DWP is forcing distressed claimants to attend weekly meetings, says whistleblower

By John Pring on 10th March 2022Category: Benefits and Poverty

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) whistleblower has warned that harsh new policies that are forcing more disabled people to attend weekly face-to-face jobcentre meetings could lead to benefit claimants taking their own lives.

The work coach, who has asked not to be identified*, has told Disability News Service (DNS) that she and her colleagues are being “bullied and harassed” into forcing claimants with significant mental distress into attending work-related meetings.

Many of them have been waiting months for a work capability assessment (WCA) and will eventually be found not fit for work and placed in universal credit’s limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) group.

But until that happens, and despite significant mental distress, they are still being forced to make weekly trips to the jobcentre, purely so that work coaches can meet their targets for face-to-face appointments.

The work coach, Jane**, says DWP managers are telling work coaches that they should not have any “white spaces” in their diaries, and so should tell claimants waiting for their WCA to come into the jobcentre even if they know they will eventually be placed in the LCWRA group.

Jane is aware of the many deaths of disabled benefit claimants that have been linked to DWP’s actions over the last decade, including many who have taken their own lives.

She said she was now “very concerned” that DWP’s new, even stricter, approach “might lead to more people taking their own lives”.

One young woman who is unable to leave her home without her mother, due to severe anxiety, has been referred to the government’s Restart Scheme for universal credit claimants who have been out of work for at least nine months, even though it is clear that she will eventually be placed in the LCWRA.

Jane says she has assured this young woman and other claimants she works with who are in similar situations that she will not sanction them if they fail to attend their work-related activity and will try to keep them “under the radar”.

She told DNS: “Why are we hassling these people when we know they are going to be moved into the LCWRA group anyway?

“We have managers looking at our diaries on an almost hourly basis and asking why we aren’t bringing in Tom, Dick or Harry.

“We are being bullied and harassed to bully and harass the people on our caseload and I just don’t believe in it.

“There are a lot of us who totally disagree with what is going on.”

But she fears that some work coaches are less understanding and that that will lead to more disabled people being sanctioned because they are unable to meet the strict conditions they have been set.

Jane said: “I work two desks away from someone and I cringe when I hear her telling people what they have got to do. She is absolutely hounding people.”

When she complained to her manager about the new rules, she was told that this was the process she had to follow.

She said: “It’s very worrying. We really are frightened to speak up about it.”

She is certain that the orders are filtering down from work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, with every district manager putting their own “interpretation” on those orders, and then feeding them down to jobcentre managers, who pass them on to their work coaches.

But she said she was also deeply concerned that DWP decision-makers appear to be overturning recommendations made by assessors from Maximus – the private sector contractor that is paid by DWP to carry out WCAs – that disabled claimants should be placed in the LCWRA group.

She said: “I have been told of instances where LCWRA was recorded by the Maximus assessor, but when the DWP decision-makers looked at the reports sent back, they made their own decisions – completely ignoring the assessment – and just put LCW (limited capability for work).”

Such a decision would mean the claimant would be forced into work preparation and would not be eligible for an extra weekly payment.

She said: “If this is happening, it is a huge injustice.”

One of those she has been told this has happened to is a young disabled man with agoraphobia, stress and anxiety, who is unable to leave his house.

The Maximus assessor had recommended that he should be placed in the LCWRA group, but the DWP decision-maker over-ruled the advice and placed him instead in LCW.

This meant he received no extra money but – more importantly for him – he would have to cope with DWP pressure pushing him towards returning to work.

Jane said: “I have been told that there is quite a lot of this going on. It’s either to save the department money or to force people back to work, or both.

“Whatever the reason, it’s wrong.”

She has also been told of cases in which a Maximus assessor has made a recommendation, following a WCA, but DWP has left the case sitting in the system for months without making a decision.

Jane’s concerns come as there is growing alarm over delays and backlogs in the benefits assessment system, with DWP even refusing to carry out any repeat WCAs for claimants already receiving universal credit who need a higher level of support.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, raised similar concerns to Jane this week.

He told a parliamentary meeting that Jobcentre Plus had increasingly become “a sanctioning regime, spreading fear, increasing pressure on highly vulnerable people, rather than offering people that tailored help that generally supports people moving towards work”.

He told the meeting on universal credit and mental health, hosted jointly by the all-party parliamentary groups on mental health and universal credit: “I think Jobcentre Plus needs reform so that we can create a modern employment service that helps people find work, helps people train and reskill, and helps support people to flourish.”

A DWP spokesperson did not dispute Jane’s evidence, and she declined to defend the measures that Jane said the department had been taking to force more disabled people to attend weekly jobcentre meetings.

But the spokesperson said: “Not all claimants need to come into the jobcentre and work coaches take a flexible approach for those with long-term health conditions to best meet the individual’s need.

“This includes considering their circumstances when agreeing achievable work-related activity and whether appointments should be carried out in person or via phone or their online journal.”

