Government backs down on some retesting for sickness benefits

Government backdown won’t apply to all but is an opening

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is highly damaging to those of us who have to go through it. Despite this, both main parties have consistently denied that there is any problem, and claimed that the WCA is necessary to weed out scroungers. That might be about to change.

Firstly, Labour announced at their conference that they would scrap the WCA altogether. This doesn’t mean much right now since they are not in power, but it is a major turnaround for a party that introduced the WCA in the first place and has refused to even oppose most benefit cuts in the last few years. Jeremy Corbyn called the WCA degrading. Debbie Abrahams acknowledged that it makes people feel worthless and dehumanised.

It’s not all good, since they still refuse to oppose benefit sanctions, and used the same old language about work being the goal for everyone, but it is a start.

Secondly, Damian Green, Tory Secretary of Work and Pensions, has told the media that the government will stop repeatedly retesting people who aren’t going to improve.

“If someone has a disease which can only get worse then it doesn’t make sense to ask them to turn up for repeated appointments. If their condition is not going to improve, it is not right to ask them to be tested time after time. So we will stop it.”

This is a huge reversal of policy. Continuous retesting was always the point of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) although there have never been enough resources to apply that to everyone.

Many people are celebrating this. However, there are big questions as the government haven’t specified any details. I’m not sure they even know yet. Reports imply that the exemption from retesting will apply to people with specific illnesses that are known to only deteriorate. If that is the case, then many people who have illnesses that are just as bad as those on the list but are not recognised as such, will miss out. So will people who have not yet been diagnosed, and that can mean people who are sick for years – or decades – before they find out the cause.

The more logical policy would be to apply this exemption to everyone who is in the Support Group, since this category is meant to contain people who have no prospect of improvement. In practice the Support Group doesn’t work like that, and people who will never improve are frequently placed in the Work Related Activity Group instead, thanks to DWP efforts to deny them support in order to keep costs down. If the exemption were to apply to the Support Group only then it would still be unfair to all those improperly placed in the WRAG.

Whether the Government decides who qualifies based on diagnosis, or based on support group, it will still be unfair. However, I do see this announcement as a big win. A Tory government minister said “constant reassessment is pointless” and “does increase their stress and anxiety levels” “causes financial insecurity” to describe repeated work capability assessments. That is a huge admission for the Tories, or even for Labour.

We can use this. We can attack the inconsistencies in the government’s argument. We can point out that the Work Capability Assessment is damaging to everyone. We can show that their descriptions apply to Personal Independence Payments too, even though they’ve spent six years attacking PIP’s predecessor, DLA as “abandoning” people so as to justify welfare reform and repeated reassessments. This isn’t an unqualified victory and won’t necessarily improve things for that many people (perhaps including myself) but this is a major event in the struggle against welfare cuts of the last few years.

Appeal of PIP Consultation Judicial Review Not Successful

This morning we received the final judgment in our appeal of the judicial review of the consultation for PIP. The appeal was not successful.

The full text of the judgment is linked below but I will quote here the key paragraphs that my solicitor pointed out.

  1. Once it was accepted, as it had to be on the evidence, that the Respondent approached the 2013 consultation with an open mind, it seems to me that the challenge to the process as a whole must fail. It is explained in the evidence that all options were open as to the “Moving around criteria”, even if that meant changing the criteria for “Planning and following journeys” or looking for funding elsewhere. The reality was that consultees such as Mr Sumpter had every opportunity to present to the Respondent the difficulties that the move from a 50 metre benchmark to a 20 metre one would cause to them. It is clear that such opportunity was taken. In reality, it would have gone nowhere to contend in the consultation that the physically disabled should continue to be favoured at the expense of those who suffered other disabilities. No doubt none would have wished to present such an unattractive argument. Given the Respondent’s overall policy to make PIP available to a wider category of the disabled, new beneficiaries obviously had to come into the equation and there would have been no point in contending that they should be excluded.
  1. …As I understand the law, consultation has to be fair; it does not have to be perfect. With the benefit of hindsight, it will no doubt often be possible to show that a consultation could have been carried out rather better, but that will not necessarily mean that it was unfair. That is what the judge said at paragraph 123 of his judgment and I agree with him.

