Category Archives: Welfare payments
It was noted after the election that many will be dreading any further impact the money-takers will have on the lives of the vulnerable – and the first ‘welfare’ action taken by the Johnson government has not been reassuring.
On Monday 16th it was reported that the government’s Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) can now send letters to doctors telling them not to sign patients’ sick notes if they have been found “fit for work” by the work capability assessments.
Linda Burnip, who founded the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, said that the change was what “disabled people were dreading before the election”.
She also added: “To some extent, doctors might as well not exist any more in relation to benefit claims because they are totally ignored . . . You have someone who has seven or eight years’ training and their opinion counts for nothing . . .”
Undermining the GP’s role
An article in the medical magazine Pulse, How the benefits clampdown is undermining the GP’s role, reports GPs’ accounts of their patients being refused welfare benefits, counter to the GPs’ opinion that they were unable to work. Later 68% of employment support allowance claimants assessed as fit for work later had the decision overturned on appeal.
Official figures relating to Personal Independence Payments, which slipped out hours after the election result on Friday, illustrate the record of the former Conservative government. They include findings that:
- 46% of all those who have moved from old system DLA to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) lost out financially.
- More than 650,000 people on disability benefits had their payments cut or stopped totally after moving to a new system.
Other figures were highlighted by journalist and campaigner Alex Tiffin
Alex is just one of an army of observers who are concerned about the deprivation and the repeated harassment of those least able to cope with added stress and loss of income.
John Pring on 5th December 2019 in Disability News Service reports official records have revealed that a company paid to assess disabled people’s fitness for work was put under “immense pressure” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find claimants ineligible for out-of-work disability benefits,
An ATOS doctor made it clear that DWP was partly to blame for the decision to find his patient ineligible for disability benefits
The claim was substantiated in a document unearthed by the family of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who took his own life after being found unfairly fit for work. It was contained in evidence provided to the General Medical Council (GMC) nearly three years ago when it was investigating complaints about Dr Fathy Awad Sherif, the orthopaedic surgeon who carried out the face-to-face assessment of Michael O’Sullivan in March 2013
The doctor’s representatives told GMC investigators: “Following the conversion of Incapacity Benefit to ESA, the DWP put immense pressure on ATOS disability analysts to deem claimants fit for work when they previously would have qualified for benefits.”
A coroner who blamed failings in the notorious work capability assessment system for his death, wrote to DWP to request urgent changes to prevent further deaths. Those changes were never made, and further deaths have continued to be linked to the WCA – 80 named here.
Jeremy Corbyn’s politically unique offer: truth, compassion, justice, peace and a sufficiency for all
Many years ago, around the time when Jeremy Corbyn challenged Margaret Thatcher about the plight of people living in London’s ‘cardboard city’(see video), I sat next to him at some peace-related gathering in London.
We were supposed to discuss one of the issues on the agenda, but after one glance at his rather surly, sulky face I decided to cross the room and there had the good fortune to meet the genial Professor John Roberts, an exceptionally caring and thoughtful historian who was a World Federalist.
Over the years however I did note and credit JC’s consistent stand for peace, justice and the less fortunate and his much maligned mediation with warring parties, hoping to bring about peace by diplomacy.
Many working for good can bear witness to his steadfast support
One of these is Richard Gifford, who for many years has freely given legal services on behalf of the Chagos Islanders, unjustly displaced from their homeland, now used as an American military base (above, centre). To their discredit, the USA and UK governments, despite an overwhelming vote in the UN assembly, have disobeyed the order of the International Court of Justice at the Hague in May to hand back the islands as soon as possible.
In Corbyn the Spirit of ’45 survives
That spirit led to the setting up of the welfare state and the national health service – dreamed about by the soldiers planning a better future in their trenches. After corresponding with leading writers, artists and politicians, they helped to form the Common Wealth Party, many later transferring to Labour, Green or regionalist parties as founder members died or retired.
Poster for the Spirit of 45, filmed by Ken Loach
That intense young man has now matured into a ‘statesmanlike party leader’, resembling Professor Roberts in appearance and mindset.
He is valued by many European ministers and heads of states; Politico’s headline was ‘Brussels rolls out a red carpet for Jeremy Corbyn‘ but the Daily Mail hastily withdrew its original paragraph, “Corbyn appeared to be the statesmanlike party leader holding all the cars. He was greeted by “all the European press” like a “Prime Minister in waiting”, one aide told me” (see video).
World Federalism, which once seemed rather ‘way out’, now seems to be a really sensible way of addressing the towering threats posed by climate related instability.
And Jeremy Corbyn is the only British leader credibly offering to address the plight of the 10% on low incomes with no secure housing or employment, to cease the harassment of the disabled and to save young lives – and huge sums of money – from being wasted in aiding and abetting unjust military interventions.