*DNS has seen proof that she works for DWP

**Not her real name.

https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwp-is-forcing-distressed-claimants-to-attend-weekly-meetings-says-whistleblower/

 

Charities urge clarity over who qualifies for next UK vaccine wave

Many vulnerable people who expected to be on ‘at risk’ list next in line for jab say they have been left out

By Sarah Marsh, Frances Ryan and Dan Sabbagh

Thousands of vulnerable people in the UK are at risk of being overlooked for vaccination amid confusion over who is to be included in the crucial next wave of the programme, a Guardian analysis has found.

People with a range of conditions said they had been told repeatedly they were at a heightened risk from coronavirus, with some even being told to shield, only to discover they were being left out of the “at risk” group next in line for a jab.

Charities called for clarity on who should be included, urging ministers to err on the side of caution by casting the net as widely as possible to avoid needless Covid deaths.

The UK is poised to meet its target of vaccinating the first four priority groups by Monday. So far the programme has focused on elderly people, care home residents and staff, people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, and frontline health and social care workers. By Friday a total of 14 million had received at least one dose, approaching the target of 15 million.

The next stage involves priority groups five and six – people aged 65 and over, and those aged 16-64 who are at high risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19 because of serious underlying health conditions.

Group six contains an estimated 7.3 million people and is by far the largest of the remaining priority groups. But confusion surrounds the question of who qualifies.

Many who expected to be on the list compiled by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are not, including people with ME, spinal cord injuries, forms of asthma, mild to moderate learning disabilities and rare physical disabilities.

GPs can add people to the priority list at their own discretion, but some appear to be unaware this is the case, prompting fears patients could be left at the mercy of their relationship with their doctor.

The Guardian has heard from some disabled people who have asked their doctor to be given priority status only to be turned down, while one reported that their GP did not know it was possible.

Charities have told the Guardian they are now providing worried clients with a template letter to give to their GP to help them lobby them with evidence about why they warrant a vaccine.

Data released by the ONS on Thursday showed that six out of every 10 people who died with coronavirus in England before 20 November last year had a disability – 30,296 out of 50,888.

Sonya Chowdhury, the chief executive of Action for ME, said she was shocked that the condition – which causes extreme fatigue among other symptoms – had been left out of category 6, and around half of all the emails and phone calls the organisation was receiving were about the vaccine programme. Even mild viruses can cause flare-ups and relapses in people with ME, confining them to their bed for months or even years.

Dan Scorer, the head of policy at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “People with a learning disability in England are dying from Covid at over six times the rate of the general population – yet shockingly not everyone with a learning disability is being prioritised for the vaccine.

“Currently people with a severe or profound learning disability are in group 6 on the vaccine priority list, and adults with Down’s syndrome are in group 4. Yet people with a mild or moderate learning disability are not being prioritised, ​unless due to their age or clinical vulnerability. This is despite data showing that 65% of those with a learning disability who died from Covid in the first wave in England had a mild or moderate learning disability.”

Nik Hartley, the chief executive of the Spinal Injuries Association, said people served by his charity should without question be considered a vaccination priority. “Those with tetraplegia and high-level paraplegia will have compromised respiratory function and can have a suppressed immune system, which means they are more likely to require acute care if they contract Covid-19,” he said.

Many people with asthma are confused about when they will get the vaccine and what priority group they fall into. Sarah Woolnough, the chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “We’ve been urging the government for some months to provide clarity on this as we know it’s a worrying time for lots of people and we now have more information.”

She said there was evidence that people with well-controlled asthma that is not severe are not at higher risk of dying from Covid-19, which means some people will not be included in category six.

“There is an ongoing discussion about who with asthma will be included in category six, and our understanding is that those with asthma that is difficult to control might be included. As it may be hard to accurately identify everyone in this group, the government should err on the side of caution in decision-making and cast its net wide when making decisions about definitions to ensure that people with asthma who are at risk won’t be missed,” she said.

Concern has also been raised among people with rarer conditions. Shona, 23, from St Albans, in the commuter belt north of London, said: “I have a rare condition, Marfan syndrome, that doesn’t seem to fit any neat boxes, and so when I was left off the [vaccine priority] list it wasn’t a total surprise. I’m currently on the waiting list for major open-heart surgery, and every minor illness (like tonsillitis) I’ve had in recent years has left me in hospital, often via ambulance.”

There has been widespread criticism of the shielding scheme during the pandemic. A report this week by the National Audit Office on the shielding programme highlighted significant failings at the start of the pandemic in identifying people who were clinically extremely vulnerable. A dearth of official data meant many people who were at high risk were told not to shield, while others who were not clinically extremely vulnerable were wrongly told to shield.

Prof Wei Shen Lim, the Covid chair for JCVI, said: “The JCVI’s advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible. As the single greatest risk of death from Covid-19 is older age, prioritisation is primarily based on age. It is estimated that vaccinating everyone in the priority groups would prevent around 99% of deaths from Covid-19.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/12/charities-urge-clarity-over-who-qualifies-for-next-uk-vaccine-wave

 

UK coronavirus rules relaxed for people with autism and learning disabilities

Policy updated after lawyers challenge ‘discriminatory’ lockdown measures

People with learning disabilities or autism can leave the house for exercise more than once a day and can travel outside of their local area under current lockdown measures, the government has said.