I note that the judge did draw attention to the choice that the government made to frame continuing to help physically disabled people as unfairly withholding help from people with mental and cognitive difficulties. He did not, however, find it relevant that the consultation failed to admit the government decision to give new help at the expense of help previously available. The judge implied that people responding to the consultation only needed to talk about the difficulties we would face, not about the decision to take money away for use elsewhere.

It should be noted that the government had previously said while defending this case that they know they are removing DLA from “individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need” and “removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.” (This is a direct quote of words used by the government and quoted in the judgment in 2014 at paragraph 80.)

[PDF] Final judgment PIP judicial review appeal

For further information please contact solicitors for this case, Irwin Mitchell.

Previously on this subject:

PIP 20 metre rule consultation back in court

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Why I am suing the government

“Lots of folk can’t afford a car”

PIP 20 metre rule consultation back in court

This time last year we took the Department of Work and Pensions to a judicial review to decide if they properly consulted about cutting help for people who can only walk a few metres.

The original consultation did not make clear the plan to cut the qualifying maximum distance from 50 metres to 20.  In quite strong language for a judge, the court noted that the consultation was  “Mind-bogglingly opaque”, “At best ambivalent”, and “Convoluted, inherently unclear, ambiguous and confusing.  No construction allows for full coherence.”

Nevertheless, the court found – very narrowly – in favour of the government and said that the second consultation, started after this judicial review was in motion, was enough to make things right.

This week we are back in court to appeal that decision. We argue that the second consultation could never have changed the decision that had already been made. The hearing will take place in the Royal Courts of Justice in London from 10:30 on the 14th and 15th of July. The judgement will follow a few days later.

It is frustrating that this case is about whether the consultation on PIP was fair rather than about the cut itself, but the courts cannot decide on government policy. As part of their defence the DWP pointed out that they are fully aware of the impact of their policy, and are removing DLA from “individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need” and “removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.” The DWP did do a consultation on their policy though, and that consultation wasn’t fair, so that is what we are fighting.

 

Electric Wheelchair in the back of a car
My Motability car, which I stand to lose if denied the high rate mobility component of PIP

 

Background information

As part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 the government replaced Disability Allowance with Personal Independence Payments. Their main reason for the change was to introduce repeated frequent testing to see if claimants have miraculously healed. They also changed the maximum distance that you can walk and still qualify for help towards regaining your mobility. Under DLA the cutoff was recognised to be 50 metres. Under PIP it has been slashed to just 20 metres. This means that if someone can walk more than 20 but less than 50 metres (subject to a few caveats) then they will no longer get the highest amount for the mobility component of PIP. Assuming the person still qualifies for the lower rate of mobility, this is a cut of £35.65 per week. But worse than that, the higher rate mobility component is a gateway to all sorts of help including the right to lease a car or wheelchair through the Motability scheme. As a result of this cut more than a hundred people are losing their car every week, and many thousands more will follow when they are reassessed for PIP. Losing independent transport means losing independence and access to services.

A prominent example of this came just last month when Teenage Paralympian Kayleigh Haggo was denied the higher rate for mobility and lost her car. Kayleigh got her car back after the decision was overturned a few weeks later but this illustrates the problem that we are facing.

UPDATE
The hearing took place and seemed quite positive however the judgement will follow at a later date, probably October.

Previously on this blog:

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Why I am suing the government

“Lots of folk can’t afford a car”

Guest post: What the benefit reforms will mean to us

This is a guest post by @chmasu.

In 1992 my husband, Kevin, was working as a self-employed plumber and heating engineer. We were living in a private sector rented house with our three children aged 14, 9 and 6; and I was pregnant with our fourth child. When I was in my sixth month of pregnancy Kevin sustained a severe back injury, which left him unable to walk or stand up. After a six month wait Kevin was operated on, after which he could walk upright. However it became apparent that his back was not completely healed and it transpired that there was considerable scar tissue on the nerve, causing severe pain and limiting the distance he could walk and the amount of time he could stand. This scarring and pain was, we were told, permanent.

