Welfare Reform Bill – the problems

The Welfare Reform Bill will, according to the Parliament website, replace means-tested benefits with a new Universal Credit. This is a huge change which in theory I am in favour of, except that I believe that the government have got the implementation and the details very very wrong.  The website lists these other key areas where the bill will change things:

Key areas

  • introduces Personal Independence Payments to replace the current Disability Living Allowance
  • restricts Housing Benefit entitlement for social housing tenants whose accommodation is larger than they need
  • up-rates Local Housing Allowance rates by the Consumer Price Index
  • amends the forthcoming statutory child maintenance scheme
  • limits the payment of contributory Employment and Support Allowance to a 12-month period
  • caps the total amount of benefit that can be claimed.

During the Committee Stage, the Government amended the Bill to provide for the establishment of a Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

That all seems quite well-intentioned and innocuous, however the detail is a lot less reassuring. I probably can’t do any better at explaining why than this blog post which I recommend reading – So The Welfare Reform Bill Doesn’t Affect YOU!?!

The aspects of the bill that most worry me are those that impact on sick and disabled people. Those aspects are:

  • Limiting contribution based ESA to one year for people in the WRAG, after which people may only claim income-based ESA if their partner earns less than £7,500 per year. People who have paid their National Insurance and have become ill but are expected to regain some ability to work within two to five years with the right support will receive contribution based ESA for one year. After that they will be made dependant on any partner or family earning over £7,500 per year and have no independent income unless they live alone.
  • Introducing frequent assessments for everyone receiving PIP, even those who will only get worse, or cannot get better, and including those made worse by assessments.
  • Making PIP much harder to get by redefining disability. (Expecting to save 20%) People will be considered able to wash themselves if they can wash only above the waist. I am sure that everyone wishes to clean their genitals and anus. As a diabetic I am supposed to pay very careful attention to looking after my feet, but if I can’t wash them, I won’t get help with it. Changes to the definition of mobility are worrying too.
  • Stopping the practice of treating people disabled from childhood as having paid NI – meaning they will never get contribution based ESA and so never have an independent income
  • No longer pay for spare rooms in social housing, even for disabled people with a proven need such as a separate bed for a partner or carer or a space for mobility equipment or for treatment of some kind.
  • Prevent access to other support by removing PIP from many people. DLA / PIP is a gateway benefit which allows access to things like the blue badge parking scheme, a free bus pass, or proof of disability to access support from energy companies and others. When many people do not qualify for PIP they could lose these things.

There are a whole host of problems for people who are on a low income or unemployed. The bill will:

  • Introduce sanctions – stopping benefits for four weeks, three months, or three years. Punishing people by removing their income will make people homeless and may drive some towards crime. Unfortunately the range of things that you could be sanctioned for is more than just fraud.
  • Punish people for making mistakes on benefit claim forms.
  • Send people on unpaid work experience (“The Work Programme”) and sanction them if they don’t go or if they don’t get a good report. This is the same work programme that has people doing unpaid shelf stacking or washing floors alongside people getting a proper wage for the same job. And a mere 20% of people on the work programme get any kind of employment out of it.
  • Sanction people who don’t improve their appearance when told to. To what degree changes can be ordered is not specified.
  • Charge parents for the use of the Child Support Agency after breaking up. £20 – £50 fee, plus 7 – 12% of ALL income. An extra income tax for not having a partner, or for having escaped from an abusive relationship. Charges are likely to cause people to ignore the CSA – which is the government’s intention – but probably in favour of no support at all.
  • Limit total household benefits to £26,000 per year. (Except when on high rate PIP?) The main problem with this is that people in expensive places like London or Brighton will be forced to move away, potentially leaving family behind and losing local support such as care or child care.
  • Abolished the social fund, which pays for emergencies and provides crisis loans.
  • Introducing vouchers to pay for particular costs – potentially where you can buy your food, clothing, energy and so on will be dictated to you.
  • Force both people in a couple to look for work in order to qualify for Universal Credit. Since Universal Credit replaces housing benefit, low-paid (minimum wage) families will no longer have a choice to send one parent to work while the other cares for the children. Both parents must work.
Thanks to DarkestAngel32 for finding some of these points.
There are some changes that are happening outside of the Welfare Reform Bill. Tax credits are changing from 6 April 2012 including changes to the number of hours of work necessary to qualify. The Local Housing Allowance is already being seriously reduced, meaning that people are being forced to move out of accommodation that is too expensive, without always having somewhere to go. This has already caused some people to move from their own home into care at great cost to local authorities. The Independent Living Fund – which pays for severely disabled people to live in their own homes – has also been cut because it is “not financially sustainable.” The result will be that 20,000 people might have to move back in to care homes at even greater expense.

