A New Place Of Exile

Richard Hutton

Category: Welfare and Disability

Some of the cases which illustrate the truth of ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

A number of media commentators have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the storyline in Ken Loach’s recently released film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’; which depicts a man left disabled by a heart-attack, struggling to gain access to social security, due to a variety of bureaucratic obstructions which bedevil the benefit system.

Moreover, Iain Duncan Smith – the key government minister responsible for implementing reforms to social security, since 2010 – openly repudiated the movie’s validity; describing it as an unrealistic and unfair portrayal.

In reality, there has been a catalogue of individual cases which demonstrate that the film’s depiction of the difficulties disabled people encounter, when trying to access benefits, are not only real, but systemic.

The following list does not represent the entirety of these cases – only some of the ones which have been reported in the media.

 

5th October 2010

“I say to those watching today and who are genuinely sick, disabled or are retired. You have nothing to fear…This means we will have enough resources to provide peace of mind to the very vulnerable. This matters to us. This government and this party don’t regard caring for the needy as a burden. It is a proud duty to provide financial security to the most vulnerable members of our society and this will not change. This is our contract with the most vulnerable”.

– Iain Duncan Smith, State Secretary for Work and Pensions.

 

 

2011

22nd May 2011

‘Stress of Tory benefits tests killed our dad, family claims’

“A dad-of-two was killed by the stress of facing the ­Government’s tough new medical test for benefit claimants, say his grieving family. David Groves, 56, died of a massive heart ­attack the night before his medical as he scoured the internet for ways to raise cash in case he lost his entitlement. He had claimed incapacity benefit for three years after doctors ordered him to stop ­working following a heart attack and ­several strokes.

His widow Sandra, 57, said being lumped in with ‘dole scroungers’ and the fear of ­financial hardship had a­ ­devastating effect. David – who worked for 40 years as a miner and telecoms engineer – had ­already gone through a stressful eight-month appeal process to keep his £91-a-week ­benefits” (Mirror).

 

21st June 2011

‘Jobseeker took own life’

“A man with mental health problems who was worried about benefit cuts killed himself while he was searching for a job on the south coast, an inquest heard. Paul Willcoxson, 33, was found hanging in Pignals Enclosure, near Hollands Wood campsite, Lyndhurst, by walkers on April 14…a suicide letter and next of kin note were found in which he expressed concerns about Government cuts, Southampton Coroner’s Court heard” (Daily Echo)

 

12th July 2011

‘Woman who drowned in drain was upset about health check’

“A woman found dead in a drain had been worried about attending a medical appointment to assess disability benefits, an inquest heard. The body of Elaine Christian, 57, was found in Holderness Drain by a mother returning from a school run. A post mortem revealed she had died from drowning, despite having more than ten self-inflicted cuts on her wrists.

The inquest in Hull was told Mrs Christian had been worrying about a meeting she was due to have to discuss her entitlement to disability benefits. Her spiralling health problems meant she had to give up her job at Cooplands bakery in Greenwich Avenue, where she was described as a cheerful, hardworking and trusted staff member. Her husband Robert’s model shop business in Holderness Road, east Hull, had recently collapsed, plunging the couple into financial difficulties. As a result, the couple were being forced to sell Mrs Christian’s childhood home in Staveley Road, Bilton Grange” (Hull Daily Mail)

 

24th July 2011

‘Atos case study: Larry Newman’

“Larry Newman was assessed by an Atos staff member and awarded zero points. To qualify for sickness benefit he needed 15. He died from lung problems soon after” (Guardian)

 

25th August 2011

‘Southfields dad committed suicide after housing benefit cut’

“A desperate man who lined up three kitchen knives before stabbing himself twice in the heart, blamed cuts in housing benefit. Unemployed Richard Sanderson took his own life after writing three suicide notes which were laid out neatly on a bed in a meticulously planned act…

Mr Sanderson, who said he could not face the thought of his family being homeless, stabbed himself twice in the heart with a kitchen knife on May 29 at home in Augustus Road, Southfields, after years of being unable to find work finally took its toll, an inquest heard.”