Following a face-to-face medical examination Kevin was awarded Disability Living Allowance (DLA), initially for a year and then, after another face-to-face medical examination by a Doctor, he was given what was then called a lifetime award. This enabled him to lease a car from Motability (I am not able to drive so our previous old banger of a car had gone). He was also awarded Incapacity Benefit, also with a face-to-face medical assessment. We claimed Housing benefit to help with the rent.

Kevin was not able to return to the plumbing work for which he was qualified so it was necessary to re-train. He studied part-time at our local F.E. College and obtained a BTEC National Diploma in Computing and Electronics. Despite his severe dyslexia he passed with distinctions in all subjects and was given the prize for best student on his course. He then obtained a Diploma of Higher Education in Computing. With these quantifications he chose to stop the Incapacity Benefit, despite it having just been renewed, and return to work part-time, eventually increasing to full time. Incapacity Benefit was replaced by Disability Working Allowance (DWA). None of the study or work would have been possible without the Motability car.

Over the years the DWA was replaced by Working Tax Credit (WTC) with a Disability premium. After 10 years working as a computer repair engineer for one of Britain’s leading small computer manufacturers he was made redundant when the company folded. There followed a year of JSA interspersed with very low-paid contract work.

Eventually he was encouraged by the Jobcentre to go self-employed. He started a computer repair business in partnership with our eldest child, who was also chronically ill, and who unfortunately became too ill to work, so Kevin continues as a sole trader, working from home. There is a steady trickle of work, but not enough to provide more than a very meagre income. It was not possible to get any finance from the bank so we put into the business all the money we could muster from the redundancy payment and a small inheritance from my parents. (Incidentally this inheritance put us just over the savings limit for Housing Benefit and they deducted an amount from our payment for two years,until we could prove that we had used up all the money.) It has taken 3 years to show a very small profit, rather than a loss. We are sustained by WTC, DLA and Housing Benefit. The computer business involves driving to customers and so is dependent on the Motability car. I have the same chronic genetic illness as my children and am not able to work, but I do not claim any benefits in my own right. We have become experts at living frugally and making economies.

The future
The Benefit changes that will be affecting us in the near future are Universal Credit to replace WTC and Housing Benefit, and PIP to replace DLA. As we now live in a housing association flat we will also be affected by the ‘Bedroom Tax’ when our student daughter leaves home.

Universal Credit will be paid monthly and will be calculated according to the claimant’s weekly reporting to the DWP of hours worked and income received. According to the government website self-employed people will be assumed to have reached a ‘minimum income floor’. This figure will be used to calculate the amount of UC awarded.

“If there are no limitations on the number of hours you can work, the minimum income floor is likely to be the equivalent of you working 35 hours per week at the National Minimum Wage for your age group.”
Universal Credit and self-employment

As Kevin does not have 35 hours of work per week, and certainly does not pay himself anywhere near the national minimum wage, his self-employment will become unviable.

Kevin will eventually be migrated from DLA to PIP. With the arbitrary reduction of the walking distance which qualifies for the higher rate mobility component from 50 metres to 20 metres it is extremely likely that Kevin will lose the Motability car. This will also render his self-employment unviable as he will not be able to drive to customers. It is my dread that he will lose the benefit altogether, which will remove the ‘passport’ to disability-related premiums and possibly the Blue Badge for parking.

It is extremely unlikely that Kevin, as a 62 year-old man with dyslexia and restricted movement, will be able to find a job

So where will this leave us? Kevin may be able to qualify for ESA, probably in the work-related group. If not, he will have to claim JSA. In either case, trips to the Jobcentre will be necessary. He has no means of getting there other than by using a wheelchair. He is not able to self-propel, so I will be pushing him there. My illness restricts my walking so the wheelchair will be fulfilling the function of a Zimmer frame – there will be pain. Work-related activity is unlikely to accommodate Kevin’s disability, which may well lead to benefit sanctions. The bedroom tax will eventually be applied. Shopping will have to be by home delivery, assuming we can still afford an internet connection. Food will become more expensive when I am not able to continue my daily forays to the reduced produce shelf in the supermarket or shop around for the cheapest deals. We will not be able to afford heating. We will not be able to go anywhere without help. Holidays, visiting our grandchild, church, any kind of excursion will be unattainable. We would no longer have a life if it were not for our close family and good friends.

