English councils handing huge extra care bills to disabled and mentally ill adults

Charities draw up list of charges they describe as ‘care tax’ resulting from national underfunding

By Robert Booth

Adults with a disability or mental illness are receiving extra care bills running into thousands of pounds that they say could force them to cut back on food and heating and threaten their social independence.

Amid a care funding crisis, some English councils are quietly increasing charges to people with learning disabilities and mental illness, in effect clawing back welfare payments and leaving some working-age adults with little more than £3 a day to spend.

People facing the charges fear they will be unable to afford enough clothes and worry that basic pleasures like swimming trips will have to stop. One single man living with bipolar disorder said he may have to put down his dog because he will be unable to afford to look after it.

Care charities have drawn up dossiers of charges they describe as a new “care tax” and say it is a result of national underfunding of social care. The Health Foundation has estimated that at least an additional £6bn a year is needed to meet growing demand, rising to £14bn if the country wants to improve access to care and pay more to staff, many of whom earn minimum wage.

Mencap, the learning disability charity, said it had received dozens of “concerning” calls to its helpline about the issue, and its chief executive, Edel Harris, said it was “causing huge distress for them and their families, ​and leaving many without enough money to cover their additional needs”.

Some people are refusing to pay and are considering legal challenges. Care Act guidance says charges must be “reasonably practicable” for people to pay and that the approach to charging should promote “independence, choice and control”.

One of the councils levying increased charges, West Sussex county council, said that while it had previously charged working-age care recipients less than Whitehall rules allowed, increases were now necessary because of “decreased funding from central government”.

Care recipients in the county have seen weekly charges rise sharply, in one case from £5.59 to £83 a week, and in another from £40 to £151 a month. Matthew Welch, 22, who has cerebral palsy, has seen his care contribution more than double to £77, leaving him with just £23 a week from his welfare benefit, a move his mother, Sarah Welch, described as “appalling”.

Sue Livett, the managing director of the Aldingbourne Trust, a charity in West Sussex that provides care for people with learning disabilities and autism, said at least 50 families had complained about increased charges.

A council spokesperson said: “Our charging arrangements follow national guidance and are based on an individual assessment of a person’s financial circumstances. We have asked people to contact us if they will find it difficult to pay so we can work with them on an individual basis.”

A parent in Staffordshire said their family had been hit with a backdated bill exceeding £20,000 for their adult children with learning disabilities.

“It’s disgraceful,” they said, requesting anonymity. “They have no opportunity to go out and earn money on their own. They rely completely on benefits.”

Also in Staffordshire, a young adult with complex learning difficulties who needs round-the-clock care was sent a bill demanding he pay £88 a week towards the costs, equivalent to £4,500 a year. It has to be taken from his universal credit payments and leaves him with just £25 a week for other expenses.

His mother, a hairdresser unable to work during the pandemic, said she was “absolutely furious” and it meant they would not be able to afford enough clothes for her son, which is a particular issue owing to his incontinence, plus it could prevent him from going to the cinema or the swimming pool with his carers.

“It’s a huge effect on his quality of life,” she said. “He won’t have any variety in his day. We are not acknowledging that people are individuals and have needs in their lives.”

Dr Richard Harling, the director of health and care at Staffordshire county council, said the amount people were asked to contribute was “based on what they can afford to pay while still being left with income to meet their living costs”.

He added: “If a person feels they are contributing too much, they can contact us to appeal their financial assessment.”

Social Care Futures, a coalition of care givers and receivers, has received more than 150 reports of rising charges. “Escalating charges must be capped and there must urgently be a significant investment in social care, our lives and freedom,” said Anna Severwright, the coalition’s convener.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

David Jones, 60, lives alone in West Sussex with bipolar disorder, which 10 years ago rendered him unable to work.

The former newspaper subeditor relies on two hours of support a week to help him keep his flat in order but is facing an increase in his contribution for this from £40 to £151 a month. The money would have to come from his personal independence payment (Pip) and would take up a third of that budget. He said that would leave him choosing between “heating and eating” and it would affect his budget so much that he will have to consider putting down his 14-year-old dog, Megan, which he said would be “beyond awful”.