The guidance, which had previously stated that non-essential workers should only leave their homes once a day for exercise or to shop for basic necessities, was amended on Wednesday.

The updated advice reads: “If you (or a person in your care) have a specific health condition that requires you to leave the home to maintain your health – including if that involves travel beyond your local area – then you can do so.

“This could, for example, include where individuals with learning disabilities or autism require specific exercise in an open space two or three times each day – ideally in line with a care plan agreed with a medical professional.”

Although those with autism and mental health conditions are advised to limit their travel, and stay as close to their local area as possible, carers and support workers who do not live in their household can accompany them.

The change comes after lawyers from Bindmans LLP and 39 Essex Chambers were asked for help by two families with children on the autistic spectrum.

Bindmans said one of the children, whose conditions mean it was necessary for them to leave the house more than once a day for their wellbeing, was deliberately taken to a quiet location outside of their local area because of their particular needs.

The firms argued that the “inflexible policy”, which also says people should stay two metres apart from anyone outside of their household, disproportionately impacted those with certain health conditions and was “therefore unlawful and discriminatory”.

After the amendment was made to the guidance, one of the affected families said they were “delighted” they could support their son’s needs “without breaking the rules”.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said the most important action the public could take during the pandemic was to stay home to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

But, it added: “We understand that this will be more difficult for some, that is why we clarified the guidance regarding the needs of those with specific health conditions such as learning disabilities or autism.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/14/uk-coronavirus-rules-autism-learning-disabilities-lockdown

Coronavirus: U-turn on critical care advice for NHS amid fears disabled people will be denied treatment

‘Many autistic and learning disabled people and their families have believed that they are treated as less than human, and it certainly felt as if the guidance was confirming just that’

Shaun LinternHealth Correspondent @ShaunLintern
Wednesday 25 March 2020

Emergency guidance to help doctors decide who should get critical care during the coronavirus outbreak is being urgently re-written after a U-turn by a national health watchdog over fears it could mean disabled people are denied treatment.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) had been threatened with legal action for telling doctors they should assess patients with learning disabilities, autism and other limiting conditions as scoring high for frailty.

But, following complaints from families and campaigners, NICE has said it will reissue its guidance.

NICE’s national guidance for the NHS, published on Friday, advised doctors on how to choose who gets life-saving intensive care treatment such as ventilation in the event of critical care services being overwhelmed during a surge of Covid-19 patients.

It included a frailty score that told hospitals to “assess all adults for frailty, irrespective of age and Covid-19 status” using a nine-point frailty scoring system with people “completely dependent for personal care, from whatever cause” scoring seven.

Anyone scoring higher than five was said to have uncertainty around the benefits of critical care.

Despite NICE accepting the guidance is wrong, at the time of publishing, it had yet to remove the incorrect documents from its website.

Peter Todd partner at Hodge, Jones and Allen solicitors, wrote to NICE on Tuesday demanding the guidance was withdrawn and that it made clear the original documents were wrong.

He told The Independent: “The guidance is still published on the NICE website and says that clinicians should comply with it. It would be better if they took it down and amended it before it was published again.

“You could be totally forgiven as a doctor for thinking this was still a valid policy, but they have already accepted they have made a major blunder.”

He explained that, as the guidance is currently worded, it meant young people with disabilities, autism or other mental health problems “have been classed as not to be offered critical care if required and that seems to be discriminatory and I don’t see how it can be justified. I think it is also a breach of the Human Rights Act.

“If they made clear doctors should not apply this frailty score to anyone who has autism or learning disabilities that would help, but it needs to be emblazoned on the policy. What I asked them to do was to unpublish the guidance and put a notice up to say it had been withdrawn and to consult first and republish it properly amended.”

Julie Newcombe, co-founder of Rightful Lives and whose son Jamie has autism said: “The original guidance was quite simply frightening. For a long time now, many autistic and learning disabled people and their families have believed that they are treated as less than human, and it certainly felt as if the guidance was confirming just that.

“The hastily put together clarification is welcome, but I still wonder how that will translate on the ground given that attitudes in some areas are so entrenched.”

Edel Harris, chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, also criticised the guidance saying: “People with a learning disability and their families are deeply troubled that the latest NICE guidance for NHS intensive care doctors could result in patients with a learning disability not getting equal access to critical care and potentially dying avoidably.

“These guidelines suggest that those who can’t do everyday tasks like cooking, managing money and personal care independently – all things that people with a learning disability often need support with – might not get intensive care treatment.”

He added it was vital NICE made clear patients should not be assessed for critical care based on their cognitive abilities.

A spokesperson for NICE told The Independent it was very aware of the concerns.

They added: “Our new Covid-19 rapid guideline on critical care was developed to support critical care teams in their management of patients during this very difficult period of intense pressure.