This is just one story of a family affected by the Government’s austerity measures; there are many more and, as in the recent protest at the House of Commons about the removal of the Independent Living Fund, we need to make our voices heard before it is too late.

This is a guest post by @chmasu.

“A life on benefits is frankly no life at all.”

“Starting a life on benefits is, frankly, no life at all.”

– David Cameron, BBC Question Time 30/04/2015

In that one sentence last night David Cameron dismissed my life as nothing. My family were poor. We received benefits when my dad worked, and we received benefits after work made him disabled. I went to university in spite of this background, and received a student grant. While I was studying I became sick with what I would later find out was a mitochondrial disease. I still worked when I could, albeit intermittently and claiming incapacity benefit at times. Later I started a computer repair business but became too sick to work after a year of that. Now I live on benefits – I am in the Support Group on ESA, which is for people that even Atos and the DWP admit are unlikely to be able to work in the foreseeable future. I also receive DLA, Housing Benefit and various others.

What none of this has done is make my life worthless. I do not have “no life at all.” I am a person, with experiences, who has contributed to society just by being myself. I enjoy things, I create things, I learn things, I say things. I talk to friends and make new friends. And all of this despite starting my life on benefits and continuing it now on benefits. All of this despite the fact that I may never be able to undertake paid employment again.

David Cameron, though, disagrees. Asked to stop talking about the economic reasons for his policies and talk about the moral issues, he said:

“helping people into work is the most moral thing”

– David Cameron, BBC Question Time 30/04/2015

Except it’s not, though, is it. Helping people to find paid employment is not the most moral thing, even if that was what the Tories had been doing rather than yanking away support and telling people to sort themselves out. What is actually the most moral thing is making sure that all people have food and shelter, and the ability to live a life that they find value in. Paid employment is only one path to that. Paid employment (or attempting to start your own business, for that matter) is an option that is for many not available – whether that is from lack of available jobs, lack of training, sickness and disability, caring responsibilities, or some other reason.

We as a society are able to provide for everyone. Less labour is required to feed and clothe us with every new day. We do have jobs that need doing, such as in care and healthcare, but private employers aren’t going to pay for those. If we want more people to be employed then others are going to have to work less. But employers want to extract maximum profit from the minimum amount of pay so that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

One thing is certain: People like David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have no idea what the lives of people on benefits are like but they judge us anyway. They decide we have miserable meaningless lives but then make everything so much worse by snatching away support and telling us to get jobs that aren’t there or that we are unable to do.

 

Mental health treatment in the Job Centre – what could possibly go wrong?

A Mental Health task force set up by Nick Clegg has decided to subject people on benefits to mental health treatment at the Job Centre.

Out of all the possible environments for mental health treatment, the Job Centre could the worst.

The treatment will take the form of talking therapy and computer-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A posting on the governments’s Contracts Finder website reveals that the DWP intend to spend £21 million on the online CBT. It is not clear how much they intend to spend on human therapists, where they think they can get them, or whether they will actually have training and experience to do the job.

There are so many problems with this scheme that it is hard to know where to start. The biggest problem I can see is that there can be no meaningful consent to treatment in the context of the Job Centre. Where once the Job Centre was there to help people to find a job, these days it is more known for ruthless sanctions and cutting off benefits for whatever trivial excuse they can come  up with. If Job Centre staff tell someone that they need mental health treatment it will be backed up with words such as “your benefits may be affected if you do not attend” which is a barely-veiled threat that they apply to most “voluntary” tasks that they inflict on people.

The regime of sanctions and workfare means that the Job Centre is a direct cause of much mental illness among people on benefits. I cannot see anyone wanting to reveal this to any therapist in the Job Centre even if absolute confidentiallity is promised. There is too much danger of it leaking to vindictive staff who are eager to hit their targets for sanctions.

