In this edition we warn you that, in an effort to cut benefits costs, employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants are being subjected to a massively increased sanctions regime that deliberately targets the most vulnerable.
Sanctions, primarily aimed at claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG) who are on the work programme, have quadrupled in the course of a year. They have increased from 1,102 a month in December 2012 to 4,789 a month in December 2013, the most recent date figures are available for.
Yet over the same period the number of ESA claimants being moved onto the work programme dropped by 43% a month and the number of claimants in the WRAG rose by just 21% in total.
62% of those sanctioned have mental health conditions or learning difficulties, although only 50% of claimants in the WRAG have these conditions.
It is hard to imagine a more cynical and discriminatory project, which appears to be intended to cut ESA costs whatever the human suffering involved might be.
You can read more about the DWP’s latest attack on claimants on the Benefits and Work website.
‘THE BEST POSSIBLE WAYS TO PREVENT AND OVERTURN ESA SANCTIONS.’
Since getting the statistics on the huge rise in ESA sanctions we have spent the last few days, creating a detailed guide to ‘The best possible ways to prevent and overturn ESA sanctions.’ – which is why this newsletter is a little on the short side, at least by our standards.
Our 30 page guide takes you through:
- Quick tips to reduce the chances of a sanction
- What to do if you are threatened with a sanction or actually sanctioned
- How to explain the ways your condition affects you
- Explaining your ‘good cause’ for not carrying out a mandatory activity
- Making a written complaint to JCP and work programme providers
- Complaining to your MP
- Using the mandatory reconsideration and appeal process
- Suing the DWP and work programme providers
- Applying for a hardship payment
- Applying to be placed in the support group
The guide, based in part on JSA sanctions information we have already published, includes sample letters and forms specific to ESA as well as lots of hints and tips to prevent you being seen as an easy target by work programme providers and Jobcentre Plus staff.
It will help you to avoid getting sanctioned in the first place. But if you do get threatened with a sanction, or actually sanctioned, it will take you through a range of responses from a formal complaint, to an appeal and even suing the organisations who are targeting you.
Recent statistics show that almost 90% of appeals against sanctions are successful, whilst legal insiders tell us that the DWP almost always settles discrimination claims before they get anywhere near a court. So fighting back is definitely worthwhile.
Yet a Citizens Advice Scotland report on sanctions released yesterday reveals that “many people who are hit by a sanction are not told the reason for it, or how to appeal against it” and that “many people are forced into poverty and ill health, often having to rely on foodbanks as their benefit payments are stopped.”
Members can download a copy of the guide from the ESA section of the members only area of the site.
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Claimants and carers get an annual subscription for £15.96, down from £19.95. Professionals get an annual subscription for £77.60, down from £97.00.
Still on the subject of sanctions, this summer, CABs across Scotland are raising the issue of benefit sanctions. The ‘Challenge It’ campaign aims to raise awareness of the right to appeal against sanctions. All CABs in Scotland have been issued with ‘Challenge It’ postcards and mini-cards, offering tips both on how to avoid being sanctioned and what to do if you are.
Meanwhile, the BBC has obtained DWP internal memos which says that ESA is worse than incapacity benefit at helping people back into work and now poses one of the biggest financial risks faced by the government. The memos also imply that the jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) sanctions regime is partly to blame for the rising number of ESA claimants.
PIP AND DLA NEWS
The public accounts committee has issued a damning report on the introduction of personal independence payment. Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, has called PIP a ‘fiasco’ which has ‘let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society’.
In its report, the committee states that the Department’s failure to pilot the scheme has caused unnecessary distress for claimants who have been unable to access the support they need to live, and in some cases work, independently and describes the personal stories they heard as ‘shocking’.
So, you probably won’t envy the task of Paul Gray CB, who the government has commissioned to undertake anindependent review of how the PIP assessment system is working.
Mr Gray has issued a call for evidence aimed at organisations and individuals who have information that is relevant to how the PIP assessment is operating, both for new claims and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) reassessment claims.
OTHER BENEFITS NEWS
Iain Duncan Smith’s latest effort to prevent the publication of documents warning of the dangers of universal credit has been dismissed by a judge.
The judge has ordered the release of documents about the progress of universal credit, an assessment of independent reviews and a record of problems with it.
The DWP insisted publication would have a “chilling effect” on the working of the department, though in reality the chilling effect on IDS’s reputation is probably the main reason for the refusal to publish the documents. Unfortunately IDS can probably drag the legal process out for years yet or simply use his ministerial veto to stop publication.
An estimated 50,000 people marched from the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in central London to Westminster in protest at austerity measures introduced by the coalition government. The demonstrators gathered before the Houses of Parliament, where they were addressed by speakers, including comedians Russell Brand and Mark Steel. The event received remarkably little press coverage, however.
On Saturday, more demonstrators set up a camp in the grounds of Westminster Abbey to protest against cuts to financial support for disabled people.
Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) pitched tents and said they intended to occupy the green outside the doors of one of Westminster’s most recognisable landmarks until 22 July. A huge police presence and heavy-handed tactics ensured that the protest was brought to an end, however.