Some useful links

Invisible Invincible – Pod Delusion report

My report from the Invisible Invincible protest is now on The Pod Delusion podcast. Unfortunately it had to be cut by quite a lot to fit the available space, but you can read my original text below. It is largely based on a previous blog post with some added explanation.

My report starts at 15:17 in to the podcast. An MP3 file is available for download via The Pod Delusion website.

Continue reading “Invisible Invincible – Pod Delusion report”

Help me list exactly what’s wrong in the Welfare Reform Bill

There have been lots of articles and blogs about things that are wrong with the Welfare Reform Bill, but strangely there doesn’t seem to be one complete list. Please comment below to help me create such a list and I will update this text as comments come in.  The Welfare Reform Bill will

  • Replace DLA with PIP, introducing a 20% budget cut and regular assessments.
  • Limit contribution-based ESA for people in the WRAG to one year, after which people may only claim income-based ESA if their partner earns less than £7,500 per year.
  • Reduce child tax credits (not sure how exactly)
  • UC will not cover spare bedrooms in social housing.
  • Charge parents for the use of the CSA after breaking up.
  • Limit total household benefits to £26,000 per year. (Except when on high rate PIP?)
  • No longer count disabled children as having paid national insurance contributions.
  • Abolished the social fund, to be replaced at the whim of local authorities.

Continue reading “Help me list exactly what’s wrong in the Welfare Reform Bill”

Income of a benefit scrounger

Since an article in the Evesham Journal has published the amount of benefits that I receive without any explanation as to why I receive them or what they are  for, I decided to talk about it here. This is what my wife and I receive in benefits each week at the moment.

  • £158.55 Employment Support Allowance
  • £74.63 Housing Benefit
  • £18.35 Council Tax Benefit
  • £100.70 Disability Living Allowance
The Employment Support Allowance listed above is made up of three parts:
  • – £105.95 Personal Allowance
  • – £20.25 Enhanced Disability Premium
  • – £32.35 Support Component
The Disability Living Allowance listed above is made up of two parts
  • – £49.30 Mid-Rate Care Allowance
  • – £51.40 High-Rate Mobility Allowance

The ESA Personal Allowance covers my wife as well as myself. If I were not married then the Personal Allowance would be £67.50, however my wife does not claim Job Seeker’s Allowance since she is caring for me as a full time job. She has been told that she may still be required to attend a work focussed interview. She saves the council thousands of pounds per year in care charges by looking after me.

Our rent and council tax are not paid every week of the year. Total annual amounts are Band A Council Tax, £960, and rent for a one-bedroom housing association flat, 48 x 74.63 = £3582.24.

Disability Living Allowance is not a replacement for income. It is an extra amount to provide for care costs and to allow me to have some mobility by spending it on things like a wheelchair or a car. Our equivalent annual take-home income without DLA is £12,786.84 and with DLA is £18,023.24. If my wife were able to find a job as a science teacher then she would earn a salary of about £27,000 per year, which would easily make us better off after tax even without claiming tax credits, contribution-based ESA and DLA which we would still be entitled to. However, I would then need someone else to look after me.

I need to make it clear that although I am fortunate enough to receive full support for my illness and disability, a great many people do not. For an example, consider Sue Marsh who has one of the most severe  cases of chron’s disease in the country. She has had 7 major life saving operations to remove over 30 obstructions (blockages) from her bowel. She takes chemo-shots every two weeks that suppress her immune system, and exhaustion, pain and nausea plague every single day of her life. She has osteoprosis and malnutrition. She has had major seizures and a stroke. And yet she was inexplicably turned down for Disability Living Allowance.

My claims for ESA and for DLA were difficult and were always in doubt despite my severe illness. It has taken me well over a year to sort out secure housing and income, and on the way to that my wife tried her best to take any and every job available. Although she is a fully qualified science teacher she was unable to find teaching work (even supply teaching) and so took work cleaning and cooking whenever it became available. Because of the sporadic and unpredictable nature of this work we were overpaid housing benefit in 2010 and 2011 and repayments for this are now taken from us every week. We were also evicted from our privately-let home possibly because of our sporadic rent payments, and just about scraped into social housing because of my illness and disability. My health is so bad at this point that my wife has to look after me full time.

With the advent of the Welfare Reform Bill and Personal Independence Payments which will replace Disability Living Allowance things will get much harder. I am much less likely to get PIP, and the process to find out will be hard and will have a negative impact on my health. Between ESA and PIP I am likely to be reassessed far more frequently and with much less chance of being awarded the help that I need. I am very afraid for my future and worried that I will be put into the Work Related Activity Group and have my mobility and care allowances taken away, simultaneously requiring me to work but removing the last bit of support which might allow me to do so.