“Mr Corbyn comes to life on the stump”
Above: Corbyn in Trafford, May 2019
Mr Shrimsley estimates that a vote share above 30% may be enough to prevent a Tory majority adding that, given likely losses in Remain strongholds, Mr Johnson needs 40-50 gains.
Other points made include those summarised below.
Having alienated the Democratic Unionists, the Conservatives have no natural coalition partners and face the ‘potentially wrecking impact’ of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Several other parties might support Labour or at least tolerate an anti-Johnson administration. The early evidence is that Remainers may be reconciling themselves to voting Labour where necessary.
Labour has a coherent narrative. The last three years have been no advert for Tory efficiency and the last nine have not left most people feeling better off
It has a raft of policies with appeal to core groups. It has baubles for young and old, tenants and workers. It will not be outbid on public services.
Voters’ current experiences are of austerity and cuts. Labour can, for example, note that Mr Johnson’s promised 20,000 extra police will only restore numbers to their 2010 level.
Plans to nationalise water and rail companies will play well, as will promises to give workers more say and more pay.
Labour also has a radical agenda on the environment, perhaps the most salient issue for younger voters.
And the wild card? As Camilla Cavendish (former No10 adviser) points out: “Mr Corbyn comes to life on the stump; Mr Johnson doesn’t always seem to do his homework”
Today, Times columnist Clare Foges, a former member of Boris Johnson’s mayoral team and then David Cameron’s speech writer, challenges the narrative that Brexit is down, in large part, to a high-handed and callous establishment’s neglect of the “left behind”, deploring the belief that:
”Those in poor northern constituencies and bleak coastal towns were left trailing in the gold-flecked dust thrown up by the golden chariots that bore the wealthy, the Londoners, the elite onwards — throwing back their heads to laugh heartily and pour some more Bolly down their gullets while failing to give a monkey’s about those in their wake”.
Truly, those in poor northern constituencies and bleak coastal towns were and are left trailing – but the elite do not spend time laughing at them – those people are neglected because they are simply of no interest.
She asserts that the deindustrialised towns have suffered because of globalisation or automation, not because those in government sat on their hands.
But the elite constructed, fostered and continue to be enriched by globalisation and automation – the system which impoverishes many is necessary to their lifestyle. Clare admits that “When you know that you are on the lower rungs of a socio-economic ladder that reaches, at its heights, into the realm of millionaires and sports cars and Maldivian holidays, you may well feel resentful. It must be profoundly demoralising to see swathes of your countrymen and women enjoying seemingly easy success while you struggle”.
She also concedes, “Of course there is serious poverty and inequality in our country, but over the past 20 years in particular governments have tried a thousand different policies to reduce them” but fails to mention the ways – under recent Conservative governments – in which people on low incomes and those in poor health have been harassed, ‘sanctioned’ and deprived of their due allowances, in order to make derisory savings. She adds:
“I don’t deny that the Brexit vote may have been driven in part by resentment. Yet here is the crucial point: just because people have felt cruelly neglected by the powers that be, it doesn’t mean that they actually were . . . Let us not mistake a failure to revive left-behind areas with wilful neglect. For the most part the much-traduced “establishment” has been well-meaning and hardworking in pursuit of a fairer country.”
Yes, wilful neglect does imply a degree of awareness – the correct term is indifference; ‘left-behind’ people are simply not on the radar of the affluent, preoccupied by “sports cars and Maldivian holidays”. She ends with more burlesque:
“With a more benign and interventionist establishment at the helm, the taxes of rich people could be spread thickly all over the country with no fear that wealth will flee; billions could be borrowed for major infrastructure projects with no damage to our economy; the streets of Grimsby and Oldham would be paved with gold. By giving this impression, we are inviting people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn and his fantasy economics”.
But would those in government circles – who benefit from corporate sinecures, stock exchange speculation and commodity trading – be willing to change the globalised system for one in which government invests in strengthening the economy through regional production and supply chains? Or will they oppose such changes with all their might, to maintain their current privileges?
Universal credit is NOT an incentive to work for the single able-bodied: 63p of every pound earned is clawed back
Focussing on undue delays causing hardship, highlighted on this site, The Times and the FT in 2017 asked ‘is universal credit – to date – a disaster?’
The FT today says “Universal credit is a plum example of how not to reform public services. The theory was broadly sound: the simplicity and real time data of the universal credit would ensure people were always better off in work. The reality, however, has proved calamitous”.
Conservative and Labour politicians, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Johnny Mercer, Gordon Brown and Frank Field, are now demanding that the government reconsiders the national rollout.
John Major has warned that UC could lead to a repeat of the poll tax debacle of the early 1990s, which saw riots against the then Conservative government.
A reader with a postgraduate degree was asked to look at these sections on a government-recommended benefits calculations site:
Work allowance for Universal Credit (Ed: able-bodied & childless need not apply)
If you/and or your partner are in paid work, you might be able to earn a certain amount before your Universal Credit is affected, this is called the work allowance. Your work allowance will depend on whether you are single or part of a couple and whether your Universal Credit includes amounts for housing costs, children and/or limited capability for work. The table below shows the different levels of monthly work allowance.