“The guideline says that on admission to hospital, all adults should be assessed for frailty, and that other comorbidities and underlying health conditions are also taken into account.

“The frailty scoring system is not perfect, therefore we recommend that clinicians should take any decisions about care in conjunction with patients and their carers where possible.

“We welcome the recent clarification that the Clinical Frailty Score should not be used in certain groups, including those with learning disability or with stable long-term disabilities such as cerebral palsy, which we will reflect in an updated version of our guideline.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-nhs-treatment-disabled-autism-nice-covid-19-a9423441.html

Disabled and ill benefit claimants overcharged for care due to DWP error

Botched transfer had knock-on effect on councils’ financial assessments

Disabled and chronically ill benefit claimants who were left thousands of pounds out of pocket by a government error may have also been overcharged by their local authorities for social care, it has emerged.

At least 110,000 benefit claimants were underpaid an average of £5,000 following a botched overhaul of incapacity benefits which began in 2011, according to the latest figures.

The error occurred when Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials transferred people from older benefits on to the wrong kind of employment support allowance (ESA), meaning they missed out on premium payments they were eligible for.

The Guardian understands that, as a knock-on effect, the error will have skewed financial assessments many councils undertake to determine how much these claimants should have contributed towards their social care costs.

Pat Sawh, 65, has received a refund of more than £2,000 from Enfield council, in north London, which is believed to be the first to begin addressing this issue. Her sons Stephen, 31, and Kris, 29, both have autism, while Stephen also has epilepsy and multiple allergies.

“Both my sons still live at home and my husband and I are pensioners,” she said. “This extra money is helping them a lot – without it they could not do as much.”

Wendy Berry, 75, helps run a group for carers of learning disabled adults in Enfield and helped Sawh bring her case to the attention of the council.

“The problem with this issue is that councils probably do not even realise that the DWP error had an impact on social care charging. It is very complicated. We suspect that very few councils have really thought about it,” she said.

“Charging for social care is always a difficult area because it takes money from the disability benefits paid to the most vulnerable people, who need support to live in their own homes. To ensure people are paying what they are supposed to be paying is critical.”

Enfield council has since sent letters to other residents it suspects have been affected by this issue, which could number as many as 200 people, according documents seen by the Guardian.

In 2014, local authorities gained the power to introduce charges to recoup costs they incur from contracting care and support services. These charges are typically deducted from the benefits of people receiving social care.

Councils who charge must conduct financial assessments to ensure that they do not cause a person’s income to drop below the statutory minimum set by the Department of Health (pdf), although they also have discretion to have more generous charging rules.

Many, though not all, councils now charge for adult social care. Among the factors considered when calculating a person’s minimum income guarantee is whether they are receiving a premium, such as the enhanced disability premium.

Those who, like the Sawhs, missed out on premiums because the DWP transferred them on to the wrong type of ESA, may have had a reduced minimum income guarantee. As a result, they may have been overcharged for care by their local authority.

While the DWP has compensated those who missed out on premiums – to the tune of £5,000 on average – there appears to have been no government effort to address this knock-on effect.

Marsha de Cordova, the Labour MP and disability rights campaigner, said: “This is a scandal. It is a responsibility of the DWP to ensure that all local authorities are compensating or refunding any ill or disabled persons affected.

“I would worry for the ill and disabled people that have fallen into debt, destitution or poverty because of this error by the DWP.”

Kamran Mallick, Disability Rights UK’s chief executive, said: “Now that the DWP have finally recognised the thousands of disabled people who have been underpaid ESA, we urge local authorities to refund the overpaid charges for social care that have been paid by many of these same disabled people.

“It’s monstrous that many of the poorest people in our society have faced a double whammy of not receiving their full entitlement and being hit by social care overcharging.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We have worked hard to ensure that all those entitled to ESA receive the benefits they are entitled to.

“We urge anyone who believes their social care payments may have been affected by this issue to contact their local council.”

Figures released last month revealed that 5,000 people died before they could be reimbursed for the DWP’s ESA error.

Enfield council was contacted for comment.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/feb/15/disabled-and-ill-benefit-claimants-overcharged-for-care-due-to-dwp-error

Welfare surveillance system violates human rights, Dutch court rules

Government told to halt use of AI to detect fraud in decision hailed by privacy campaigners

A Dutch court has ordered the immediate halt of an automated surveillance system for detecting welfare fraud because it violates human rights, in a judgment likely to resonate well beyond the Netherlands.

The case was seen as an important legal challenge to the controversial but growing use by governments around the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and risk modelling in administering welfare benefits and other core services.

Campaigners say such “digital welfare states” – developed often without consultation, and operated secretively and without adequate oversight – amount to spying on the poor, breaching privacy and human rights norms and unfairly penalising the most vulnerable.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, applauded the verdict and said it was “a clear victory for all those who are justifiably concerned about the serious threats digital welfare systems pose for human rights”.