I hope that by making this information public that I will add to people’s understanding.

Welfare Reform bill – email to my MP

This is the email that I have just sent to my MP ahead of the Welfare Reform Bill activity in parliament this week.

Dear Mr Luff,

I am writing to you once again about the welfare reform bill, which as I am sure you know will return to the commons on Wednesday.

I have received your previous letter dated 11th January 2012 and I am sorry to say I feel that your response was inadequate. In that letter you assured me that the the changes to DLA are the result of one of the biggest consultation ever carried out by the Department of Work and Pensions; however I must inform you that the report which I sent to you and asked you to read proved without a doubt that the government had not only ignored the results of that consultation, but had completely lied about the results in order to claim support where there was none.

You may be aware of a protest that took place at Oxford Circus in London this Saturday just passed. I was one of the people involved in that protest and as a result I have been interviewed by LBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, and many more. I was interviewed live as the top story on BBC London Radio news. I can safely say that there is a lot of interest in our objections to this bill and that the people affected do NOT trust either Iain Duncan Smith or your government. If you care to look I have included links to many of the news stories on my own blog, a link to which is at the end of this email.

I have many objections to the Welfare Reform Bill. By the government’s own admission, the change to PIP will remove support from a great many people. The cumulative effects of this change, and other proposed changes, will be to leave people dependent on more expensive and more acute services. In the end this will cost the government far more than is saved, and will lead to people moving out of communities and back into care homes and institutions.

There are a great many other things wrong with the Bill but what is even more concerning is that way that the government has lied – and I use that strong word quite deliberately – and misled the public to promote their position. They have ridden on the back of scrounger rhetoric from the tabloids, rhetoric which Anne Begg of the Work and Pensions select committee said was being fueled by careless press releases from the DWP. I would go further and suggest that the DWP and the ministers involved are deliberately providing incomplete and out-of-context information to provoke these headlines such as “75% are faking” and other similar attacks.

In short, I do not trust the government, I believe the welfare reform bill to be an irresponsible, mean, penny-pinching and harmful piece of legislation that was drafted without thought or care for the evidence of its impact. I urge you to pause this legislation and review its impact, or at the very least, do not overturn some of the meagre efforts that the Lords have made to mitigate some of its worse effects.

Yours Sincerely,

Latentexistence

A bus to nowhere

You may recall last summer I made a video highlighting the difficulty that I had in getting between the village where I live and the local town in the electric wheelchair that I had been given by a relative. Following that video I was informed that a new wheelchair-accessible bus service would be starting up between the two places. Fantastic timing. However, since then, I have been quite seriously ill and unable to even go out in my wheelchair and I have been fortunate enough to have my father help drive me to medical appointments. Today I decided to take the new bus in to town for the first time since it started.

The new bus route 552 out of Evesham and it’s accompanying bus 553 which goes around the loop the other way are advertised as running low-floor wheelchair accessible buses on the timetables and when my wife spoke to Henshaws, the bus company the runs the service, she was assured of that fact.

Unfortunately this is what happened when I tried to board the bus today.

Accessible bus fail
Accessible Bus Fail

As you can see, it is in fact rather inaccessible for a person in a wheelchair.

The bus driver was very apologetic and tried to be helpful. She explained that the usual bus for that route was undergoing maintenance and that it had been substituted with an older bus for the day. She told us that the 553 which goes the other way around the loop was the usual accessible bus but would take a long time to arrive, and suggested that we could also try another bus that passes through the village, the 247 run by First Group. We decided to try the 247 but the bus stop for that service is actually at the top of the hill more than half a mile away. The 247 also does not use accessible buses all the time and so it was only a chance that I would be able to get on it.

Fortunately that bus was wheelchair-accessible. The bus driver helpfully told us that only his bus was accessible today and told us when we could get his bus back from the bus station. Here’s me on a wheelchair accessible bus for the first time.

Me on a bus in a wheelchair!

So what should I take from all this? Well obviously things are improving. The introduction of a (normally) accessible bus service proves that people are making an effort, and hopefully by the target of 2015 all bus services will be accessible all of the time. However, at the moment travelling in a wheelchair is thoroughly unpredictable. If a bus needs maintenance, no one thinks anything of swapping in a bus that wheelchair users can’t get on. If there is someone in a wheelchair already on board the bus, then tough, there is no room for another one. Other people have told me about problems with getting people to move out of the wheelchair space on the bus, and in many areas the buses are decidedly not wheelchair accessible.