Computer-based CBT could be even worse. CBT does not work for everyone and there is a chance that staff will use failure to get better as an indication that someone is not trying, and an excuse to cut their benefits. CBT often makes people worse before they get better and it is not something that should be done in a public place where there is little chance of privacy. It could leave people in a raw emotional state and vulnerable while out in public, or the setting may prevent people from engaging at all. Indeed, the suspicion will be that Job Centre staff will monitor progress just like they monitor the Universal Job Match system.Whether true or not, that will be a barrier to a lot of people.

This whole scheme seems to have been set up with the primary aim not of improving mental health, but of getting people in to a job. There is no indication of how the DWP will treat people whose mental health does not improve enough to get a job, or even get worse. Clegg’s mental health task force seems to have no clue about the reality of unemployment, poverty or illness. Had they asked anyone in this situation they would have been told that this plan will be damaging, not helpful.

If there is money available – and seemingly, there is at least £57 million available – why on earth isn’t it being spent within the NHS to undo some of the savage cuts that have taken place? Lots of people including myself have been desperate to get proper talking therapy from the NHS for years but unable to do so. Tories and LibDems seem desperate to force unsuitable treatment without consent on people on benefits instead of properly funding NHS services. This scheme is a useless bandage on the gaping wound inflicted by this government and it will do more damage than it helps repair.

Related Links

Clegg announces plan for job centre mental health treatment scheme

Nick Clegg holds first meeting of mental health taskforce

Contracts Finder: Online Supported Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

 

Do unemployed people need a kick up the backside?

It is a common belief that unemployed people are mostly scroungers who need a kick up the backside to get them working. People believe that others choose not to work because benefits are luxurious. I argue not just that is wrong, but also that the reasons for not finding work are irrelevant.

There simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone. Although there are about 868 thousand people claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance and approximately 700 thousand advertised vacancies, those figures do not tell the whole story. The job vacancies that remain unfilled are for the most part not available to the people who are looking for work, because employers consider most remaining unemployed people to be undesirable as employees. Maybe that is because of their lack of qualifications, or gaps in their CV, their perceived attitude to authority, or simply the way they look. Many vacancies are filled by people who are leaving another job and are never open to unemployed people.

In some areas there are hundreds or even thousands of applicants for each job. The real availability of jobs for the average jobseeker is revealed in news stories like these:

Society is focussed on working for employers. It is unlikely that going self-employed or starting a business will be successful, and it is even harder under Universal Credit where a self-employed person is assumed to be earning at least minimum wage.

It is no longer feasible to survive by building your own house and growing your own food on your own land. Back in the distant past there was work for everyone, just because keeping people supplied with food and shelter was so intensive. It used to be possible to remove yourself from society to build your own house and grow your own food but that isn’t true anymore. There is no land available to farm without paying for it, no way to be self sufficient without having taxes demanded of you. Even the smallest interaction with the rest of society requires money. There is no choice but to accept employment working for someone else or find a niche to start a business in, and there are not enough jobs and not enough business opportunities for everyone. There are enough resources for society to ensure that everyone is clothed, fed and given shelter, and even to have a high standard of living.

Work on it’s own is not always good for you or somehow virtuous no matter what you say. One study that the DWP likes to quote [PDF link] did say work is good for you but the definition of work used was far wider than just paid employment, and stability of work and income was considered essential for work to be beneficial. Doing something worthwhile will usually make people happier than doing nothing but that doesn’t need to be paid employment. As an aside, work for benefits schemes (“workfare”) can have the opposite effect especially if the work is perceived as pointless. And if the workfare is actually something that needs doing then it’s probably putting someone else out of work.

If employment is not beneficial in itself, and if there aren’t enough jobs to go round, and if there are enough resources for everyone in spite of this, then punishing someone for failing to find a job is simply cruel and vindictive. It is punishment for something people have very little control over. Moreover, it is punishment for failing to do something that is not necessary. If someone doesn’t want to work, what difference does it make to you if they don’t find a job and someone else fills any vacancy? It won’t lower the cost of social security. Would you rather they were unhappy just to make you feel better? A better solution is citizens income / universal basic income, or failing that, putting a stop to benefit sanctions. The all-too popular idea of “Don’t work don’t eat” is cruel and vindictive in this modern age.

“Lots of folk can’t afford a car”

I tweeted about the thousands of people that will lose Motability cars (and wheelchairs) when their DLA is taken away.