The Universal Credit earnings taper is a reduction to your Universal Credit based on your earned income. The taper rate sets the amount of benefits a claimant loses for each pound they earn. The earnings taper rate is currently 63%. This means for every pound you earn over your work allowance your Universal Credit will be reduced by 63 pence. To work out the earnings taper that applies to your award:
- Take your total monthly earnings figure after tax, National Insurance and relevant pension contributions have been taken off
- Deduct your monthly work allowance, which is the amount you can earn without your benefit being affected (if you are eligible for one)
- Apply the taper rate by multiplying the remaining earnings by 0.63
This is the amount that will be taken from your Universal Credit maximum amount when calculating your award.
Even the post-graduate reader found these instructions ‘far from simple’ and in no way producing a simpler and more effective system.
Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary in charge of the scheme, confirmed last week that families will be poorer under UC. She did not deny reports that millions of families could be up to £200 a month worse off when it is fully rolled out.
The chairman of the Commons work and pensions select committee has described the project – running well behind schedule – as a “shambles, leaving a trail of destruction” and in its assessment this year, the National Audit Office doubted whether the system would ever deliver value for money.
The current Universal Credit system is NOT ‘fit for purpose’
Over 2400 of the people who were given contaminated blood have died and MP Diana Johnson (below, left) asked for an urgent Commons debate last year.
She had to get six leaders of opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry before Theresa May finally succumbed to pressure and announced a public inquiry into this 1970s and 80s scandal.
Last year it was recalled here that British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 5,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. It is estimated that over 2.400 have died since then.
At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection… and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect… but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”
It was decided that victims should die to avoid going over budget
Ministers believe the reforms (cutbacks) are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.
In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.
Meanwhile the contaminated die apace as this inquiry gets under way, 30 years too late.
Work capability assessments, introduced under the last Labour government, were first carried out by Atos, which had a £100 million a year contract in 2012 – and later earned much more. The firm made a £42million profit in 2010 and paid its chief executive Keith Wilman £800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year. Since then other providers, including Capita and Maximus, have also been making these assessments. For several years there has been evidence from a wide range of sources that they are not being carried out efficiently. A few examples follow:
Doctors backed a motion at the annual BMA conference in 2012 stating that Atos’s assessments were “inadequate” and “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons.
In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (2014), the BMA repeated its 2012 call for government to end it “with immediate effect and replace it with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”.
2015: An academic paper, published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in which examined 149 English council areas, found that nearly 600 suicides in England may be associated with the government’s “fit-for-work” tests.
Oxford and Liverpool researchers looked at three years’ data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The BBC reported in 2015 that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.
2016: The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.
Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The 2016 investigation was launched after receiving evidence from disability organisations about an “alleged adverse impact” of government reforms on disabled people. UN committee members visited London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in October 2015 to identify any gaps in human rights protection for disabled people. As part of its inquiry, the CRPD also looked at a range of recent welfare reforms and legislation including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.
The BBC reported the UN inquiry’s conclusion that changes made to housing benefits and criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment, combined with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.
Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings, but it has now been announced that after a high court ruling on 2017 regulations, introducing criteria which discriminated against those with impaired mental health, decisions on personal independence payments will be reviewed.
2017: Directors and other officers of the Department of Work and Pensions receive new year’s honours for services to ‘welfare reform’, as a reader draws attention to an undated article in the Dorset Eye, by Douglas James, listing 82 people who have died or committed suicide soon after dealings with agencies such as ATOS and the government’s Department of Work and Pensions. A search was made for news of the first five on the Dorset Eye list and links to fuller accounts were added. Most of the people were aged 30-40.
2018: Private Eye 1462 reported in January that despite long-drawn-out resistance from the DWP, Atos and Capita, the Information Commissioner’s Office has now ruled that the DWP must reveal monthly reports These include details of complaints against assessors, the length of time taken by t-assessments and how many fail – i.e. are overturned on appeal.
In December the Commons Work & Pensions Select Committee report revealed that:
- it had heard disturbing evidence,
- accounts of medical assessments range from frustrating to gruelling,
- there were remarkably high, if slowly improving, levels of unacceptable reports,
- not one doctor had been involved in the assessments and
- Capita’s own auditing found that at points in the contract almost 60% of its reports were “unacceptable”.
MP Tom Brake speaks out:
“Many constituents are in despair when they contact me after an inaccurate report. Reports of face-to-face assessments need to be unbiased, fair and above all accurate. It was important to flag up these discrepancies directly with ATOS. The Government need to ensure that assessments are recorded to prevent alarming inaccuracies. I will continue to put pressure on the Government to reform the current system. At the moment too many people have lost faith in the system.”
Last resort: after many disastrous years – like Windscale nuclear reactor station – in June Atos Healthcare announced changes to its name – but not its practice.