance of the condition, its effects and how it is dealt with.
In the video below from our in evidence this week, Committee Member Alex Burghart asks what specialist measures these companies have in place when they are working with someone with a serious mental health condition like schizophrenia: the answer was, effectively, none. All three companies insisted that no specialist medical knowledge is required to perform the “functional” assessments they carry out.
On Monday at 15:45 in Wilson Room we’re asking the specialist disability advocacy groups asking Scope, Sense, the Disability Benefits Consortium, Citizen’s Advice and Mencap if they agree. You can also watch online. /ENDS
Watch @alexburghart MP ask what specialist processes DWP's #PIP and #ESA assessors ATOS, Maximus and Capita have in place for people with serious, complex conditions like schizophrenia, that can also affect the assessment itself – we'll have more evidence on this on Monday pic.twitter.com/E2EY12w37w
Please let Al at Inclusion London know any difficulties you have had with accessing Universal Credit. We will pass this information to the DWP who are now interested in making the application process for Universal Credit (UC) more accessible.
Difficulties with accessing UC could include:
A lack of accessible information about UC itself, or about Advance Payments or any other aspect of UC.
Communications that are not accessible, such as phone calls that are not accessible to Deaf people, or lack of Easy Read.
Accessing/problems with the online application process.
Thanks to Nick Dilworth who wrote this template letter
You can follow him @Mylegalforum http://ilegal.org.uk/
The Customer Complaints Manager
[Address of your Employment & Support Allowance Office]
*shown on your most recent correspondence from them
Dear Sir / Madam,
National Insurance No:
Arrears of Employment & Support Allowance which may be owed to me through your official error
My attention has been drawn to some recent media coverage by the BBC entitled ‘Mistakes in benefits claims could cost up to £500m’ (dated the 17th November 2017). As a result of this I am making an official complaint, I believe I may be affected and entitled to arrears of Employment & Support Allowance.The media coverage states:
“The errors identified by the Department for Work and Pensions affect the main sickness benefit, the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The BBC understands that assessors wrongly calculated the income of around 75,000 claimants. Ministers say that they are aware of the problem and that repayments have begun to be made. The department, which says it discovered the mistakes last December, is understood to have contacted about 1,000 people so far. It says it is still trying to understand the scale of the problems with ESA, which is paid to about 2.5 million people, and will contact anyone affected.”
Having made some enquiries, I understand that I may be an affected individual because I underwent a ‘conversion’ assessment from older Incapacity Benefits / Income Support paid on the grounds of incapacity for work / Severe Disablement Allowance. My recollection is that this was subject to a decision made by you on or about the [insert date].
The conversion process should have been carried out in accordance with the Employment and Support Allowance (Transitional Provisions, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit) (Existing Awards) (No.2) Regulations 2010 and it is my understanding that in confirming your decision you should:
(a) have ensured I was entitled to the correct amount of ‘transitionally protected’ benefit at a rate whereby my converted Employment & Support Allowance award was equal to what I received before conversion and should have continued to be protected on a ‘mark time’ basis until the level of Employment & Support Allowance either caught up with my transitionally protected amount or until the 5th April 2020.
(b) As part of the conversion decision making and notification process you should also have checked any existing contributory award to see if I may qualify for an income based amount on the converted Employment & Support Allowance award as confirmed by the Upper Tribunal in  UKUT 342 (AAC) where it was held [In considering Regulation 8 of Employment and Support Allowance (Transitional Provisions, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit) (Existing Awards) (No.2) Regulations 2010]:
“Given the unified nature of ESA as described in paragraph 25 above, the determination by the Secretary of State of the amount of ESA to which a person would be entitled on conversion under regulation 8(1) in my judgment must encompass consideration of both the contributory amount and the income-related amount.”
I am therefore asking you to confirm that neither of the above omissions (a) or (b) occurred as a result of any official error on my claim. If official error has occurred and I have been underpaid in consequence of that error, please ensure that you pay me any amounts owing to as a matter of urgency and without unacceptable delay.
Please note that this request is an official one which you must treat by way of an anytime review or supersession request.
I must further point out that this request applies to a retrospective decision and therefore applies in cases where there may have been a subsequent successful appeal against any initial decision to refuse or otherwise restrict the Employment & Support Allowance award made. Likewise, the fact that I have since stopped claiming Employment & Support Allowance or taken up another claim to other benefits does not prevent me from making this request.
So that I can check the accuracy of your records please treat this letter as a Subject Access Request and supply me with copies of my pre – conversion awards and all claim details pertaining to my Employment & Support Allowance claim from the point of conversion of my claim.
Please also consider this as a complaint of potential maladministration on my claim and consider issuing me with an appropriate compensatory or special payment.