Pip is supposed to help people with illness, disabilities and mental health conditions maintain norms of everyday life. He said clawing this money back was “just ridiculous”.

“I simply can’t afford it,” Jones said. “This extortionate demand represents 20% of my monthly income from benefits. It has to be outright unfair and a national scandal that the Department for Work and Pensions awards us Pip with one hand, and the county council takes up to a third of it away with the other.

“I would have to cut my food budget drastically and might end up having to go to a food bank,” he said. “I have a dog and if I was going to try and budget for the amount of money [I have left] the dog would have to go.”

He said Megan had been a “lifeline to sanity” during the pandemic and had been “incredibly helpful for my mental health”.

“This [demand] has caused me incredible distress and anxiety,” he said. “There are people in an even more vulnerable position than me suffering with mental health illnesses, autism and learning disabilities and it must be extremely difficult for them to cope with this. It’s really heartless and cruel. I don’t think it’s going to raise an awful lot for the county council but it’s a vast amount for us.”

The council has said central government cuts precipitated the increased charges and it has asked “people to contact us if they will find it difficult to pay”.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/apr/08/english-councils-huge-extra-care-bills-disabled-mentally-ill-adults

Coronavirus: Return of benefit sanctions in middle of pandemic ‘is barbaric’

By John Pring

Disabled campaigners have described the government’s decision to reintroduce benefit sanctions – in the middle of a pandemic – as “barbaric” and “life threatening”.

The decision meant an end to the three-month suspension of benefit sanctions and conditionality* in England, Scotland and Wales, which had been introduced in March as part of the COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Jobcentres will start re-opening this week in England, but not in Scotland and Wales, where claimants will only receive services online and by phone.

This means that some claimants in England will now begin to have face-to-face discussions with work coaches in jobcentres.

But there has been little information on exactly how these steps will work and how they will affect disabled and other claimants.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said restoring conditionality and the threat of benefit sanctions was “an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there are”.

But it came as the government continued to ease the lockdown that has been in place across England since March, while also imposing a local lockdown in Leicester after a spike of infections.

Millions of disabled people – many of them on out-of-work benefits and now potentially subject to the threat of sanctions – are still shielding from the virus.

Yesterday, work and pensions ministers also removed a crucial line from guidance for claimants of universal credit (UC) that previously assured them: “You will not get a sanction if you cannot keep to your Claimant Commitment because of coronavirus (COVID-19).”

This suggests that UC claimants will no longer be able to use the fact that they are shielding, or have COVID-19 symptoms, as a reason for breaching their claimant commitment (the agreement that sets out what they have to do to continue to receive UC).

DWP refused to comment on the removal of this line, or even to confirm that sanctions would now apply again to all claimants previously at risk of having one imposed, including those in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance (and the equivalent universal credit group).

Instead, the department attempted to persuade journalists, including Disability News Service (DNS), that the move to restore sanctions was “compassionate” and “understanding”, that sanctions would not be imposed “for no good reason”, and that the re-imposition was “rooted in a new normal” and their use would be “more compassionate” and “reasonable” than pre-pandemic.

The decision to re-impose sanctions and conditionality from 1 July after a three-month pause was greeted with anger and disbelief by disabled activists.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) held an online action yesterday to protest at the re-imposition.

DPAC said in a statement: “Claimants have been left both anxious and uncertain.

“There is now overwhelming evidence of both the serious harm that the sanctions regime inflicts on the most disadvantaged members of society and the fact that sanctions are punitive and counter-productive to the aim of getting people off benefits and into work.”

It also appealed to disabled people and allies to join the new Scrap Universal Credit Alliance.

Pam Duncan-Glancy, a disabled Labour parliamentary candidate at the last general election, said the decision to reintroduce sanctions was “barbaric”.

She said on Twitter: “The standard to which I hold the Gov in this regard is low. Even by that standard, this is off the scale.

“Brutal at the best of times, but in these times this policy on sanctions is a death sentence.”

Kerena Marchant, a Deaf campaigner who stood for Labour at the last general election, said in a video that restarting sanctions would place Deaf and disabled people “in an impossible situation”.

