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

 

Blue Badge (disabled parking) scheme eligibility consultation

Blue Badge (disabled parking) scheme eligibility consultation: summary of responses and outcome

Outcome to the Department for Transport’s consultation on proposals to extend Blue Badge eligibility to people with non-physical conditions.

PART 2 – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

7. The Department was delighted to receive over 6300 responses to the
consultation and for the time that individuals and organisations took to provide
considered responses.
8. The Blue Badge scheme plays a vital role in allowing 2.4 million disabled
people in England to maintain their independence through special national
parking concessions. Blue Badges enable their holders to visit their families
and friends, and to access jobs, healthcare and leisure activities.
9. Although the Department considers that people with non-physical disabilities
are not excluded from receiving a Blue Badge, a problem arises from the
wording in the regulations providing eligibility for: “a permanent and
substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable
difficulty in walking”. This does not specify whether the disability is physical or
non-physical – and can therefore be either. However there is confusion
around whether this only means physical difficulty in putting one foot in front
of the other or can include difficulties or challenges when walking, including
safety risks, which may arise from non-physical disabilities.
10. The Government wants to ensure that the rules and guidance are clear. It
wants to give parity of esteem to mental and physical health conditions. It
wants a scheme that is sustainable and works for all who are eligible for it,
whatever their disability. It wants it to be fair, consistent, inclusive and nondiscriminatory.
11. We are delighted that 89% of respondents are, in principle, in favour of our
proposals to amend the eligibility criteria. This support applies to all groups –
local authorities 71%, groups representing disabled people 84%, other
organisations 87% and individuals 89%. The main points raised were more to
do with implementation and consequential impacts. There was a call for
clarification of certain terms and the provision of clear guidance so that local
authorities can administer the scheme consistently. There were also concerns
about administration costs for local authorities, the impact on parking, and
abuse of badges.
12. Based on responses to the consultation, the Department continues to believe
that including people who have very considerable difficulty “when walking” as
opposed to just “walking” as now, will make it clear that people can qualify not
just because of a physical difficulty in walking but for non-physical reason

14. There is one area where the consultation has persuaded the Department to
change its proposals. We had proposed specifically including people who
‘cannot follow the route of a journey without another person’. However, it has
been made clear that this would mean including some people who need
another person with them, but can otherwise physically walk well and also
without psychological distress or challenging behaviours. The Department
believes that where people suffer very considerable psychological distress or
other difficulty when walking, or have a risk of very considerable harm to their
health or safety (including people with dementia), they should be eligible for a
badge. However, where the applicant would not go out alone and the
presence of another person negates the above mentioned issues, then we do
not believe badges should be issued. Needing another person on every
journey does not necessarily equate to needing to park nearby.

15. The primary aim of the scheme is to give disabled people who rely on car
travel but face particular challenges in getting from the car to their
destination, the ability to park close-by. The Department believes the badge
should directly benefit the individual; to ensure the sustainability of the
scheme we do not believe badges should be awarded in situations where the
carer is effectively the beneficiary.

16. For the same reason the Department intends to provide an automatic link to a
badge for people who score 10 points under the ‘Planning and following
journeys” activity of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) because cannot
undertake any journey without overwhelming psychological distress to the
claimant. We had proposed to link to 12 points under this activity, for people
who cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, but
this would include people who do not have very considerable difficulty when
with another person and do not need to park close to where they are going. It
would not be sensible to award an automatic badge in this scenario.

This PIP criterion is not about needing to park a vehicle near to one’s destination. The
Department recognises that some people with significant challenges who
receive different levels of PIP may not have an automatic route to a badge.
This is because PIP and Blue Badge are different schemes that are not
completely compatible. However under our proposed new and expanded
eligibility criteria we are confident that people who experience very
considerable difficulties because of non-physical disabilities will now have a
clear route to a badge following assessment by their local authority.
17. Since 2012, the Government has required that where eligibility against the
walking criterion is not self-evident and an expert opinion is needed to help
determine eligibility, the local authority must use an Independent Mobility
Assessor who is independent of the applicant.
18. Following consultation, the Department continues to believe this role should
be widened. An independent mobility assessor may not be suitable for
certifying whether or not a person’s mental or cognitive disability has the
impacts that would meet the eligibility criteria. In the first place, the assessor
would not be assessing the physical ability to walk. So we believe the
assessor should become an eligibility assessor rather than a mobility
assessor. Furthermore, whereas a person with a physical disability may be
adequately assessed without the assessor having prior knowledge of their
disability, this may not be the case for a person with a non-physical disability.
Often such an assessment would require knowledge of the person’s
functional limitations when outdoors. We are therefore proposing to remove
the requirement for independence, but that does not mean a local authority
should not use an independent eligibility assessor where deemed
appropriate. This will allow the local authority to use a range of suitably
qualified healthcare professionals with specific expertise. The assessor role
does not have to be performed by a specific person – the authority will have
the flexibility to choose who they recognise as being suitable to provide an
expert opinion and it may vary from case to case, so long as the assessor
has relevant qualifications and experience to assess whether or not the
applicant has an enduring and substantial disability within the meaning set
out in the regulations. Respondents called for guidance as to who could fulfil
the assessor role and what qualifications they should have.
19. Respondents also called for clarity on a number of terms used across our
proposals, including “walk”, “journey” and “enduring” amongst others. The
Department will seek to define what these mean in guidance.