On a final point, please make me aware of the effect which this may have upon any other benefits such as Housing and or Council Tax Benefit paid at the point of conversion.
I look forward to hearing from you and trust that you will look in to and act on this request as a matter of urgency.
I am writing to invite you to the launch of the Austerity Campaign Action Pack, being developed by the Austerity Action Group formed by BASW following the Boot Out Austerity walk, with the support of the Social Workers Union.
The flyer for the event is attached and I would be grateful if you could share this widely. It is taking place on the evening of Thursday 30th November, at the University of Salford. It is a free, UK-wide event at which we will be hearing of anti-austerit activity in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. We are delighted that Rebecca Long-Bailey, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, will be speaking, alongside other notable speakers; and there will also be music, songs, poems, readings and film, in true Boot Out Austerity style. See the flyer for more details.
Food and refreshments will also be served.
You are receiving this email because of the interest you expressed in Boot Out Austerity. If you’d rather not receive future emails regarding BASW’s austerity campaigning, let me know by email, and I will remove your details from the mailing list.
DPAC received this letter a while ago. At first, it did not make sense. What was Swanee? Then, looking around, we started to make connections with words associated with swans and babies’s swans.
UP THE SWANEE:
Hello, you have reached the SWAN,
kontroller of many Sicknets.
Fancy a stay in one of our private mental health hospitals?
Don’t fret about the cost! The NHS pay us approx £12,000 – £32,000 per week (all dividends boosting a USA owned company).
Long stays are assured.
Correct treatments not guaranteed.
All our staff are lovely (in our opinion), we are talking textbooks enjoying our very rewarding jobs patronising clients, dodging real issues, & creating drug addicts.
On average, we will force you to take 24 pills every 12 hours – so we can stay in our offices, & keep you feeling unwell.
If you don’t swallow, law says it’s OK for you to be thrown to the floor, held down & forcibly injected.
If you dare to raise a little finger to defend yourself, we accuse you of assault, police come, you are blamed.
No, whilst in our “care” you will not be allowed to leave, or go outside. You stay inside, with no fresh air, activities or access to education.
There’s no point us providing that as patients are too drugged to do anything.
Yes, our slick, well oiled sales pitch, aimed at maximising numbers of customers, does give onlookers the impression we provide HOTEL like facilities – a gym for example.
We have an Occupational Therapist. I’m not sure why – in this heat nobody has much motivation…
But our brand new buildings – quickly put up constructions similar to MacDonalds, are a facade.
Seems like patients are on holiday!
There’s even a chef to cook your meals.
Admittedly it’s not homely. It is like living in a glass office 24/7 with approx 30 complete strangers – some of whom are dangerous – full of fear – desperate to go out / escape.
So you’re watched by staff & cameras 24/7.
Staff control everything! What you can read, you are not allowed to write (a pen is a potential weapon). But if you want to cut yourself with razor blades, that’s OK, we can’t watch you all the time! Ha ha. (Even though we are paid to safeguard you).
When you realise you are suffering from EXTREME boredom caused by not doing anything month after month, year after year – you may develop some nasty new habits like trying to gauge your eyeballs out.
It is upsetting for staff. But these side effects are all due to your illness, and part of your recovery. It is a sign of progress! Due to your condition getting worse.
No! None of what you are feeling / suffering is attributable to your environment, or fact you are being tortured by us.
This is new-style USA medical kidnapping, in the UK, with the image all sorted out so it seems palatable to less discerning eyes.
Oh, we don’t worry about inspections, inquests, complaints, or cuts in NHS funding!
Who do you think our shareholders are?
Anyone can invest in our multi-Billion $ business – the funders of NHS Commissioning groups do, MH Trusts… acquire shares – it’s a fast growing industry – very attractive to most (& not repulsive enough to cause disternation amongst those who might see through the sham. Or should I say scam?)
(It suits Conservatives – they cause the conditions that drive folk to distraction – the stressful conditions Tories like to inflict on lower income groups beneath them, increases illnesses – if it’s cogs that go, all drives ’em to our door, so it’s win win for us!
It’s not a revolving door! We let ’em in a door we then keep shut.
That’s all we need to do really – herd ’em in like cattle.
Of course we don’t like deaths! That’s a loss of approx at least £300,000 a year per expired patient.
Quickly replaced by another dying to get in, yes. But we would prefer to get that £300 grand plus get another £300 grand.
Never mind. Our insurance covers us against dead losses.
Luckily for us (on the dark side) nobody has scrutinised deaths caused. Nobody in authority wants to link them!
Each death is explained away by a coroner scattered someplace in the UK, if we get told off a bit for not providing the best care, we promise to improve, and jackpot!
We’ve perfected our operation – our branding – everything – so disgruntled relatives can’t even leave negative comments on our websites. We churn out photos to promote us… I particularly like awards put in our reception areas – so assuring to our customers & clients, reminding them what we do is very rewarding.