According to the Coroner: “his housing benefit was about to be cut and the family would be at risk of having nowhere to live, and being ordered to give up his training course because of the Job Centre’s rules” (Wandsworth Guardian)

 

9th November 2011

‘Army veteran and his wife die in tragic “suicide pact” after becoming “too poor to live through the winter”‘

“A newly married couple forced to live on £57 a week killed themselves in despair after being ‘abandoned’ by social services, their friends claimed yesterday. The bodies of Mark and Helen Mullins were found lying side by side at their run-down home in an apparent suicide pact. News of the tragedy emerged yesterday as friends told how they had been forced to live ‘hand to mouth’, making a weekly 12-mile trip to a soup kitchen on foot after Mrs Mullins’ benefits were stopped 18 months ago” (Daily Mail).

The couple had been interviewed, the previous year; at a Coventry soup kitchen which they depended upon. Mark Mullins was quoted saying that:

“The job centre decided Helen couldn’t sign on as she was incapable of employment, as she has no literacy and numeracy skills. However the incapacity people wouldn’t recognise her disabilities until she has been properly diagnosed, which led to month after month of seeing specialists, we’re in a catch 22 situation” (Coventry Telegraph).

 

2012

23rd February 2012

‘Benefits man found hanged, inquest heard’

“A man who had ‘significant worries’ was found hanging in his home by a neighbour, a Burnley inquest heard…Neighbour Kevin Martin said the last time he saw Mr Monk he was worried that his benefits had been cut” (Lancashire Telegraph)

 

24th April 2012 

‘Norwich man killed himself “over back-to-work fears”‘

“A schizophrenic city man who was turning his life around killed himself after becoming worried at having to return to work, an inquest heard. Martin Rust, 36, was declared fit to work following a Department of Work and Pensions assessment in September, two months before he was found dead at his home in Parmentergate Court in the city centre on November 21…

Coroner William Armstrong said the DWP’s decision “caused distress and may well have had an adverse effect”, recording that Mr Rust had committed suicide while suffering from a treatment-resistant mental illness” (Norwich Evening News).

 

30th April 2012

‘Man with life-threatening blood clots and open leg ulcers loses benefits after job centre labels him fit for work’

“A man who is suffering from horrendous blood clots and open ulcers has lost his disability benefits – after job centre doctors labelled him fit for work. James Major, 33, struggles to walk, and has been told by specialists at two hospitals he would be risking his life if he went back to work. ‘I started claiming sick benefit because I obviously couldn’t work. After this I went for a medical at the Job Centre and failed it, but the doctor there said I was fit enough to work. At the time I could only walk with crutches. ‘I was told that I would have to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). But when I went to sign up for JSA, the staff there said I was clearly not able to work so I couldn’t claim. ‘I didn’t have a choice but to go back to sea.’

But being on his feet all the time only worsened his condition, and he went on to develop septicaemia. After his second dash back to land, he tried to claim again, but was told the same as he was the previous time. ‘I was advised to take legal action because of the situation and we won at a tribunal. I was ecstatic and we also got some money backdated.’ Although the situation was resolved for a few months, Mr Major then had to go for a routine medical review which once again deemed him fit for work. He added: ‘But I failed the medical and I am now back at square one. I now have to appeal again like the first time round” (Daily Mail).

 

17th May 2012

‘Dad’s fight for justice after son died six weeks after his benefits were cut’

“A dad whose son died of pneumonia just six weeks after his incapacity benefits were axed is fighting to have the decision overturned. Mark Scott, 46, who suffered from anxiety, epilepsy and chronic alcoholism, was left penniless when jobcentre doctors said he was fit to work.

He died on January 26 in the Southport flat where he lived alone. Dad Cliff, from Formby, told the ECHO that his son sank into a “deep depression” after being stripped of the disability living allowance and housing benefit in December” (Liverpool Echo).

 

31st May 2012:

‘Father who suffered 14 heart attacks “fit for work”‘.