The decision “sets a strong legal precedent for other courts to follow”, he added. “This is one of the first times a court anywhere has stopped the use of digital technologies and abundant digital information by welfare authorities on human rights grounds.”

The verdict will be watched closely by welfare rights campaigners in the UK, where the government is accelerating the development of robots in the benefits system in a digitisation drive that vulnerable claimants fear could plunge them further into hunger and debt.

A Guardian investigation in October found the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had increased spending to about £8m a year on a specialist “intelligent automation garage” where computer scientists were developing more than 100 welfare robots, deep learning and intelligent automation for use in the welfare system.

The Dutch government’s risk indication system (SyRI) is a risk calculation model developed over the past decade by the social affairs and employment ministry to predict the likelihood of an individual committing benefit or tax fraud or violating labour laws.

Deployed primarily in low-income neighbourhoods, it gathers government data previously held in separate silos, such as employment, personal debt and benefit records, and education and housing histories, then analyses it using a secret algorithm to identify which individuals might be at higher risk of committing benefit fraud.

A broad coalition of privacy and welfare rights groups, backed by the largest Dutch trade union, argued that poor neighbourhoods and their inhabitants were being spied on digitally without any concrete suspicion of individual wrongdoing. SyRI was disproportionately targeting poorer citizens, they said, violating human rights norms.

The court ruled that the SyRI legislation contained insufficient safeguards against privacy intrusions and criticised a “serious lack of transparency” about how it worked. It concluded in its ruling that, in the absence of more information, the system may, in targeting poor neighbourhoods, amount to discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic or migrant status.

The system did not pass the test required by the European convention on human rights of a “fair balance” between its objectives, namely to prevent and combat fraud in the interest of economic wellbeing, and the violation of privacy that its use entailed, the court added, declaring the legislation was therefore unlawful. The Dutch government can appeal against the decision.

Christiaan van Veen, director of the digital welfare state and human rights project at New York University School of Law, said it was “important to underline that SyRI is not a unique system; many other governments are experimenting with automated decision-making in the welfare state”.

Van Veen cited Australia and the UK as countries where such concerns were particularly acute. “This strong ruling will set a strong precedent globally that will encourage activists in other countries to challenge their governments,” he said.

Alston predicted the judgment would be “a wake-up call for politicians and others, not just in the Netherlands”. The special rapporteur presented a report to the UN general assembly in October on the emergence of the “digital welfare state” in countries around the globe, warning of the need “to alter course significantly and rapidly to avoid stumbling, zombie-like, into a digital welfare dystopia”.

In the UK, as well as contracts with the outsourcing multinationals IBM, Tata Consultancy and Capgemini, the DWP is also working with UiPath, a New York-based company co-founded by Daniel Dines, the world’s first “bot billionaire”, who last month said: “I want a robot for every person.”

His software is being deployed in an effort to introduce machine learning to check benefit claims, which suggests welfare computers will autonomously learn and alter the way they make decisions with minimum human intervention.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/feb/05/welfare-surveillance-system-violates-human-rights-dutch-court-rules

How the benefits clampdown is undermining the GP’s role

GPs warn the system for assessing whether people are too sick to work is becoming increasingly stringent, leaving severely unwell patients without benefits. Hiba Mahamadi investigates.

‘I’ve got patients with Parkinson’s disease who can’t speak and rely on carers for feeding being told they’re fit for work.’

Birmingham GP Dr MayJay Ali is not alone. More than half of the 645 GPs responding to a Pulse survey last year said their patients had been refused welfare benefits despite their GP’s opinion that they were unable to work. In other words, GPs’ expert opinions about their patients’ health are being ignored.

Official statistics back them up. Pulse’s analysis of figures from the Department for Work and Pensions reveals 68% of employment support allowance (ESA) claimants assessed as ‘fit for work’ at their initial assessment later successfully had the decision overturned. To put this into context, in 2010, only 36% of decisions were overturned.

GPs warn a small but key change this year is the latest in a series of moves by the DWP that serve to undermine GPs’ role as advocates for their patients – and as experts on their health.

Under the system, people off work long term undergo a DWP-run ‘workplace capability assessment’ to determine their eligibility for ESA. If this deems a person ‘fit for work’, the GP is informed by letter.

This year, this letter was changed to inform GPs that, as the DWP has declared the patient fit for work, the GP ‘does not need to provide any more fit notes’.

Detrimental impact on patients

GPs strongly criticised the change, pointing out that they are the medical experts and their view on a patient’s fitness for work has more validity than that of a non-medically trained assessor. They said the move undermined their role.

It also affects the GP-patient relationship. As then RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard put it at the time: ‘GPs are not benefits assessors and must never be used as barriers for patients to receive benefits when they are entitled to them, as ultimately, this can have a detrimental impact on their health.’

Following the criticism, the DWP made amendments. But even the revised letter says: ‘We no longer need [fit notes] for your patient as they are fit for work.’ The concession, in small print, says GPs can offer fit notes if the patient ‘asks you for evidence for a reconsideration or appeal’.