Our complaints procedure has become increasingly obscure.
We say one thing, do another. 99% we get away with it. We hire a pretty youngling to listen pseudo sympathetically, then write saying you have got it wrong, the hospital is right. Works like a charm! Complaints fade away like patients
No, we don’t allow 2nd opinions when it’s claimed a patient is misdiagnosed, or put on a wrong ward.
Yes, we do get annoying Nearest Relatives to either put up & shut up, or get lost.
What’s it to us if a patient is 100’s of miles from home with no-one to check on their welfare?
Do we help alleviate the mental health of patients?
A few compliant types – 1 or 2 are released. We love it when the grateful sing our praises – that’s good PR.
If discharged into the community – you still have to take all the drugs, or you are sent back on a Section.
So, we create the illusion we do, but we don’t.
If you say you have a mental health problem, I’ll give it a name, I’ll tie you in knots – you haven’t got a degree in psychobabble, but I have – I get paid to confuse you, throw the weight of the establishment on you and they will back me, not you…because… I am omnipotent… so big & powerful…
What’s the point in making patients better?
That is counter productive for us. You do see that, don’t you?
Ethics? What’s that got to do with us? We are not in the business of selling ethics! We’re here (to exploit and) make money. From drug sales…
Yes, we are fundamentally (excuse the pun) very different from the founding NHS principles. The NHS aim to get you better double quick.
We do not need a heart, soul, or conscience to make huge profits. We only care about acceptably fixing figures so attractive sums end up in offshore accounts.
I should care about tricking people, destroying quality of lives, futures?
No thanks, the money does me. Their mental health has gone to pot. My pot!
The government has already closed 24 jobcentres since August this year. They plan to close a further 78 Jobcentres by April of 2018.
16 of these Jobcentres are in London.
Poor people and people facing the biggest challenges need local jobcentres, not some superhub that they have to walk miles to reach.
Benefit money is too little to cover regular trips on public transport. People will have to walk. And don’t be late or too ill to walk over a mile each way whenever the jobcentre demands it-– you’ll be up for a sanction!
The Torys say that much of the jobcentres work is now done online, but 5.3 million people in Britain have never used the internet, and 10 million lack the basic digital skills. And millions of these people will be in receipt of benefits.
You can’t use the internet if you can’t afford a computer or a mobile phone contract or or the fee for using library or internet cafe
You can’t use the internet if you are illiterate (and six to eight million Britons are borderline or fully illiterate)
Our local Jobcentres, Kilburn and Neasden, serve one of the most deprived areas in the country. If they are closed then over half of the borough of Camden and around two thirds of Brent will be more than half a mile from the nearest jobcentre, i.e. more than a mile round trip. These areas contain heavily populated areas: a lot of people are going to be affected.
In amongst the people who can’t use the internet are hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their disability benefit because they aren’t disabled enough for the Tories. They may be able to walk just 200 meters, or sometimes panic when out and get lost, or nor be able to plan a journey to places they dont know, or have epilepsy. They may be seriously depressed or suffering from brain fog brought on by medication or illnesses like Fibromyalgia. They may be recovering from Cancer or waiting for a heart operation. They may have variable conditions that mean that they can’t guarantee being able to go out at all on any particular day.
Let’s meet outside the DWP’s headquarters at Caxton House and let them know what we think about this. Save our Jobcentres!
I’m looking to speak to disabled people in this situation to raise awareness of the issue. Please note, it isn’t necessary that you’ve actually been moved to a care home but that you’ve been directly told this is a possibility.
BBC Sunday Politics South East is making a news piece about the closure of Jobcentres. From next March people in the Whitstable and Herne Bay areas will have to travel to Canterbury, which can take up to an hour on public transport and cost up to £6.70. The BBC are looking for an individual or family who will be affected by these changes who would be happy to appear on TV and are available for filming on WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 1. Filming will take around an hour. If you can help please contact the South East team on 0207 407 9292. Many thanks.
Please send your experience of the ESA or PIP assessment or your experience of waiting for an assessment to Henrietta.Doyle@inclusionlondon.org.uk by the 8 November. Suggestions to improve the assessment process are also welcome.
Inclusion London will be sending written evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into PIP and ESA assessments and your evidence will be used to inform our evidence.