Again, the protest received remarkably little media attention.
Which makes it rather ironic that the BBC has announced that it hopes to increase awareness of disability issues with a number of on-air and digital projects after hiring its first disability correspondent, Nikki Fox.
“We want to look into how the cuts to benefits are affecting people with disabilities and how the changes to the education system may impact children with disabilities,” said Fox, who will work alongside three broadcast journalists in Salford dedicated to disability issues.
Which sounds like a very good idea. As there is more than one Nikki Fox journalist we’ve published Nikki’s twitter account details to make sure you can help keep her informed about what is actually going on.
We have had some lovely feedback from our Facebook page:
“Thank you Benefits & Work! I’ve never heard from DWP since sending in ESA50 in March. They phoned today about something else so I asked when would hear – apparently I was assessed in April & put in Support Group until April 2016.
“Devastatingly (!) that means I’ll never get to meet ATOS as, with the help of your guides, that makes 4 years in support group without ever being called for a medical. (Plus a 5yr high care/low mob DLA award in 2011 til 2016, again without a medical).
“I keep recommending you to other people – your guides are so helpful – particularly, I think, as I have fluctuating/non-visible mental health issues, for which the medicals have been a farce, so understanding how to explain on form has been a godsend.
“Thank you. Tamsin”
MORE NEWS ON THE SITE
There’s lots more news on the site than we have room for in this newsletter, including:
In this edition we warn you that Channel 5 are on the hunt for fresh victims to parade before the public in a new benefits show.
The show’s casting director’s previous roles include keeping “difficult contributors onboard” on Jeremy Kyle and on People Like Us, the infamous fly-on-the wall documentary which trashed a Manchester community.
He also claims to have “gained access to schools, colleges and charities, for both filming and casting purposes” for a show about young people at risk of getting STDs. Classy stuff, which claimants might want to be aware of before signing up.
Not all claimants are taking cover in the face of the continuing media and political hate-campaign, however. We have news of a national day of action against Atos next month which is gathering momentum rapidly. See Atos National Demonstrations below for more about events in a town near you.
And Iain Duncan Smith isn’t getting things all his own way where the work capability assessment is concerned either. The latest results show that a higher percentage of claimants than ever are being awarded employment and support allowance and a bigger proportion are being put into the support group.
Plus, in this edition we introduce members to a name that may become all too familiar over the coming years: PIPAT. It’s the computer software now being used to assess claimants for personal independence payment. Benefits and Work has obtained copies of training documents that reveal details of how the software is used.
And we’re also asking you if you’ll let us have a copy of your medical report, so that we can begin to dissect the inner workings of PIPAT and discover what generalisations and unfair assumptions may lurk within.
Finally, for organisations, we’re offering the chance to receive four months of professional support in relation to PIP, ESA and DLA absolutely free as we pilot a new service.
SHARE THE NEWS
You are welcome to reproduce all or part of this newsletter on your website or forum or in your blog or newsletter, as long as you give us a credit.
ATOS NATIONAL DEMONSTRATIONS
There has been plenty of buzzing on social media about planned demonstrations sparked by the deaths of ESA claimants and the government’s refusal to release updated mortality statistics. You can read more about the issues here as well as in this blog by Dr Éoin Clarke which is backed up by statistical data.
Protests are taking place on 19 February. To find out more about what’s going on visit the main Facebook page for the ATOS National demo Wherever your local assessment centre is, from Aberystwyth to York and from Oban to Barnstaple, the chances are a protest is being planned.
You can also follow preparations on twitter.
The news by you website which claims to report on ‘a beautiful mish-mash of information outside of mainstream reality’ says it ‘looks like it’s going to be a meaningful day for a lot of people’.
Sarah, one of the organisers, says:
‘We’re hoping that Benefits and Work members will support this because urgent action is required as we will no longer sit back and watch this Government openly target thousands of sick, disabled and vulnerable people. We have to fight together for what is their absolute right to welfare support.”
If you feel able to join in to show support you can find all the details of the local demos on the Facebook site.
MPs are also now seriously concerned about Atos and Hilary Benn has said:
“As the Labour opposition we have called ATOS a disgrace and said they should be sacked. I have only this morning been dealing with yet another constituency case in which ATOS got the assessment wrong- it has now been overturned following my representations – but the system needs to change.”
One person who won’t be able to attend the demonstration in February is Sheila Holt, whose mental health deteriorated as a result of the pressures placed on her following her assessment. She was sectioned in December and subsequently suffered a heart attack, which has left her in a coma. Despite her condition, she continued to receive letters asking why she wasn’t working.
We also have the sad news of the death of another claimant which his son feels is a direct result of the pressures placed on him through loss of benefit.
However, despite the many methods the government has used to try reducing entitlement to ESA, the DWP’s quarterly report shows that an increasing proportion of people have been successful with their claims.
And just as importantly, the percentage of those placed in the support group has increased every quarter since March 2010.