What is worrying about this is that with the proposed Personal Independence Payments under the Welfare Reform bill, it is assumed that because of accessibility laws there is no problem travelling as a disabled person now, and therefore disabled people do not need the extra money to help with travel that DLA provided.  This is definitely not the case. Now that I receive DLA I have ordered a car through the Motability scheme and using that will get me to where I need to go reliably and on time, without the possibility of not being able to get my wheelchair into it one time out of ten, or suddenly having to wait for a different car. Clearly the world is not yet equal for disabled people and government ministers are deluded if they believe otherwise.

Welfare Reform Bill media links 17/01/2012

This list will be updated through the day. Please send me any links to relevant radio and TV that I haven’t got. Twitter @latentexistence or email latentexistence at gmail.com.

The House of Lords will meet from 2:30pm today and you can view it on the Parliament TV website.

BBC Radio Merseyside

Kaliya Franklin spoke to Radio Merseyside at 7:40 this morning. Listen on iPlayer. (Jump to 1:40 in.)

Radio 4

Home Affair editor Mark Easton outlines the history of the allowance. And Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller and Lord Colin Low, president of the Disability Alliance, debate opposition to proposed changes.

Welfare reform “rushed through” (mp3)

 

Radio 5

The Victoria Derbyshire show on Radio 5 discussing the Welfare Reform Bill on the 17th January 2012. With Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Kaliya Frankilin, Louise Bolotin, Jane Young and Minster for disabled people, Maria Miller.

Radio 4 World At One

Sue Marsh talking about Welfare Reform on Radio 4 World At One

 

Sue Marsh on BBC News Channel this afternoon

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson interviewed by BBC News

Channel 4 News

Newsnight

Print media and web links are listed at all big ideas start small.

DLA Story

I’ve been sick for more than a decade. I have struggled to keep working for as much of that as I can, even starting my own computer maintenance business, but I have spent a lot of time unable to work. A few years ago I claimed Disability Living Allowance as I had mobility problems and needed care. I was initially turned down and although I eventually won on appeal the process took more than a year.

That was awarded for two years from the date that I first applied and so it soon ran out and required a fresh application. Unfortunately I was too ill to face completing the fifty page form, collecting medical evidence and going through the medical check again and since I was working, I let it go despite being entitled to it.

In August 2010 I became seriously ill once again and eventually in October 2011 I accepted that I wasn’t going to improve any time soon and so I applied for DLA again. This time I received help from the Worcester branch of the DIAL network who asked me questions and filled in my forms for me. The process was still long and exhausting but at least it got done. A few days ago I heard that I had been awarded DLA with a high rate mobility allowance and middle rate care allowance for a period of five years. I was taken by surprise about this as other people with M.E. often have to take their application to appeal.

DLA will make a huge difference to my life. The first thing I did was use the 17 weeks of backdated DLA to pay off my credit card, which had been racking up debt because of the extra costs of living with my illness. Last week I ordered a car from the Motability scheme, which I will pay for by handing over all of my DLA mobility allowance – about £50 per week – for the duration of the three year lease. Having a car will mean that I can leave the house – which I rarely leave at all apart from to go to medical appointments – and I will be able to go shopping with my wife, collect my own medicines from the pharmacy, visit the doctor and the hospital without having to take my father out of work to drive me there, and visit friends who I can only talk to over the telephone or internet at the moment. This car will open up a whole new life for me.

In addition to the car my DLA will pay for things like pre-prepared food that I can access when my wife is unable to be at home to care for me, and to cover the costs of the more expensive specific foods that I need if I am to keep my meals down. It will also pay for extra energy costs for the hot baths that I need to get some pain relief in my aching burning muscles, and air conditioning when the summer heat makes me so ill that I collapse.

In short, my DLA will be life-changing. The government’s plans to replace it under the welfare reform bill and cut 20% of the cost by withholding it from people that desperately need it are a dangerous and heartless thing. Please, sign the petition to pause the welfare reform bill.

Responsible Reform report media roundup

The Responsible Reform report on the replacement of DLA by PIP has slowly been gaining media attention. Here are some of the appearances that I know of.

Sue Marsh on BBC Radio 5 with Maria Miller, minister for disabled people

Sue Marsh on BBC Newsnight with Chris Grayling, Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions

Note that what Chris Grayling said here was untrue.

Baroness Meacher on BBC News

Margo Milne on talkSPORT radio

Kaliya Franklin on Technical Difficulties, Resonance FM

A transcript is available at Indigo Jo Blogs.

Latentexistence on The Pod Delusion, also Resonance FM (Starts at 9:36)

A transcript is available on my previous blog post.

Sue Perkins on The News Quiz on Radio 4 (Starts at 8:44)

The News Quiz on iPlayer

More stuff:

For many links to articles around the web please see  the “all big ideas start small” blog.

Read the report: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/response_to_proposed_dla_reforms.pdf

Sign the petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968