We know that Universal credit is a mess, but what about HMRC’s Real Time Information system ? The following contribution from Stephen Timms based on a Freedom of Information request is very interesting. It seems that over 5% of payments to individuals by HMRC were reported being paid late. HMRC does not monitor the missing or incorrect payments, but we know that Universal Credit is being underpaid. So not only claimants have to contend with long waiting times, but when they are paid via RTI, over 5% are paid late, and an unknown number of claimants don’t receive anything, or an incorrect payment, mostly at their disadvantage. What experts are saying, is that 5,7% is an unacceptably high rate of late payments. The number of late, missing and incorrect payments should be well lower than 1% if UC is going to work
“Under universal credit, everybody’s monthly pay is automatically sent to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs through the pay-as-you-earn RTI—real-time information—system, and HMRC then sends that to the DWP so that it can do the universal credit calculation. There have been rumours for some time that the RTI system does not work very well. I have tabled questions about that, but the Minister has flatly denied that there is a problem.
It emerged last month, through a freedom of information request submitted by a member of the public, Mr John Slater, that there is a thing called the “Late, Missing and Incorrect RTI Project”. If RTI is late, missing or incorrect, we have a problem, because it is not possible to do the required universal credit calculation. I therefore tabled a question for the Minister:
“To ask…what the remit and activities of the Late, Missing and Incorrect RTI Project are.”
The Minister sent back an answer telling me that it did not exist and that there was no such thing. Fortunately, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was more forthcoming on this point. I got a written answer last week from the Treasury, dated 16 October, to my written question 107309, which stated that:
“The vast majority of Real Time Information submissions are accurate and on time. However, a very small number of data quality issues create discrepancies and these can have an effect on an individual’s tax and benefits position.”
Indeed they can, because if the information is wrong, people’s benefit calculations will also be wrong.
The following day, 17 October, also from the more helpful of these two departments, the Treasury answer to my question 107475 stated that:
“during the 2016/17 tax year approximately 590m payments to individuals were reported via RTI. 5.7% of these were reported late. HMRC does not hold the information in respect of missing and incorrect reports.”
If over 5% of them were just late, never mind the ones that were missing or incorrect, we do have a serious problem.
Looking through all the submissions we received, briefing us ahead of this debate, I was struck by the one from the Child Poverty Action Group, referring to,
“difficulty making claims for universal credit, with many online claims seeming to ‘disappear’.
Universal credit being underpaid because ‘real time information’ provided by HMRC regarding income is not always reliable or accurate.
Claimants being paid the wrong amount of universal credit for no apparent reason.”
What is happening is that the IT is not doing what it is supposed to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) referred to the anonymous report in The Independent a couple of weeks ago by someone working in a jobcentre, who talked about the grim reality of administering universal credit, rather by contrast with the enthusiasm with which Tory Members have told us that people are working on this. That writer made the point that when there is a discrepancy between what people were paid and what HMRC says they were paid—in other words, an RTI problem—it takes ages to sort that problem out. Members representing constituencies where universal credit has been fully rolled out report endless mistakes, delays and errors, which take weeks and weeks to resolve.
Another reason why this project’s roll-out should be paused and then fixed is to stop these problems being inflicted on tens of thousands more.
The DWP has published the long awaited guidance on Reassessments for claimants with the most severe and lifelong conditions, with the applicable criteria. This will only apply to claimants in the Support Group or under UC who have been found to have Limited Work Related Activity capability. As with any decision which is discretionary, there will be no right of appeal. Developed in conjunction with some disability charities such as DRUK, the criteria are not related to specific conditions, but to broader categories which will apply to specific conditions but will also encompass others, when all the criteria are met.
As with everything related to DWP, the implementation will be key, but there are already some questions:
What if a disability assessor and a claimant’s GP or consultant disagree about the realistic prospect of recovery? Could a disability assessor who is neither a GP nor a consultant overrule a GP or a consultant in that regard?
There will be more questions. Meanwhile the guidance and the criteria are here:
You can tweet these pictures during the Tory conference. The conference hashtag is included and you can add your own text. The burning issue right now is Universal Credit, but we all know the problems encountered with the Work Capability Assessment, PIP, sanctions, social care, the bedroom tax etc. The list is too long to list them all. You may want to mention the UN inquiry and the UN report, but ultimately, what you want to say to the Tory party, is that their welfare reforms did not save any money, did not simplify the benefit system, did not make work pay, but that they have hurt people, they made them poorer, even destitute and that they drove some people to an early death. That will be the legacy of the past seven years for the Tory party.
A petite boy called Diogenes has both of his hands tied with belts to his bed. Mary is 12 years old and has spent her entire life locked up in an empty room without ever seeing the sunlight. Others play inside cages; 2m-long bed-cages with wooden bars. They have never left this prison. They wear diapers 24/7 and are bottle-fed. Some of these residents are already 30 years old. They are on medication; they swallow up to 30 pills a day without being able to articulate a single word, a result of the chemical suppression. The terrible smell of incarceration and bodily waste does not emanate from the video that I am watching.