A clueless person replied

they get £2k when car is taken away! Lots of folk can’t afford a car at all no matter what their situation x

Lots of poor people are “trapped” without a car but they don’t get £2k to help x

Where do I start?

Most people can walk, or cycle, or get the bus without it causing pain and exhaustion, or get the train, or do a combination of all of that. And yes, if someone is a customer of Motability when their DLA is taken away, they’ll get £2K from the charity. (Part of Motability is a charity.)

It won’t go far.

I have to have a car that is

  1. big enough to get a wheelchair in,
  2. comfortable enough not to leave me in pain,
  3. automatic, with an electric handbrake and cruise control, otherwise, again, pain.

£2K will not buy that car. It will also not do many taxi journeys to doctors, hospitals and supermarkets while living out here in the countryside. So I’ll have to use my electric wheelchair and the bus. I’ve only got the wheelchair because I begged for donations – remember, some use Motability to get one, and it’s a choice of wheelchair or car.

Taking the wheelchair on the bus is extremely exhausting for me and ultimately, painful. If I run out of energy or get overwhelmed by pain half way, I’m screwed. So I’ll stop going out except for vital things, like the doctor. Without a car, that trip takes several hours.

Then I spend a week recovering.

If I stop going out, my already precarious mental health takes a dive. I’ll probably become suicidal again.

Problem solved for the DWP, I suppose.

Just in case you’re under the misaprehension that PIP/DLA is only being taken away from people that don’t really need it, here’s what the DWP themselves said, quoted at a Judicial Review last year:

“we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.”

The government is deliberately taking help away from people who can walk more than twenty metres but still less than fifty, and they say they know that those people have “genuine need”, they just don’t care what cutting DLA will do to them.

Is it right to take DLA away from thousands of people because “Lots of folk can’t afford a car at all no matter what their situation”? Ask yourself if it has quite the same impact. Or why the hell you don’t ask why those other people aren’t paid enough to afford a car.

Need benefits? Say goodbye to privacy

On the 13th of February The Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) Regulations 2015 come into force. On that date anyone claiming Universal Credit will lose control over who can see their most sensitive personal information. There was a consultation, of course. Sadly, the people who are affected by the new regulations don’t count as important enough to consult and the consultation ended on the 12th of January.

The reason given for these new regulations is that:

“Existing legislation does not provide DWP with a power to routinely disclose information about all claimants receiving UC.”

The consultation sets out exactly what information the DWP want to “routinely disclose”:

3.6 The data provided will include:

  • Full name
  • Initials
  • Contact details including: address, email, telephone
  • Details of others in household, in relation to the relevant Benefit Unit
  • Type of accommodation – private / social rented, owned, none etc.
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • NINO
  • Date of birth / age range
  • Employment status / earning
  • Debts / arrears/rent payable
  • Benefits received including: level of payment, copy of documents (e.g. claimant commitment)
  • Health conditions / disabilities
  • Caring responsibilities
  • Qualifications / training status
  • Transport situation e.g. able to drive /access to car or easy access or public transport
  • Barriers to work
  • Languages spoken
  • Access to financial products such as bank / building / credit union / Post Office card account / credit card
  • Level of personal budgeting
  • Access to computer and internet
  • Level of digital skills

And who your information will be routinely shared by:

  • The Department of Work and Pensions
  • Any “universal support provider” contracted by the DWP
  • Local authorities
  • Credit unions
  • Citizens Advice Bureaux
  • Social landlords
  • Relevant registered charities

The list of “relevant charities” is unclear but a list of those who were specifically consulted includes

“Citizens Advice, Homeless Link, Shelter, The Advice Services Alliance UK, Women’s Aid, Disability Rights UK, Step Change [formerly the Consumer Credit Counselling Service], the National Debtline, Money Advice Service and many others.”

Some of the categories of information to be shared are intensely personal and a lot of people will be horrified to learn that it will be disclosed to a long list of government employees and whatever organisation is deemed “relevant”.  Disclosure of that data to the wrong person could be extremely harmful to many vulnerable people.