Blue Badge consultation: summary of responses and government response

Blue badge parking permits to cover ‘hidden disabilities’ in England

Blue badge parking permits are to be made available for people in England with “hidden disabilities” such as autism or mental health problems.

The Department for Transport said people with non-physical disabilities would have an equal right to free parking from next year.

Currently the rules do not explicitly exclude hidden disabilities, but councils’ interpretations can vary.

Similar changes have come into effect in Scotland and Wales.

When the changes to the blue badge scheme in England are introduced, they will extend eligibility to:

people who cannot make a journey without “a risk of serious harm to their health and safety” or that of others, such as young children with autism
people for whom travel causes “very considerable psychological distress”
and those with considerable difficulty walking, meaning “both the physical act and experience of walking”
About 2.4m disabled people in England currently have a blue badge.

The scheme, first introduced in 1970, allow holders to park for free in pay-and-display spaces and for up to three hours on yellow lines.

The badges cost £10 and in London they also provide an exemption from the congestion charge.

Thousands share invisible disabilities
Transport Minister Jesse Norman said: “Blue badges are a lifeline for disabled people, giving them the freedom and confidence to get to work and visit friends independently.”

The change follows a consultation launched in January which saw 6,000 responses.

Three in four disabled people say they would go out less often without the parking permit, the DfT said.

‘Overwhelming anxiety’
Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said the change would “make a massive difference to the lives of many of the 600,000 autistic people in England, and their families”.

Many autistic people experience major challenges in travelling, making detailed preparations and suffering “overwhelming anxiety” about things going wrong, she said.

She said that some can be unaware of the dangers of the road while others can feel panic in busy or loud environments.

Scotland and Wales have already changed their eligibility criteria for the Blue badge scheme to include some mental impairments, where people cannot follow the route of a journey without assistance, but the rules are yet to be altered in Northern Ireland.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44993036

Blue Badge (disabled parking) scheme eligibility review

Summary

Proposals to extend Blue Badge eligibility to people with non-physical conditions.

This consultation closes at
11:45pm on 18 March 2018

Consultation description
We are proposing changing the eligibility criteria for the Blue Badge scheme to include people with non-physical conditions.

This is part of the government’s objective is to ensure that those people with the greatest need have access to badges, whilst ensuring the scheme remains sustainable.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/675301/blue-badge-scheme-consultation-on-eligibility.pdf

https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/R2OF6/

or

Complete a response form and either

Email to:
bluebadge.consultation@dft.gsi.gov.uk

Write to:
Vida Browne-Campbell
Department for Transport
Traffic and Technology Division
3/27 Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
London SW1P 4DR

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/blue-badge-disabled-parking-scheme-eligibility-review

What is the secret to being more assertive? Having self respect

By Christian Jarrett

Why are some of us more inclined than others to stick up for ourselves, not aggressively, but assertively. Assertive people let others know when they feel mistreated and they’re confident saying “no” to unwanted demands.

Presumably it has to do with how see ourselves, yet past research has established that two key aspects of the self-concept – good feelings about the self (“self-liking” or “self-confidence”) and seeing oneself as competent – are not strongly related to assertive behaviour.

Daniela Renger, a researcher at the Institute of Psychology at Kiel University in Germany, believes this is because most relevant to assertiveness is self-respect – “a person’s conviction that they possess the universal dignity of persons and basic moral human rights and equality”. Across three studies published in Self and Identity, Renger shows that self-respect is a distinct psychological concept and that it is uniquely correlated with assertive behaviour.

For her studies, Renger devised a new, four-item self-report measure of self-respect. Participants rated their strength of agreement with:

In everyday life I always see myself as a person with equal rights
I always see myself as a person of equal worth compared with other people in my life
I am always aware that I have the same dignity as all other human beings
If I look at myself, I see a person who is equally worthy compared with others

In an initial study, 343 women and men in Germany (average age 33) completed this measure, plus questionnaires tapping their self-competence (e.g. “I am almost always able to accomplish what I try for”) and self-confidence (e.g. “I look at myself with warmth and affection”; “It is always worth taking good care of myself”). They also completed an 8-item measure of assertiveness, for example saying whether they would feel comfortable “telling a companion you don’t like a certain way he or she has been treating you”. Nearly a hundred of the participants completed these same questionnaires again nine months later.