These images were recorded at the Child’s Care Center of Lechaina, a state-run home in the Peloponnese, Greece, in November 2015 by the disabled director and activist Antonis Rellas. He shows them to me today, two years after the recordings, as he completes his documentary titled From Asylum to Society. This material motivated me to travel with him to Lechaina in July 2017.
The residents are the victims of the state’s “Welfare” program and institutionalization scheme concerning mental health patients and disabled individuals in Greece. As newborns, most of them were abandoned forever by their parents, either because their families could not fulfill the needs of a disabled child or because these children, like Hephaestus, were not “normal” babies, and so were thrown out of their homes and into the sea of institutionalized life.
Lechaina center, 2015.
An ongoing crime is being disclosed
The Child’s Care Center in Lechaina was founded 27 years ago. This story is not news; on the contrary it is the epitome of an ongoing problem in Greece. In 2009 European volunteers who spent several months in the Center filed the first accusations. Following an investigation, in 2010 the Citizen’s Advocate drew up a report of findings of blatant violations of fundamental human rights at the Center. 2011 was the first time that reporters entered the Center with a TV camera and the situation was described as reminiscent of “medieval times”. Finally, in 2014 world-wide outrage grew after a shocking BBC report that showed children locked up in cages like wild animals in Greece, at the dawn of the 21st century.
After the BBC report, Catherine Papakosta (of the New Democracy party), under-secretary of the Ministry of Health visited the Center. Activists and medical staff reported that “the result was to install an interior surveillance system, completely useless and now out of order”.
Director Antonis Rellas is a member of the Greek Emancipation Movement for the Disabled Zero Tolerance, a group of activists who peacefully occupied the Center for four days, in November 4 in 2015, in order to take action.
Mary, 12, locked up in an empty room, 2015.
“The issues concerning the situation in institutions were very well known to us before we decided to take action. The Center in Lechaina happens to be the most representative example of the institutionalization of marginalized, [an example] of which we are not proud at all. Disabled individuals survive in conditions of terror and torture, cut off from the world, tied up in cages, living an inhuman life. It is no coincidence that the majority of the 70 state-run institutions across the country are located outside city limits, so that no one remembers their existence. The fundamental human rights of disabled individuals have been declared by the UN Convention which is also state law, but a crime has been committed for 27 years now by each and every government: it seems as if time were frozen.
Politicians limit their efforts to declaring their sensitivity for these “special” children, without making any substantial form of intervention in order to terminate institutionalization. For these reasons we decided to occupy the Center and demand the termination of the exclusion and the torture of our fellow-disabled” according to Antonis Rellas.
Zero Tolerance activists at Lechaina center, November 2015.
Apart from the fact that this is a political and human rights matter, for some activists it has also been personal:
“I went into the cage, lay down and cried. My whole life appeared before my eyes in those seconds. I realized that it was only by luck that I was not one of them. I am on the outside by mistake. If Vaso, my mother, back in 1973 in the city of Patras, a few miles away from here,had not cursed and kicked out her brother-in-law, who had recommended that I be placed in an institution he knew of nearby so that she wouldn’t suffer, I would be one of them. Why am I crying? Why do I get angry? Why am I ready to fall apart as I wait for the photo shoot? The answer is simple. Because when I left this place I left a piece of me in that cage, a cage that will follow me” Andrew Kouzelis,writer, sociologist and activist with spastic quadriplegia, wrote in November 8.
Andrew Kouzelis into the cage, November 2015.
The next day, after a three-hour trip, we arrived from Athens to Lechaina. It was a three-story pink building, a few meters away from the Electricity Substation and far from city limits, with a dome and a Christian cross at the top. There were a few swings in the yard with no children on them, an ambulance parked off to the side and some olive trees. We were told that when a resident dies they plant an olive tree.
It is clear that, after the occupation and the pressure the activists of Zero Tolerance, significant changes had been made, such as open bed-cages, reduced medication and minimized mechanical restriction. Residents seem to have come out of sedation, like dolls suddenly infused with life. Some articulate their first words and smile while others eat and drink by themselves during lunchtime. Some had never moved their limbs before the activists’ intervention. There is also air-conditioning, since it gets very hot during the summer, and central heating in wintertime,another result of the activists’ demands.
The staff has been informed of our visit so every space is neat and there are evensome decorations. When we arrive, some residents, or “beneficiaries”, as they are called, spend their morning rest time in the playroom filled with air-mattresses and a TV set. There are seven or eight residents per room and they keep no personal objects. Only a girl named Canella, whose legs are tied up, has a few paintings and teddy bears. “Some of them receive visits from family members,” Antonis Rellas says while he guides me around the building.
Activists with Lechaina residents playing outdoors for the first time.
Most of them are forgotten by their families, as if they never existed. While we make our way around I see that the room where 12-year-old Mary was locked up is now the physiotherapy room. Mary has now been transferred to an institution for minors.