“ONE of the world’s longest surviving kidney dialysis patients has hit out at the UK Government’s ‘Nazi’ tactics after being declared fit to work in a scheme designed to get more people off incapacity benefit.

Paul Mickleburgh, 53, has undergone a series of operations over the past 33 years, including four failed transplants, and has suffered 14 heart attacks.

The father-of-three says he is the victim of changes which involve transferring tens of thousands of Scots claimants off incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance and on to the new Employment and Support Allowance” (Herald Scotland).

 

17th June 2012

‘My ill wife had to fight for benefits up until she died – a woman who spent two years fighting to stop her disability benefits from being taken away has died just weeks after finally winning her battle against bureaucrats’.

“Karen Sherlock, 44, was declared fit to work in 2010 even though her eyesight was failing and she needed a kidney transplant. Her husband Nigel said it was a disgrace she was refused benefits and said her battle finally took its toll on her health.

Although she struggled to get out of bed, it was deemed she could work by officials at Atos Healthcare, which assesses benefits claimants on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. Last year she lost an appeal against the decision but continued her campaign. In April her £96-a-week benefits were stopped, plunging her into despair as her health deteriorated.

Although the decision was effectively overturned a few weeks ago when she was granted Employment and Support Allowance, she died on June 8” (Express).

 

19th June 2012

‘Inquest hears of Cumbrian dad’s health benefits worries’

“Fears over losing his incapacity benefits and concerns about his health led a Whitehaven father-of-two to take his own life, an inquest has ruled. Carl Payne, 42, was found dead in remote woodland in Ennerdale on August 7 last year having taken a fatal overdose. A message saying “sorry, I love you” to his family was found in his pocket.

An inquest heard yesterday that Mr Payne, of Hilltop Road, Kells, was struggling with various medical conditions which prevented him from working. He was also anxious at having received a letter from Jobcentre Plus to inform him that the government was to carry out a national review of the benefits system….Coroner David Roberts concluded: “It is clear that he was worried that his benefits would be affected, and although he had no immediate financial worries and plenty of family support, he was perhaps concerned about depending too much on his family” (News & Star)

 

4th July 2012

‘Birmingham dad dies of heart condition after being ruled “fit for work”‘

“A Birmingham dad died from a serious heart condition – weeks after Government assessors stopped his benefits and ruled he was fit for work. Paul Turner, 52, from Erdington, was ordered to find a job in February following a medical review with doctors. But he died on April 2 from ischaemic heart disease – caused, his family claim, by the stress of losing his benefits.

The dad-of-one was medically retired from his job as a stores manager for West Midlands Travel in 2000 after he suffered a heart attack. He later had to undergo a double bypass because of the condition. Mr Turner, who also had angina, was claiming around £400 per month incapacity benefit until he was called in for a review at the Midlands Disability Benefits Centre in Five Ways in January. Three weeks later he received a letter stating he was not entitled to the new Employment and Support Allowance, the controversial new payment that has replaced Incapacity Benefit” (Birmingham Mail).

 

30th July 2012

‘Disability tests “sending sick and disabled back to work”‘

“Stephen Hill was sent to his first Work Capability Assessment in 2010 when he gave up his job as a sandwich delivery man after being referred for tests on his heart. His wife Denise, who was with him at the assessment, said: “She checked him out. She did his blood pressure and his heart and said to see a doctor as soon as possible.” Despite the assessor telling Mr Hill to seek urgent medical advice, he was still found fit for work. In the meantime doctors had diagnosed him with heart failure. He won his appeal but he was ordered to attend another assessment.

“He got a letter for another medical and I couldn’t believe it,” said Mrs Hill. “He’d got to go for a medical when he was waiting for a heart operation.” But he was again declared fit for work, with the assessor declaring: “Significant disability due to cardiovascular problems seems unlikely.”

Mr Hill died of a heart attack five weeks later (Telegraph).

 

31st August 2012

‘Benefits appeal woman Cecilia Burns from Strabane has died’

“A cancer sufferer, who had her benefits cut by government officials who said she was fit to work, has died. Cecilia Burns, 51, from Strabane, County Tyrone, had started a campaign in February to have the decision overturned. Ms Burns had her benefits cut after she was assessed by government contractor Atos Healthcare. She had her benefits reinstated just a few weeks ago but died on Monday” (BBC)

 

12th September 2012

‘Mining union slams disability and sickness benefit tests’

““A mining union has branded disability and sick benefit tests a “scandal” after a woman with severe health problems was judged fit for work…The latest case involves a 55-year-old miner’s wife from the Easington area, who has not been named, who was given zero disability points following her 40-minute assessment, despite suffering from sight problems, arthritis in the spine and depression. However, on appeal, which the woman had to wait 11 months for, the former machinist was awarded 24 points by the tribunal” (Sunderland Echo).

 

14th Sepember 2012

‘Benefits cuts blamed for son’s fatal seizure’

“The Government is being blamed over the death of a 29-year-old Oldham epileptic who suffered a massive seizure his family says was caused by the stress of having his disability benefits cut. Colin Traynor suffered grand mal epilepsy from the age of 14 months and despite medication the condition was never controlled, Oldham West and Royton MP Michael Meacher told the Commons. Mr Traynor was assessed as fit for work in the Government’s overhaul of the benefits system, but died less than four months later” (Oldham Chronicle)

 

1st November 2012

‘Atos benefits bullies killed my sick dad, says devastated Kieran, 13’

““Kieran McArdle told the Daily Record in a harrowing letter how his father Brian, 57, collapsed and died the day after his disability benefits were stopped. He had been assessed by Atos and deemed “fit for work”.The youngster said a previous stroke on Boxing Day last year had caused a blood clot on Brian’s brain. He was left paralysed down his left side, unable to speak properly, blind in one eye and barely able to eat or dress.

But he was still summoned to an Atos “work capability assessment” – part of the Con-Dem Government’s drive to cut billions from the welfare bill. Kieran says he had another stroke days before his appointment because of stress, but was still determined to attend. A month later, former security guard Brian got a letter telling him he would lose his disability benefits on September 26.

Kieran said his dad’s health went rapidly downhill. He believes constant worry about how he would survive without the cash he needed robbed Brian of the will to live. The day after his benefits were stopped, Brian collapsed and died in the street near his home in Larkhall, Lanarkshire. He had suffered a heart attack” (Daily Record).

 

2013

31st January 2013

‘Atos scandal: Man found fit to work despite peeling bones’

“Man found fit to work despite peeling bones: Kenny Nicol was passed as fit to work, even though after seven operations bits of his bone still peel into his flesh…He scored zero on his new Department for Work and Pensions test, carried out by Atos. The former oil worker, of Buckie, Aberdeenshire, can’t walk further than 100 yards without his joints swelling and suffers constant pain in his shoulders, hips, knees and hands” (Daily Record).

 

13th February 2013

‘St Agnes man judged fit to work and then found dead within a year’

“A chronic alcoholic who had previously suffered two broken hips and used a walking frame was told he was fit to work in a benefits test. Nine months later, John McGinty was dead. He was found at home by his son, surrounded by around 100 empty Special Brew cans” (West Briton).

 

25th February 2013

‘Blind woman ordered back to work wins benefits battle’

“A blind woman has won a fight to have her benefits reinstated after she was told to get a job. Margaret Allen had to give up work because of her condition but was called up to a controversial ‘fit-to-work’ assessment – part of the government’s overhaul of the welfare system. The 49-year-old has progressive retinitis pigmentosa – a degenerative incurable disorder – and is registered blind. But an assessor ruled that she was not eligible for help and told her she must go back to work…“The assessor sat there wiggling his fingers in front of my eyes to test me. I took along my blind certificate which has detailed information on it and asked if they wanted to see it – but they weren’t interested” (Manchester Evening News)

 

25th February 2013

‘Disabled man in “constant pain” told he is fit for work’

“A Camberley man who has been housebound for more than two years with crippling medical problems has been told by the Government he is fit to work. Kelvin Crane, 50, was shocked to receive the news from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when he was called in for a routine assessment of his Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefit on October 25 at Camberley Job Centre. He was told, despite four heart attacks, two strokes and the loss of his right leg, that he was considered to have ‘limited capability for work’ after an assessment of his circumstances on September 12, which could potentially require him to seek employment” (Get Surrey).