Based on her analysis of the participants’ answers to the various measures, including  the correlations within and between them, Renger concluded that self-competence, self-confidence and self-respect are distinct aspects of the self-concept. Also, while all three factors correlated with assertiveness, only self-respect had a unique association with assertiveness when accounting for the other two factors. Finally, there was some tentative causal evidence: having greater self-respect at Time 1 correlated with increased assertiveness as measured 9 months later, but the reverse was not true (having greater assertiveness initially was not associated with increased self-respect).

What is the secret to being more assertive? Having self respect

Autistic boys and girls found to have “hypermasculinised” faces – supporting the Extreme Male Brain theory

By Christian Jarrett

According to the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism, there are certain cognitive and behavioural characteristics that manifest more often in men than women, on average, such as a bias for systematic rather than empathic thinking. Autism can be seen as as extreme version of that typical male profile, the theory proposes, possibly caused by prenatal exposure to higher than usual amounts of testosterone in the womb.

A related observation is that exposure to high concentrations of prenatal testosterone leads to the development of “hyper masculine” facial features. It follows that if the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism is accurate, then autistic people will have hypermasculine faces.

A new study in Scientific Reports put this logic to the test, and consistent with the Extreme Male Brain theory, found that autistic girls and boys had more masculine faces as compared with neurotypical control children.

Past research into whether autistic people tend to have stereotypically masculine facial features has been mixed. Women with sub-clinical autistic traits or a diagnosis of autism have been found to have more masculine than average faces, but studies with autistic men have sometimes found no difference from controls, or they’ve found the autistic men to have androgynous rather than hyper masculine features.

For their new paper, the research team led by Diana Tan at the University of Western Australia, deliberately sought to test pre-pubescent autistic and neurotypical children, thus removing the possibility that hormonal changes during puberty might conceal or reverse any facial signs of prenatal exposure to high testosterone levels (as may have been the case in the earlier research involving adults).

Tan and her colleagues also employed a new 3D facial mapping process, tested on 48 neurotypical boys and 53 neurotypical girls, to provide a highly accurate and objective measure of the facial features that most typify a male and female child’s face. Using these features, the researchers’ algorithm was able to correctly categorise the sex of children’s faces with around 98 per cent accuracy.

Next, the researchers deployed their 3D facial mapping algorithm to score the facial features of 54 caucasian autistic boys, 20 caucasian autistic girls and age-matched neurotypical caucasian boys and girls. This showed that the autistic boys and girls had more masculine than usual faces – to use the researchers’ jargon, their faces were hypermasculinised.

Moreover, when the researchers compared the autistic children and control children’s faces on the six facial features (mostly related to the positioning of the nose and upper lip) that most strongly distinguished neurotypcial boys’ faces from girls’ faces, the autistic kids of both sexes were found to have a more masculine score than controls on five of these features.

Finally, among the autistic boys and girls, the more masculinised their faces, the more social and communication difficulties they tended to have, as scored in their diagnostic test for autism.

The sample sizes for this study were relatively small, but the study’s biggest weakness is that it asks us to make a logical leap – high prenatal testosterone levels are known to cause faces to appear more masculine, autistic children have more masculine than average faces (as shown by the new results), therefore high prenatal testosterone levels contribute to autism (in line with the Extreme Male Brain Theory). However, as the researchers’ themselves acknowledge, this study featured no data on the testosterone levels that the children were exposed to prenatally, meaning there could be other explanations for the results. “Further investigation that tracks longitudinal links between early testosterone exposure, postnatal facial morphology and autism phenotype will provide more direct tests of the hypothesised relationships,” they said.

The Extreme Male Brain theory has inspired important research into the causes of autism, but it has also been controversial. Cordelia Fine, the author of Delusions of Gender and Testosterone Rex, cites the theory as an example of contemporary “neurosexism”. And other recent research has uncovered findings that are inconsistent with the theory – for instance, last year a brain imaging study found that, compared with male neurotypical controls, autistic boys and men had resting connectivity patterns that resembled what’s more typically seen in women, while autistic girls and women showed a more masculine neurological profile, lending support “to the notion that autistic spectrum disorder may constitute a disorder of sexual differentiation or androgeny rather than a disorder characterized by masculinization in both genders.”

 

Autistic boys and girls found to have “hypermasculinised” faces – supporting the Extreme Male Brain theory