Dr Ali says ministers are taking an increasingly heavy-handed approach to financial support for sick people: ‘I’ve noticed the [Government’s] assessments don’t seem as fair as they used to be. A lot of my patients whom I would expect to be eligible for benefits are told they’re fit for work.’

And the latest DWP figures show one in three of the 250,000 initial ESA work assessments between April 2018 and March 2019 resulted in claimants being deemed fit to work and refused benefits.

Croydon GP Dr Adnan Siddiqui says: ‘The Government is using assessments as though there is some sort of objective way to assess these things. I usually tell patients the whole set-up is geared to be superficial, to make them fail. But I say, if you persevere, you will most likely win.’

While some patients’ claims may not be genuine, the large proportion of successful appeals indicates a problem with initial DWP assessments. Of almost 2,000 appeals by patients with mental health and behavioural disorders, 72% saw the DWP decision overturned, while 68% of some 1,700 patients with musculoskeletal conditions also appealed successfully.

But often damage has already been done. GPs say appeals can take anywhere from a few weeks to 12 months, bringing anxiety and financial distress for patients. Those suffering from mental health conditions often experience a worsening of symptoms.

Dr Siddiqui says the DWP wrote to him about three patients, telling him they were suicidal after the assessment. This came as no surprise, he said, given that one patient compared the assessment centre to a ‘police interrogation cell’.

All this means extra work for GPs. Dr Ali says: ‘I have to write to the DWP to ask why my patients’ benefits are being stopped and explain why I think they need them. That’s not really my role.’

The DWP assessments also mean GPs come under pressure from patients. Matthew Johnson, a lecturer in politics at Lancaster University spoke to 11 GPs in 2017 about this issue as part of research on deprivation in North East England.

He says: ‘There is evidence to suggest GPs with concern for the wellbeing of their patients often feel a duty to support them as they navigate the benefits system.

‘This can lead to practices in which GPs prescribe medication recognised by assessors as an indicator of serious pain or ill health. This is apparent in the use of opioid painkillers, which ought to be of serious concern and would be avoided were the benefits system different’.

The DWP argues its assessments are carried out by health professionals given specific training in assessing people with a range of mental and physical health conditions. It says it works closely with its contractor to ensure assessments are of the ‘highest possible standard’.

http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/views/analysis/how-the-benefits-clampdown-is-undermining-the-gps-role/20039773.article

Blue badge permits: Councils ‘must provide enough spaces’

Councils must make sure there are enough disabled parking spaces to cope with the extra demand a blue badge scheme expansion will bring, the charity Scope has said.

As of Friday, people with hidden disabilities in England are now also eligible to apply for blue badges.

Scope welcomed the move but said if spaces are scarce, the badges “are not worth the paper they’re printed on”.

The Local Government Association said councils regularly review parking.

Currently, about 2.35 million people with physical disabilities in England have a blue badge.

Blue badge holders are allowed to park in spaces which might be restricted to other drivers, for example parking on yellow lines for up to three hours, for free in pay and display bays, or in spaces designated “disabled”.

Under Friday’s change – which is the biggest shake-up of the blue badge scheme since it was introduced nearly 50 years ago – people with hidden disabilities, such as dementia, autism or anxiety disorders will also be eligible to apply for the permits.

However, not everyone with hidden disabilities will quality for a badge, as it will still be up to local councils to decide if an applicant meets the eligibility criteria.

The change has been widely welcomed by charities, including the head of the National Autistic Society, who called it a “huge relief”.

“A blue badge can be life changing,” said Tim Nicholls, from the charity, who said many autistic people are often so anxious they may find it hard to leave the house.

Ceri Smith, policy and campaigns manager at Scope, also welcomed the move, saying: “Today’s change should make a real difference for many disabled people with invisible impairments and conditions who have been shut out of the blue badge scheme to date.”

However she added: “But in order for it to work, it’s vital that councils issue blue badges to people who are newly eligible to apply.

“More also needs to be done by councils to ensure that there are enough allocated blue badge spaces near shops and amenities to meet increasing demand.”

Earlier this week, Scope responded to figures from company Confused.com claiming many UK councils in charge of parking provisions have not planned to extend their number of blue badge spaces.

Ms Smith said: “With spaces already scarce, it’s extremely worrying that so few councils have prepared for the expansion of the blue badge scheme, despite knowing it was coming for months.

Charity Disabled Motoring UK, which campaigns for disabled drivers and blue badge holders, warned the increase in demand “may undermine the entire scheme and render it not fit for purpose”.

“The end result may mean it will let down the people it was originally intended to help as well as disabled people with hidden disabilities,” it said in a statement.

“The charity predicts that when the number of blue badge holders increases from August 2019, we will be contacted more and more by disabled people who find their blue badge completely meaningless as they will be unable to find adequate parking because it will be so oversubscribed.

“We implore all local authorities and private parking operators to take this change seriously, review their disabled parking provision and stress the importance that they all enforce disabled parking properly so that disabled bays are kept free only for genuine blue badge holders.”