PIP AND DLA NEWS
Concerns are being raised about the numbers of people who may not qualify for the Motability Scheme (members only) under the rules for PIP.
Some suspect that only a third of those who are currently eligible under DLA mobility will be eligible under PIP mobility.
This will impact significantly on those who can walk more than 20 metres, reducing their independence and ability to remain mobile. It is also likely to have an impact on those who are able to work because of the support that Motability provides in accessing their workplace.
MP Dame Anne Begg, the Chair of the work and pensions select committee has told MPs that she is hearing from many people about their experiences of waiting more than 6 months for a decision under the new scheme (members only).
Meanwhile, Atos have published a Youtube video showing how they claim a PIP medical assessment will be carried out . . . when you eventually get to have one.
We would be very interested to know of your experiences and will be conducting a long-term survey of PIP medicals that you can respond to – see the next newsletter for details.
Finally, The DWP is separating Attendance Allowance (AA) telephone numbers from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) numbers.
From 29 January 2014 a new number for AA will be introduced. Claimants can contact the AA Service Centre on 0345 or 0845 605 6055. The new text phone number for Attendance Allowance will be 0845 604 5312. The DLA/AA Helpline number (0845 712 34 56) will become a dedicated line for DLA only. DLA Text phone will also remain on the same number (08457 224433).
Find out more about our PIP training or
OTHER BENEFITS NEWS
In a case about Local Housing Allowance, CH/140/2013, the Upper Tribunal has attempted to define a bedroom by giving it a plain dictionary meaning: a room for sleeping/a room with a bed in it. Gareth Morgan says in his blogthat this ‘may mean that only the practical use of the room matters and not any specification of the property by the landlord – or others.’ The decision will have to be followed by the First Tier Tribunals.
However, the Nearly Legal blog by Giles Peaker suggests it may not be so straightforward.
We’ve had three requests for support for petitions by unfunded groups.
The first request is from a group of parents who are concerned because their disabled (adult) children’s funding comes entirely from benefits and social services. They believed that this secured their future and they were safe in the hands of UK government and local authorities. In response to the package of cuts to benefits and services, they state:
“These cuts are a false economy and will seriously reduce the quality of life of disabled, vulnerable adults.“
We have also been contacted by a mother with a similar request. She has an adult son with learning difficulties. She tells us he ‘cannot fill out forms for himself, nor stand up for himself, nor understand what all these cuts might mean for his future. He is part of a large group of people like this.’
“This group of people are unable to fill out the requisite forms themselves or advocate or fight for their rights on their own behalf. Others have to do this for them and this help (though lovingly given) creates high levels of stress for those in this position. When elderly parents/carers die those with learning difficulties may be left without the level of support they need.”
Please read what the petition is about and support this cause if you can.
The third request is to publicise a petition calling for the abolition of the service charge – which the petitioners say is “the contribution towards social care for disabled people required by Social Services, who often want to have a financial assessment to set the service charge before even looking at what that care will actually be and then dictate what care will be provided.”
Finally, we have had a message from Michelle Maher of the WOW petition.
“Your help and your members help in the past have been invaluable, and we are asking for your help again. John McDonnell has asked for the debate to be towards the end of February, but to date no time has been set as yet, but time is of the essence. We have had no support from any Tory MPs, so pressure is needed. Your help in the promotion of the debate and the need to contact your MPs is imperative.”
Or you can write your own letter, but using the Wow links will help the campaign keep track of numbers.
You can follow Michelle on twitter where you can read more updates.
We continually trawl the web for benefits-based news and research. Here’s some of what we’ve come across since the last newsletter:
Are we being deceived and stigmatised? Read Dr Simon Duffy’s views in his blog called The Welfare Reform Scam
In his recent blog post, Dr Greg Wood (work test whistleblower) explains ‘the bogus rules of thumb’ which are the misleading thumbnail descriptions of some of the criteria used in the WCA. Believe him or not, he reports of his own experiences.
The Benefits and Work twitter account continues to gain lots of new followers and at the time of writing there are 5542 of you with whom we can interact immediately.
Many followers share interesting snippets with us and point us in the direction of the latest, relevant news and blogs, so thank you for that and for sharing our news. Also, welcome to our latest high profile follower: BaronessTanni Grey-Thompson.
Our page techie person tells us, two stories have been read by thousands of you recently, with many of you sharing them, which is great! The article from our main website regarding Benefits payments being termed “Welfare Handouts” by the DWP itself really grabbed people’s attention.
Also our post regarding the compulsory collection of our health data, what involvement ATOS have in this process, the serious questions being asked about anonymity and the selling of this data to commercial companies, was picked up by many of you.
The Facebook page is developing as a place where you can have your say and while we do ask that members are civil to one another and view the posts as discussion points, we also understand that subjects our posts highlight can be emotive for members. Our page moderator wanted to thank everyone who keeps it clean while putting their point across, adding how they feel it is important we have a place to do just that.
MORE NEWS ON THE SITE
As always, there’s lots of news on the site that there isn’t room for in the newsletter, including: