Tag Archive | disability benefits

The Reality of Welfare Reform

When I first started on disability research, I just saw the numbers. I saw that 40% of ESA claimants told they are fit to work then appeal that decision, and most of them win. I saw that nurses under-award points for people with physical health conditions, and physiotherapists under-award points for people with mental health conditions. I saw that most assessments are carried out by either nurses or physiotherapists. I saw that decision makers are not consistent in the accuracy or quality of the decisions they make.

In all of this I saw the fear and the stress for ill people going through an assessment process that they knew to be inaccurate. I saw people calling for, and suggesting, improvements to the assessment process that could make it more accurate. I saw the government say that it accepts recommendations from the independent review, and then either not carry them out or carry them out so poorly that they brought little, if any, improvement.

With my head concentrating on figures I started to become numb to the reality. I forgot how shocking the statistics – the real ones – and the stories are. I told a friend that fraud in the disability benefits is less than half of a per cent, and was amazed at how surprised she was.

So then I started to read some stories. I read about people who cannot afford to put glass back into their broken windows and whose houses are falling into disrepair. I read about people being evicted from their homes. I read about people having cooked meals once every other day, eating bread in between. I read about people skipping medicine because it had to be taken with food and they didn’t any. I read about people having to fund-raise for equipment they need that their local authority won’t provide.

It made me think. I’m middle class so I haven’t seen much of the grinding effects of poverty before. I’ve spoken with people who think benefits are adequate and there isn’t a problem. But I’m seeing the problem now; I know people who are struggling; I’m seeing what happens when there isn’t enough money and there isn’t enough health. I’m seeing the despair.

I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people who may return to work from sickness benefits should receive benefit for only one year, even though the majority are still too ill to work at that point. I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people under 35 can live in shared accommodation, and thus reducing the housing benefit, without considering the health needs of these people. I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people should be charged for under-occupying, even though the under-occupation is this and past government’s fault for not building enough social housing.

And there are so many more cuts and changes. Benefits aren’t being uprated in line with inflation, wages, food or fuel. The Independent Living Fund has been closed. Council Tax Benefit is being reduced. Disability Living Allowance is being replaced with a benefit that ministers knew in advance would cut 20% off the money going to disabled people.

People have ended their lives. People are going without food and medicine. People are becoming homeless.

And this is because of the changes this government is making.

We need to realise what is going on. We need to get angry about what is being done, and let the government know this is not what we want. We need to start protecting those who are sick from extra poverty and stress, and stop listening to the unfounded scrounger rhetoric.

Don’t let the government get away with this. There is still time to make changes that will work, but the government needs to know that we want them. We can stop people dying of despair, losing their homes or becoming even more ill. But we need to let the government know.

Esther McVey and the Tipping Point

The Hardest Hit campaign recently brought out a report, the Tipping Point, about the impact of the welfare reform on disabled people.  Various papers ran an article on this report, including a statement from Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey, such as the one reported by the BBC:

Ester McVey said there were a lot of misleading stories about the impact of welfare reforms on disabled people.

“The truth is – as the Paralympics showed – the UK continues to be a world leader in the rights for disabled people.

“However, too often under the current system we are wasting money on overpayments where people’s conditions have changed, with £630m a year on DLA alone.”[1]

Are there any misleading stories?  Yes, but not the ones Ms McVey is implying.

Here are a few examples of what is implied or stated about fraud in the benefits system:

“Half a million people are set to lose disability benefits as the Government pushes ahead with plans to rid the system of abuse and fraud, Iain Duncan Smith says.”[2]

“The amount of money lost to benefit fraud and error has soared by a staggering £200million since the Coalition took office – despite repeated pledges from David  Cameron to fight the scandal.”[3]

“More than £1BILLION lost to disability benefit fraud and error – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”[4]

“Too much of what workers pay is wasted in a bloated welfare system where fraud and abuse is rife.” [5]

What about the ones McVey is implying?  From the rest of the article and what McVey says, I assume she is talking about articles discussing negative impacts of the reform on disabled people.  For example, the fact that the government is cutting 20% off the working-age Disability Living Allowance bill.  By definition, this means less money and less support for the disabled.

Or the fact that it is ending the Independent Living Fund.

Or that whilst the government is removing billions from welfare, all the cuts focus on just 1/3 of benefit recipients; i.e. on anyone who is not a pensioner.

Demos calculated that disabled people and their carers are £500 million worse off.  They report deteriorations in mental health, increasing isolation and increasing burden on informal care.[6]

These are just a few of the impacts.

Is the UK a world leader for disabled rights?  Well, the UK is below average for proportions of disabled people in jobs.  Although just over 90% of disabled people have an income from work, benefits or both (making UK the third best of OECD countries for this measure), the UK has one of the toughest tests for incapacity and one of the lowest rates of payments.  The personal income of disabled people, whether in work of not, is amongst the lowest of OECD countries.  So whilst many disabled people manage to get an income together from somewhere – whether work, disability benefits or other benefits – this income is low compared to both the income of disabled people in other countries and the income of non-disabled people in this country.

The Paralympics showed very little.  They did not show the increase in disability hate crime in this country, or the increase in pejorative language used by the media towards benefit recipients.  Transport for London did introduce ramps for 16 of its tube stations, but the number of accessible stations remains at 66 of 270.  Not all buses will take people in wheelchairs, even when there is a ramp available and working.  Small train stations remain inaccessible – I recently took a 2 hour detour when station staff forgot to get me off at the right station, and the station after did not have wheelchair access to the platform for trains going back to where I was supposed to be.

Are we wasting too much money on overpayments?  £630 million is a figure estimated by the previous minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller.  It refers to individuals where change in circumstances has been so gradual that a definite cut-off for no longer qualifying for DLA cannot be identified.  But Ms Miller did not also estimate how much is underpaid because people who gradually become eligible for DLA do not apply at the moment when they cross the boundary from not qualifying to qualifying.  Apart from this type of under- or over-payment, £180 million is overpaid due to errors and £310 million is underpaid due to errors.