The problem with these new regulations goes deeper than just violation of privacy. The reason the DWP want all this information to be shared is so that:

“This information can be supplied to those providers so that they can provide such advice, assistance or support and monitor and evaluate such advice, assistance or support.”

They DWP are talking about Universal Support – described by Lord Fraud as follows:

The roll out of Universal Credit is an opportunity to bring together many different agencies responsible for delivering the current multitude of benefits alongside other local support providers, like local authorities and charities.

Many of these services often work in isolation.

Under Universal Support, these services will be brought together in a joined-up, potentially co-located way, based on local needs to provide whole person support.

Led by a partnership of the local authority and Jobcentre Plus, in the interests of both claimants and the taxpayer.

Whilst we recognise the need to support vulnerable people we also recognise that, for many, vulnerability is not a permanent state but something that affects them temporarily.

We also believe that, even for people with chronic problems, the role of support must be to maximise their life chances, help to move them towards full independence, work readiness (wherever appropriate) and social inclusion.

It looks like social landlords and commercial and charitable organisations you haven’t chosen are going to “support” you whether you want that or not, whether the help is relevant or not, regardless of whether or not they know what they are doing. They are going to be given your private information to do it and they are going to monitor you to check that you obey. And they are going to to it in the interests of “the taxpayer”.

Further Reading

A government agenda to dehumanise benefit claimants – The Guardian

The Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

The consultation for the new data sharing regulations [PDF link]

Lord Freud’s, Minister for Welfare Reform, speech to the Local Government Association (LGA) about Universal Credit and Universal Support

@bendyleopard wrote about some problems she can see with the new data sharing

Included as an indicator of whether you can trust the DWP with your data:

Jobcentre ‘hit squads’ set up benefit claimants to fail, says former official – The Guardian

 

 

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

We lost. The judge ruled that in the end the consultation process for PIP was not unfair.

However that is not the whole story. You see, the judge found that it was the second consultation that made things right. The first consultation, he had some harsher words for. Words such as:

“Unfortunately mind-bogglingly opaque.” (Paragraph 105 part ii)
“At best ambivalent” (Paragraph 105 part vii)
“Convoluted, inherently unclear, ambiguous and confusing.  No construction allows for full coherence.” (Paragraph 106)

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the way the government chose to do things, I think you’ll agree.  The government’s legal team also agreed, and in fact they have accepted that they must share a portion of the costs of this judicial review in the face of evidence that it was indeed justified.

Not only that, but the government made it perfectly clear that they know exactly how much their policies will hurt people but want to do it anyway.

“… [T]his was recognised from the outset.  In developing the PIP assessment we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.  However, we believe that these impacts can be justified as being a logical result of distributing limited resources in a different and more sustainable way…”.
(Paragraph 80)

Let’s see that again:

we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.”

And again:

“genuine need”

So we have the government’s lawyers arguing that the DWP and the government ministers know full well that they are removing vital support from hundreds of thousands of people who have few other options and who will suffer as a result. And they are doing it to save money.

The judge agreed with the DWP that taking money from physically disabled people to allocate to other PIP claimants achieves “substantive equality between physically and non-physically disabled.” I argue that this has reduced the equality of physically disabled people compared to not-yet-disabled people, purely because of budget.

This is Lowest common denominator equality.

This is your government. This is what the society that we live in is prepared to accept.

The court’s findings and what’s next

The judge was persuaded by Dr Bolton’s evidence that the government could have changed their decision had they decided to listen to the overwhelming opposition to the 20m rule in the second consultation, and so it was not unfair. My legal team and I disagree. We still argue that the decision had long since been made and that the secretary of state had a closed mind by this point, and so the second consultation was not at a formative stage.

Although the judgment went against us I feel that the judge’s analysis of the first consultation is vindication for our bringing this case to court. Don’t forget that the second consultation only came about after this case was given permission to proceed and the DWP realised that they could not get away with such a shambles.

I hope that the admission by the government that they know exactly what they are doing will make people wake up to what is happening. Meanwhile, this is not the end. The legal team and I are considering our options to appeal this result.

Press Release from Public Law Solicitors

PIP Consultation Judicial Review Press Release

Read the full judgment

PIP consultation judicial review starts today

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Why I am suing the government