‘Not just councils’
Last year, 859,000 blue badge permits were issued in England, a decrease of 3.2% compared to the year before.

Earlier this year, Essex County Councillor John Spence said the new rules could lead to a 20% increase in the number of applications in Essex – putting further pressure on stretched disabled parking provision.

The Department of Transport, launching the expansion of the scheme on Friday, said councils will get £1.7m in the first year of the programme, to help with the expected spike in applications.

But it added that councils may need to review parking provision to increase the number of spaces available.

In a statement, the Local Government Association – which represents councils in England and Wales – said the availability of spaces for blue badge holders was not just down to councils as there was also “significant private provision of parking”.

“Councils know that blue badges are a vital lifeline for disabled people which help them get out and about to visit shops or family and friends and many have already been approving badges for people with non-physical disabilities,” the LGA said in a statement.

“Councils regularly review parking provision in their areas, including both public and private, in order to help meet the needs of the public, including those with blue badges.

“Overall provision will depend on private operators, council resources as well as competing demand for road space and public land.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49521867

Work until 75? Many people won’t even live that long

Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to push the pensions burden from the state on to the individual ignores class differences in life expectancy

by Frances Ryan

An influential conservative thinktank – fronted by the former work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith – has proposed the state pension age should rise to 75 over the next 16 years. If the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) had its way, the retirement age would go up to 70 just nine years from now, as the change is phased in.

It’s important to stress that it’s not yet government policy, but given the CSJ’s influence, it’s not unreasonable to imagine a future with dramatically delayed retirement. It’s a demographic reality that the state is having to meet higher pension costs: the pensions bill rose from £17bn in 1989 to £92bn today, and will cost £20bn more by 2023 as the population ages. The government already plans to increase the pension age to 67 in 2028 and then 68 by 2046, leaving us working well into our twilight years. At the same time, nearly 4 million women have already been forced to wait up to an extra six years to get their pensions after changes to bring women’s retirement age into line with men’s.

The CSJ’s idea of raising the pension age further received glowing coverage in sections of the rightwing press, with the Telegraph marvelling how it would “boost the economy” by £182bn and stave off the “escalating cost” of state pensions. As Duncan Smith tweeted this week: “Removing barriers for older people to working longer has the potential to improve health and wellbeing, increase retirement savings and ensure the full functioning of public services for all.” It’s a dystopian vision of life, in which capitalism tells workers who have already grafted for 40 years that working a five-day week through their 70s is in fact the path to a healthy body and society.

The “work pays” mantra endorsed by Duncan Smith for pensioners has already been adopted by the Department for Work and Pensions in relation to disabled people, where pushing the sick off out of work benefits and into the labour market has long been framed as a blessing.

Such policy is obtusely class blind. How long we live – and therefore how much time we have to enjoy retirement – varies across region and economic bracket. In Glasgow, boys born between 2015 and 2017 have a life expectancy of just 73.3 years – meaning under this plan, many would never reach pensionable age. Whether it’s even physically possible to do our job in old age varies along class lines; it’s a considerably different experience to be a labourer at 75 than a lecturer. Health inequality is also a stark factor; a woman living in the most deprived 10% of England, for example, has a life expectancy of 78.7 years, but only 52 of those years are in good health. Any rise in the pensionable age would force the poorest to work through years of illness and disability, while only the wealthy have the luxury to retire in good health.

The pressing issue is not that pensions are too generous – but that they are increasingly hard to get, and far too small. British basic pensions are uniquely low – 16% of average earnings – compared with those of other developed nations, and require a long contribution period (often penalising women who take time off for caring responsibilities). The existing system leaves many older people struggling to get by; research this week shows the proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty in the UK is five times what it was in 1986, the largest increase among western European countries.

The safety net of the state pension is even more crucial in an era in which private pensions are increasingly out of reach. The rise in gig-economy working, as well as a squeeze on wages, means workplace pensions are unaffordable or nonexistent for many. It means three-quarters of the UK’s elderly will rely entirely on their state payments by 2036. So in the coming years, it’s going to be increasingly important to defend the principle of the state pension: that welfare is not a waste or a drain, but a civilised safety net that exists for the good of society, which we are all entitled to. Similarly, we must challenge the worldview in which our only value is as workers; as if time with our grandchildren is less meaningful than more contribution to the GDP.

There needs to be a genuine conversation about how to fund an ageing population, from pensions to social care, but any agenda to push the burden away from the state and further on to the individual is a dangerous one. Working lives should be shorter, and the reward for a life of effort bigger. “Work till you drop” is no way to live.