A man named Prodromos is 34 years old. He was abandoned as a baby in a small basket and lived in an institution for minors until the age of eight. At the time he fell off the 4th floor of the building and as a TBI patient (Traumatic Brain Injury) he was transferred to Lechaina. He smiles and asks for “sea”, “closet” and “nightstand”. One of his wishes is granted as, that afternoon, we take him for a walk by the sea, which might be a first for him –who knows…
The place is a far cry from the hellhole activists encountered with when they first occupied the building two years ago. But anyone who cannot swallow the idea that these people are not really people, and who reflectsthat every such institution is called home by those who live in it, will realize that the place is still a clinic that belongs more to the Dark Ages, or a scene out ofa dystopic movie.
People as objects in the trashcan
George Tsiakalos, professor of Pedagogy at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, has said that residents of Lechaina “could talk, laugh and go to school” if they did not suffer that tremendous damage of institutionalization. George Nikolaides, director of Mental Health and Social Welfare office at Child’s Health Institute, is the psychiatrist who has been officially in charge of the intervention program in Lechaina since 2016. I asked him how these individuals would be today if they had not lived through medication and mechanical restriction, and also if this really is a case of torture.
“Of course, totally. How does it look for a person to live for 365 days constantly in a cage or have their limbs tied up? What would you call that? This is clearly a violation of basic human rights and, in a sense, a crime for which Greece has been arraigned in all national fora by the United Nations, the Commissioner of Human Rights of the European Council, pertinent bureaus of the European Committee and so on. What happens in Greece is that we pretend to conform to rules and regulations, but things never really change. The first organized protest took place in the late ’90s, coordinated by a group of professionals and activists. The Government and the Administration of the Center managed to scatter the group and some protesters were even arrested. The only thing gained by the protest at the time was the replacement of metal cages with wooden ones,” Dr Nikolaides recalls.
He goes on to explain that “These individuals were treated by the system as if they were objects, with no expectations or individual characteristics. They were objects. What strikes me about my experience working with these people is seeing the moment they awake and become subjects who express their preferences, and take initiatives as simple as reaching out for a specific person to touch and connect with by choice,or talk for the first time in years. What Mr.Tsiakalos had said about education is true, and in fact two of the minors go to a special education primary school.”
“The Lechaina Center has been the trashcan of the Welfare system from all around Greece; every lost case was sent here. Of course there are some clinical cases that are quite severe, with multiple mental, cognitive and motor issues; on the other hand years of institutionalization, mechanical restriction and chemical suppression and years hinders language acquisition and cognitive development. Just think that, when we first intervened, there was a young man who had been tied up for 21 years. Everyone was so isolated and deprived of basic human touch thatwith just a little concern, care and communicative engagement there has been significant improvement.”
I asked for a specific example and he continues: “There is a teenager with an oversized skull, limb hypertrophy and a metabolic disorder that makes his bones brittle and which results in multiple fractures and an inability to hold up his neck. After he suffered a fracture, the courts accused the staffof negligence. So the decision was made to have him constantly tied up so that he would be safer. As we speak, he is no longer restricted in a cage, but free to touch, feel and express his emotions. The solution was a specific moon-shaped pillow that helps him stay steady. I sometimes watch him tidying his things.”
Diogenes with both his hands tied with belts to his bed, 2015.
Inevitably, I ask Dr. Nikolaides if there are members in the Greek scientific community who still recommend mechanical restriction and strong medication. “Yes” he answers “But individually and not in terms of a broad scientific discussion. There is a misleading notion about these institutions that they are some sort of hospital, especially among medical stuff. On the contrary, th residents see these centers as home. Ifa professional thinks he works in a hospital, a proper response to a resident walking around is “What are you doing? Why aren’t you in bed?”
Institutions as Barracks
Today the Center of Lechaina has 44 residents, the oldest of whom is 48 years old.There arefour minors among them. Most of them were initially placed in this Center or in similar institutions and never came out. These residents have cognitive disabilities, and bodily and motor impairments. Here there also individuals with sensory disabilities, such as impaired vision or even blindness. According to the psychiatrist “it is unacceptable that they live here. They do not belong here, because the Center lacks basic infrastructure for people with sensory disabilities.” Similarly, Dr. Nikolaides continues, “There are clinical cases that God knows how they ended up in here. There are patients with autism, to the extreme of the spectrum, and it is such a shame to have them institutionalized.”
According to the latest research conducted in 2014 by the NPO Rizes (Roots) there are 2,825 children institutionalized in Greece, 883 of whom are disabled.The research showed that disability was the main reason for institutionalization, according to the participants, after negligence and abuse. Ofa total of 85 institutions that undertakecare of children, only 28 are supervised by the State, while the rest are run by NGOs or the Church.