 

16th March 2013

‘Benefits hell for Thalidomide patient’

“A thalidomide victim is losing her disability benefits because welfare officials say she is fit enough to work. Martine White, 50, has also had brain surgery and is due to undergo a spine operation. She was stunned when the Department for Work and Pensions said her benefits were stopping as she could not prove she was unfit to work” (Daily Star).

 

25th March 2013

‘Anxiety over Atos fit-for-work test brings on father’s heart attack’

“A dad who started feeling seriously unwell during his interview with Atos assessors – and suffered a massive heart attack the next day – has been deemed fit to work. Jim Elliott says he was struggling to breathe, sweating and had chest pains during his 20-minute work capability assessment earlier this month. He was given a glass of water – but then the assessors simply pressed on with the interview” (Daily Record).

 

17th April 2013

‘Benefits withdrawal led to man’s suicide’

“A former farm labourer shot himself after learning that his benefits were being stopped, an inquest heard. Nicholas Peter Barker, of Bridge Farm Close, Helmsley, was found dead in his front garden with a shotgun at his feet by his neighbour on December 10 last year”. He had been left with paralysis, after he suffered a brain haemorrhage; but did not gain the required number of points during his work capability assessment to qualify for continued support (Gazette Herald).

 

13th May 2013

‘Suicide tragedy gran “spent winter without heating to save money”‘

“A grandmother thought to have killed herself over the Government’s ‘bedroom tax ‘ had already spent the winter without heating to save cash, neighbours said.” Stephanie Bottrill “was distraught at moving out of her home of 18 years because she could not afford the extra £20-a-week in rent needed after her housing benefit was cut” (Birmingham Mail)

 

28th July 2013

‘I’m Proud of our welfare reforms’

“This government has embarked on one of the most aggressive programmes of welfare reform Britain has ever seen, and we already have a proud record of achievement…I don’t apologise for attempting to do what previous governments have shied away from, bringing in major changes to make the welfare state fair to both the people who use it and the taxpayers who pay for it. We have been ambitious and will continue to push ahead with these reforms, but we will do so in a safe and responsible way” – Iain Duncan Smith (Guardian)

 

10th August 2013

‘Man collapsed but still “fit for work”‘

“John Flanagan, 64, has a degenerating spine, is unable to stand or walk far, heart disease and problems with his nervous system but was told by benefits test firm Atos that he could do a job. Six weeks after the assessment Mr Flanagan collapsed due to problems with his nervous system and was rushed to hospital” (Derbyshire Times)

 

13th August 2013

‘Former Darlington nurse in fitness to work dispute’

“A former nurse who suffers from a chronic lung condition has hit out at Government officials for cutting his benefits after he was deemed fit for work. Michael Easby, from Darlington, was forced to give up work as an accident and emergency nurse last year, when he was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).

The 51-year-old was also recently diagnosed with a bowel tumour as well as suffering from post-traumatic stress following an assault during his time as a nurse at Darlington Memorial Hospital…he was declared fit to work last year, following an assessment on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions” (Northern Echo).

 

15th August 2013

‘Haunted by bedroom tax debt torment’

“A man saddled with extra debt after a hike in his rent because of the bedroom tax took his own life, an inquest heard. Bolton Coroner’s Court was told John Walker, from Marsh Green, was found hanged at his home by his former partner Susan Martin in May after she went to his home as he had sounded upset and low during their phone conversations.

The court heard Mr Walker, 57, had been worried about mounting financial problems with loans and his credit card due to being out of work, and had also disagreed with the JobCentre who had told him he was fit to work despite his complaints of an injury to his back” (Wigan Today)

 

31st August 2013:

‘Chell stroke victim loses benefits cut battle’

“Stroke victim Karen Cotton has had her benefits halved – despite being left with mobility problems after a brain operation. Since the cash was pulled last year the mother-of-two and her husband David have been forced to sell their home to help pay the bills” (Stoke Sentinel).