Frances Ryan is a Guardian columnist and author of Crippled: Austerity and the Demonisation of Disabled People

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/22/work-75-iain-duncan-smith-pensions-life-expectancy

 

Boycott Workfare Universal Credit Welfare Rights Advice

Boycott Workfare is the only independent campaign to successfully oppose all forms of ”conditionality” aka sanctions and workfare, no ifs, buts, political strings attached or punches pulled.  We are now stepping up to take on Universal Credit. The Conditionality of Universal Credit aka sanctions and workfare have received little attention in reports by campaigns, charities, mainstream media and alternative media outlets. Among other things, we will be exposing the realities of Universal Credit and those profiting from it, and challenging the current narrative of the Westminster Village political class. It’s time to reshape the discussion on Universal Credit to make a difference from the perspective of ordinary working class people living in the real world – not out-of-touch politicians, journalists, so-called industry professionals or policy wonks.

As of today, we are launching a new practical anti-conditionality resistance campaign focused on Universal Credit – the biggest change to social security for over 60 years – and as a starting point, we are now offering free welfare rights Universal Credit-related advice to claimants. Anyone needing help with Universal Credit is invited to contact us via email info@boycottworkfare.org.  We will also offer face-to-face Universal Credit advice for claimants (currently only available in central London). These advice sessions are by appointment only, please email us to book one, along with brief details of the help you need in advance. The first of these sessions will be held on Saturday the 10th November from 14:00 -17:00, kindly hosted at MayDay Rooms, 88 Fleet St, London EC4Y 1DH.

The areas we can help claimants with include:

How to avoid claiming UC in Full Service areas if already receiving any so-called ‘legacy benefits’ (JSA, ESA, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit, working Tax Credit) or on becoming unemployed

The possibility of returning to ‘legacy benefits’ in ‘Gateway/Live UC Service’ areas and when to withdraw a claim for UC in Live Service areas to avoid losing money for part of a monthly ‘assessment period’ – though please note these options are now much more difficult due to the rapid roll-out of Full Service UC.

Complaining if you’ve lost income after being wrongly advised to transfer to UC

Re-claiming Council Tax Reduction when transferring to UC

Making sure a 2-week Housing Benefit ‘run-on’ has been received along with a housing element in the first assessment period after transferring to UC

Changing ‘claimant commitments’ and moving to different UC conditionality groups

Understanding work search and work availability conditions in the ‘all work related requirements group’

Varying the general 35-hour a week work search and availability rule

Limiting or suspending work search and work availability requirements for claimants otherwise subject to ‘all work related’ conditions

Checking whether sanctions (reduced entitlements for alleged failures to comply) have been applied to UC claims and effectively challenging sanctions

Dealing with the conditionality regimes imposed by private and voluntary sector contractors on behalf of the DWP

Challenging Workfare-related sanctions

Appealing fines and penalties imposed under UC

Making ‘Mandatory Reconsiderations’ about UC decisions

Appealing to First Tier tribunals about UC decisions

Asking for compensation via the complaints systems

Dealing with practical problems in claiming UC, payment delays and claim closures

Claiming UC Advances and appealing recovery rate decisions

Overcoming some of the UC barriers set up for EEA migrants concerning ‘right to reside’ rules

Overcoming some of the problems for sick and disabled claimants on UC

How to be assessed as having limited capability for work under UC – even if working

Checking errors in UC monthly calculations

Complaining about DWP and 3rd party deductions from UC for overpayments/debts

Alternative Payment Arrangements’ (APA’s)

Understanding the ‘conditionality earnings threshold’ of the employed and the ‘minimum income floor’ of the self-employed claiming UC

Understanding how the timing of changes (e.g. to rent) and an earnings cycle (e.g. weekly) affect UC payments

Possible ways of claiming UC while studying

Possible ways of claiming UC if under 18

Overcoming housing element UC restrictions for single renters under 22

Applying for Discretionary Housing Payments

Applying for Discretionary Council Tax Hardship payments

If your problem isn’t in the list above, still get in touch and we’ll see if we can help but please remember, we are currently only able to offer welfare rights advice about Universal Credit, Sanctions and Workfare.

Unlike state-funded welfare advice organisations like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) with their ‘gagging clause’ restrictions, we will not hold back in our criticisms and demands for change while helping claimants. Much of the current focus of ‘UC support’ for claimants provided by charities and local authorities is on enforcing ”compliance”. Indeed, the DWP is paying CAB to concentrate on the IT skills needed to manage claims and on ‘budgeting skills’ – whilst the very same claimants are being plunged further into poverty via UC and ”conditionality”. CAB as an organisation has been paid off by the government to become a Universal Credit enforcer. Fail to attend a budgeting skills appointment with CAB? Then expect to be sanctioned as CAB will be contractually obliged to report it.

The only way to fight Universal Credit is to ensure that claimant’s know their rights and to actively challenge the narrative of punishment via conditionality. This is where you can come in to help. We plan to expand this part of our campaign and want you to get involved. We would love to hear from anyone and everyone interested in opposing conditionality and in working with claimants to help secure welfare rights. We’re especially keen on hearing from people with direct personal experience of the social security system. Why? We are claimants just like you, and the only way to win and get the welfare state you want is by coming together with like-minded people to actively expose and challenge the inadequacies of system we have. Work with us to help bring down Universal Credit.

Share
Tweet
Email

Boycott Workfare Universal Credit Welfare Rights Advice