The Lechaina Center has a staff of 60 people, 25 of whom are responsible for the immediate care of the residents.Most are not healthcare professionals of any kind. The rest of the staff consists of administrative employees and technicians. As Dr.Nikolaides says “when we arrived in the Center last year, there was an speech and language therapist among us and the response of the staff to the presence of a professional was “What could an speech and language therapist do here? They don’t even speak!” But the good thing is, and this should be mentioned, is that after a year, at least a part of staff appreciates the changes, and actively participates in the effort.”
We spent the night at the Center as guests. In the room I stayed there is a bed, a basin and a wheelchair. There are some stickers of cartoon heroes on the wall and a drawing saying I Love Love.
In the morning all the residents wake up at the same time, eat the same meals and go to sleep at the same time, in an impersonal environment. “When you live in mass conditions, you inevitably follow a specific and quite strict program. Even if we try to improve the environment, there is always an obstacle because of space limitations,” explained the psychiatrist. He continued: “People should go out. Now they go out only for medical reasons. This is completely wrong, because, for example, there are residents with Down Syndrome who, because of long-term institutionalization and a lack of education and socialization never developed fully. Today individuals with Down Syndrome normally work, drive, get married, have friends, make love.”
Disability issues are left on the sidelines of institutional agendas, but also, unfortunately of activist ones. Stories about disabled individuals are used either to add drama to the evening news or as an oportunity to glorify “everyday heroes”. When faced with the brutal images of institutionalization, we look away and attempt to forget them. But emotion means nothing if it is not followed by steps toward improving the situation.
The Battle against Institutionalization – Zero political action?
“The Ministry is very well informed about the conditions and the problems institutions face. We know that the two most important issues are the lack of medical and special education professionals and infrastructure issues. A general meeting of administrators of all such institutions inthe country has been scheduled for November in order to compile a detailed account concerning these problems. The aim of the strategy of Ministry of Labor, Social Security and Solidarity is to accomplish the de-institutionalization to greatest extent while still providing for those in need of the appropriate medical care, and all future actions are to be based on this decision.”
This statement above was the answer of the Secretary to the activists of Zero Tolerance on November 5 in 2015, the second day of the occupation of the Lechaina Center.
On the one hand, the Ministry is fully informed about the conditions in Lechaina. On the other, however,though the Secretary mentions the key-word de-institutionalization, the solutions that are presented seem abstract and disproportionate to the problems. A neat and tidy hellhole is still a hellhole.
Activists and professionals working in Lechaina both agree that residents must receive personalized intervention and special care in order to be prepared for transition to an open and broad care center. How is it possible to move beyond the present model of institutionalization and isolation? Dr. Nikolaides and his colleagues have recently presented their proposal to the Greek government, the European Committee and relevant entities concerning a full plan for the replacement of the Center with smaller houses, different accommodation and better living.
As Dr. Nikolaides says “The proposal took into account the needs of each and every resident of the Center of Lechaina. We did not consider them as a group, but as individuals with specific needs. Some of them, for example, can be transferred to foster homes. In order for the plan to work, we need to have a transition stage, a smaller center. Unfortunately, regarding the history of mental health reform in Greece shows that a smaller care center could be worse than a bigger one. This is why this proposal includes a process of reeducation of staff and residents, so that eventually the residentscan be reintegrated into society. Also, it is essential to include a prevention program to enable families to have access to the necessary intervention programs in order to avoid more petitions for institutionalization. We have also included a certain budget and a timeframe in order for the program to be possible and we wait. But we cannot wait forever…”
“The program is supported financially by the British Organization Lumos, which is run by the Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. But it is unacceptable for this project to be supported financially by a foreign organization; the Greek State must share responsibility for this. We receive expressions of interest on behalf of the government, but they need to take action toward di-institutionalization process. There is no use in dissolving this center because of negative publicity without aiming to an inclusion policy.
As far as the financial planning is concerned, Dr. Nikolaides says “The exact budget of the Lechaina Centeris presently vague, as it is for each and every state-run care center. This is the case because of the multiple financial resources centers receive. Given the present data, the amount of money the Center receives is up to 1.5 million Euros annually, which amounts to 2,600 Euros per month for every resident. For our proposal the budget is estimated to be as high as 2.2million Euros for relocation and support, with another million Euros added to that to cover intervention and support programs around the country to avoid institutionalization going forward. There must be no center in the future that resembles the Lechaina Center, neither state-run nor private. Needless to say that in addition to the regulated state-run institutions, there are many private care centers to which we have no access,nor do we have information about their form and function.”