She said: “They will have to choose between the life-threatening risk of the hostile environment of the DWP and that of the pandemic. They both are life-threatening.

“We’ve already had DWP suicides and deaths and this could lead to more.”

Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, described in a video some of the personal testimonies of disabled people who have had universal credit sanctions imposed on them.

One woman, who was unsuccessful in four job interviews, was sanctioned because DWP said she was not happy enough, even though she had depression and anxiety.

Another woman was told by the jobcentre not to mention that she was disabled because such a term was “political”.

This woman was also accused of lying about her seizures, until she had a seizure in the jobcentre.

She was still sanctioned for three months and had to rely on friends and family for food, said Peters.

Another disabled activist, Andy Mitchell, said in a video to support the action: “We are still in the middle of a pandemic, we still have people shielding, we still have people self-isolating, we still have families home-schooling their children because they cannot go to school.

“We know that hundreds of thousands of people are about to lose their jobs, we know that the homeless are about to be released from hotels because the contracts have ended and the money has run out. And we have this situation in Leicester.

“We are still in the middle of a pandemic, yet DWP have dug in their heels and refused to extend the ban. This is wrong.”

Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s former shadow work and pensions secretary, also spoke in support of DPAC’s campaign, saying: “We know sanctions don’t work. In fact they can make things worse, dehumanising people and creating mental health problems.”

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, told Boris Johnson at prime minister’s questions yesterday that the decision was “heartless”, “cruel” and “unnecessary”.

Johnson asked Blackford “to think that he may be mistaken”.

Disability Rights UK said this week that the decision to reintroduce conditionality and sanctions was “appalling” and “must be reversed”.

Ken Butler, DR UK’s welfare rights and policy adviser, said: “Conditionality and sanctions actively harmed disabled people before both were lifted in March.

“To reintroduce them with no discussion, in the environment of an economic recession, with millions more universal credit claimants and amid a viral pandemic, shows a scant regard for the welfare and safety of disabled people.”

He also pointed out that the PCS union had warned that reopening jobcentres so soon “could create a perfect storm as staff and customers are faced with lack of social distancing, inadequate personal protective equipment and the real risk of COVID-19 being brought into workplaces”.

Coffey told MPs this week: “It is important that as the jobcentres fully reopen this week, we reinstate the need for a claimant commitment.

“It is an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there are, but I know that I can trust the work coaches and jobcentre managers, who are empowered to act proactively with people.”

A DWP spokesperson added: “We’ve been there for those who have lost jobs or have reduced hours in this pandemic, promptly processing new claims and getting money into the accounts of those in urgent need within days.

“Now our focus is rightly switching to getting Britain back into work.

“From July, people can make an appointment with their work coach if they can’t get the help they want online or over the phone and work coaches will be calling all claimants to help them get ready for the world of work.”

*Under conditionality, the rules claimants have to meet in order to avoid losing some or all of their out-of-work benefits through sanctions can include pledging to carry out a certain number of hours looking for and applying for jobs, networking, updating a CV, or attending training

Coronavirus: Return of benefit sanctions in middle of pandemic ‘is barbaric’

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.

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Boycott Workfare Universal Credit Welfare Rights Advice

Has welfare become unfair – a new report by the Disability Benefit Consortium

Today’s report by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), ‘‘Has welfare become unfair – the impact of changes on disabled people” looks at the financial impact and lived experiences of welfare reform on disabled people.

Changes to the welfare system over the past ten years have left disabled adults four times worse off financially than non-disabled adults, according to new research commissioned by the Disability Benefit Consortium.

While many people who receive welfare support have experienced cuts of an average of £300 as a result of changes to the welfare system, disabled people have typically lost around £1,200 per year.

The research funded by the Three Guineas Trust and conducted by the University of East Anglia, the University of Glasgow and Landman Economics is the first comprehensive study looking specifically at the cumulative impact of welfare changes on disabled people. The research also found:

The more disabilities you have the more you lose out, for example someone who has six or more disabilities loses over £2,100 each year on average, whereas someone with one disability loses around £700 each year
Households with one disabled adult and one disabled child lose out the most, with average losses of over £4,300 per year
As part of the research, 50 people living with a variety of conditions and disabilities were interviewed about their experiences. People said that they found the application and assessment processes highly stressful, and that they did not feel trusted, and constantly challenged.