“The main priority is the absorption in the new centers of the medical staff who are part of the system already, but there is also a need for hiring professionals such as psychologists and social workerswho are not presently included in the staff of the Lechaina Center, according to Dr. Nikolaides. “We also try to overcome some of the obligations derived from the Memorandum. It is essential for the state to acknowledge the need of staffing with special education scientists, despite the general limitations on hiring in the public sector.”
In July 13, the assembly of the Greek Communist Party George Lamproulis directed a question in Parliament to the Under-Secretary of Ministry of Labor, Social Security and Solidarity concerning another care center similar to Lechaina, the Sanatorium of Chronic Illnesses in Skaramanga. Unfortunately, his statement reveals the ignorance of most of our society. “The building in Skaramanga accommodates 29 residents, while there is room for more. Why don’t you improve the infrastructure and hire personnel in order to put more children in it?” The under-Secretary answered that large care centers belong to the past, while today “There is need forterminating institutionalization, because the solution does not involve the improvement of these institutions,” referring here to the Lechaina Center as well. “De-institutionalization has helped already many children, according to their families. Institutions cannot be seen as lost soul repositories; it is essential to interact with society”. These were the exact words of Theano Fotiou, which raised expectations for action on behalf of the Ministry.
Asylum and Society
According to Antonis Rellas, “There is an ongoing discussion about closing down the Center in Lechaina, but we are not really sure if the Government is actually planning to do so.” Dr. Nikolaides is also not convinced that the State will take action upon this matter “because of the bureaucracy and malfunction of Welfare in Greece” and the failure of neoliberal politics in terminating institutionalization.
As he explains, “In my opinion, there is no Social Welfare Program in Greece and there will never be. There are few nonrecurring support structures and centers across the country, and that’s it. In the beginning of the 20th century, there was this charity network supported by great donors. After the Second World War Queen Frederica founded asylums for child protection, in order to control and prevent the spreading of Communist ideas. As a result, these asylums were promoting nationalism and religion. In the ’80s there was some kind of progress in health care, but social welfare became more and more of a bureaucratic affair. For example, I visited the Center of Lechaina and they told me that an incoming patient had just been approved. So I asked if anybody had assessed the child or talk to the family.They answered “No, but we checked these”, showing me a pile of folders with all the necessary information. In other words, decision making process about placement of a child happens only through paperwork. In the ’90s the NGOs were suddenly thriving and everybody felt safer with the idea that somebody else, and not only the State, would be considering society’s needs. It is shameful that no government has ever made a breakthrough in Welfare.”
As far as de-institutionalization planning made by neoliberal governments, a significant case was that of Reagan Presidency (1981-1989) in the U.S.A.:
“They threw residents out of the mental hospitals after packing them with a small amount of pills and a friendly wave goodbye. As a result, most of them died within the first year because they had no support or the capacity to survive by themselves, while the rest lived in the streets. It is not at all difficult to make the wrong move and put groups of people in danger, even in worse circumstances than the one described. Given the fact that our country has also been accused of negligence at the Lechaina Center, if any effort at terminating institutionalization is not planned very carefully, it is likely that politicians like Reagan could come along and make all the wrong decisions involving de-institutionalization in our country. Total disaster…”
For two years, Antonis Rellas has filmed the living situation for residents in Lechaina, ever since the public revelation of the first images that showed the horrible situation in that hellhole. His documentary titled From Asylum to Society will be presented in Greek and international film festivals starting next November and is supported financially by the Emancipation Movement for the Disabled Zero Tolerance and the Greek Movement of Disabled Artists.
In his own words, “Our goal is to getall these images out to the public in order to raise awareness and make people realize that everyone is responsible. We need to motivate individuals who seethis situation as criminal to take action and help toward this effort. If we can transform the Center of Lechaina, then we can transform all the others as well”.
3 weeks after the UN described the treatment of disabled people as a ‘human catastrophe’, the UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has still not made a statement or acknowledged the human cost that disabled people paid since 2010 under the pretext of ‘austerity’.
It is astonishing as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell always supported in the past the struggles of disabled people and were at countless protests to save the Independent Living Fund. Debbie Abrahams wrote an article about the UN findings, but what about Labour shadow Minister for disabled people? Her twitter handle does not mention her ministerial role @MarieRimmer, neither is her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MarieRimmer or her Parliamentary website: http://www.marierimmer.org.uk/
This is really important. When the Remploy factories were closed, the government promised to look after the disabled people who worked there, and a fund was set up for them.
What happened to them? How many were given another job? You can tell your story to the BBC. Read below:
I’m doing some research for the BBC into what has happened to people who used to work in government-supported Remploy factories. If you worked for Remploy when the factories were closed in 2013, or know somebody who did, please get in touch either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on my mobile (07730575867). There were 2,000 people employed by Remploy factories when state funding was withdrawn. I’m trying to find out what happened next. This is not for reporting at this stage and any information provided will be treated with complete confidence.