The report also states that the current system has become so complex and dysfunctional, that many disabled people have found it has had a devastating impact on their wider health and wellbeing.

You can find the full report here.

‘Misleading’ DWP letter causing ill and disabled people to lose benefits

Advice removed for GPs to provide notes for patients challenging fit-for-work tests

Chronically ill and disabled people are being left for months without benefits because officials are sending “misleading” letters to their GPs saying they no longer need to supply medical evidence on behalf of patients who are declared fit for work.

Campaigners and MPs have called for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) form letter to be scrapped after it emerged claimants appealing against a fit-for-work decision were left near-destitute after their GPs refused to provide “fit notes” because they were advised they did not need to.

Claimants who challenge work capability assessment (WCA) decisions are entitled to continue to receive employment and support allowance (ESA) worth £73.10 a week while they await their appeal hearing, but to do so they must obtain fit notes from their GPs to prove they are too ill to work.

It has emerged that ministers ordered changes to the standard-issue letter to remove references that made it clear to GPs they may have to issue a medical statement if their patient wished to appeal against a WCA decision. The DWP claims this was not intended to dissuade GPs from issuing fit notes.

Raji Hunjan, the chief executive of the advice charity Z2K, said the effect of the revised letter could be devastating. “We have seen how our clients, who are seriously ill, suddenly have zero income, become reliant on food bank vouchers and loans, and face a very real threat of homelessness.”

Z2K said one of its clients, called “Louis”, was refused a fit note by his GP while appealing against a WCA decision. He ran up rent arrears and became reliant on food banks before he was eventually able to switch GPs and get the medical statement he needed to claim benefits. After an eight-month wait, he won his appeal.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said the lack of clarity over when GPs should issue fit notes could put patients’ finances and health at risk. “No GP wants that, and it only serves to threaten the long-standing trust that patients have in their family doctor.”

The WCA is hugely controversial because of widespread concern over its accuracy and reliability. Nationally, 72% of claimants who appeal against their WCA decision are successful. Z2K said nine out of every 10 WCA cases it takes to appeal are successful.

Last month, there was national outrage over the case of Stephen Smith, 64, who was deemed fit for work despite suffering from multiple debilitating illnesses, having his weight plummet to 38kg (6 stone) and being barely able to walk. Smith won his appeal after waiting 12 months for a hearing.

The standard letter, called an ESA65B, is sent automatically to the GPs of all claimants who fail a WCA and are declared fit enough to work. Until 2017 the letter advised GPs that if their patient appealed against the WCA decision they must continue to provide fit notes.

However, on ministers’ orders, the letter now states that GPs “do not need to provide any more fit notes for ESA purposes”. It does not mention the possibility that the patient may appeal, or that a fit note is needed for the patient to obtain ESA payments until the appeal is heard.

Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, raised the issue with the then disability minister Sarah Newton in January. Newton replied that the wording was amended “to make the letter simpler and clearer”, adding that DWP communications were intended to be “clear, understandable and fit for purpose”.

Field replied scathingly that the wording was “not having the desired effect”, and urged her to revise it to make clear ESA claimants on appeal were entitled to fit notes. “This simple step could greatly ease the stress and worry that people who are awaiting an appeal experience.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “These letters simply inform GPs when a claimant has been found fit for work and are not intended to dissuade them from issuing fit notes for ESA appeal purposes, to claim otherwise is inaccurate.”

However, they hinted the letter may be changed: “We are committed to ensuring our communication is clear, which is why the wording of this letter was cleared by both the British Medical Association and the RCGP. However, we will of course consider feedback when revising the letter.”

It is unclear on what basis the RCGP agreed to the new wording as the change was agreed at a DWP stakeholder meeting for which, according to the Field-Newton correspondence, there appear to be no formal minutes.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/18/misleading-dwp-letter-causing-ill-and-disabled-people-to-lose-benefits