 

3rd September 2013

‘Crawley man killed himself after losing benefits’

“Unemployed electrician Lee Robinson, 39, took his own life after his housing benefit and council tax benefit was taken away. He is thought to be the first person in Sussex whose suicide is officially linked to recent benefits cuts…

When benefits changes were introduced by the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) Mr Robinson lost his automatic entitlement to employment support allowance (ESA). He also struggled with depression, was taking antidepressants and had some contact with mental health services in Crawley” (The Argus)

 

13th September 2013

‘Scathing Town Hall report reveals new threat to disabled people who fought to save benefits payments’

Asim Emin “snapped the ligaments in his knee 10 years ago playing football, when he was 40. He says he has had six operations – each followed by six months of physiotherapy – to fix it, but each time it goes again.

He is unable to walk without a stick, and a decade of putting his weight on one side has led to back and nerve problems. As a result he lost his job as a delivery driver, became depressed and turned to alcohol, and says he is now dependent. “I didn’t want to go out and face people,” he says.

In 2011, he applied, for the first time, for disability living allowance, and was awarded the higher level for both care and transport. “My life immediately improved,” he said. “I was able to buy myself a fridge, a television and a cooker. Most importantly, I was able to buy a small car, which had to be especially adapted at the factory for me. “That meant I was able to get out and about, to hospital appointments and the shops. I stopped drinking.”

Then the government’s new reforms came in and he was assessed by ATOS. “I had MRI scans of my knee and back and a letter from my doctor,” he says. “But they sent a doctor from abroad who said I was able to run and walk and play. It’s all lies. So they took the car away and stopped my benefits” (Islington Tribune).

 

18th September 2013

‘Registered disabled – but polio sufferer is ‘fit to work”

“A disabled man who spent years wearing leg braces and has suffered mobility difficulties ever since has reacted with dismay to being deemed fit to work under the Government’s reassessment scheme. Despite being registered disabled, Tony Holley…scored zero out of 15 points in the Work Capability Assessment process” (Western Morning News).

 

22nd September 2013

‘Heartbroken dad blames benefits axemen for driving his ill son to commit suicide’

“David Barr, 28, threw himself from the Forth Road Bridge after learning the decision to stop his benefit had been upheld. An Atos assessor had ruled David was fit to work despite being on anti-psychotic sedatives, sleeping tablets and antidepressants. His condition was recorded on a medical assessment as “anxiety and depression”. But his dad David snr, 57, said he had a host of problems including sleeplessness, memory loss and paranoia – and believes he may have been a schizophrenic” (Daily Record).

 

26th September 2013

‘Retired blind man is ‘fit for work”

“A blind man who was forced to take early retirement 12 years ago was left in shock when he was told he is now fit to return to work. Richard Alcock, of Craven Street, Bury, attended an assessment which ruled he was no longer entitled to employment support allowance” (Bury Times)

 

7th October 2013

‘Grieving son blasts benefit cuts: My dad looked like a concentration camp prisoner before he died’

“A grieving son whose father looked like a ‘concentration camp prisoner’ after his benefits were slashed has blamed Coalition cuts for his death. Ian Carress scored zero points in a controversial government welfare test which ordered him back to work despite the 43-year-old suffering a catalogue of health problems including failing eyesight and the nerves in his arms being removed.

In the last 12 months of his life, the former school caretaker’s weight plummeted and he grew so thin the bones on his shoulder were visible to his shocked family. Ten months after his Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which cut his fortnightly state pay from around £130 to just £80, father-of-one Mr Carress, from Bebington, Merseyside, had died” (Mirror).

 

9th October 2013

‘Sneinton man overdoses after benefits stopped’

“A 47-year-old man overdosed on a cocktail of drugs after he had his benefits stopped because he was not given a proper medical assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions, an inquest heard. Edward Jacques was found dead in his house in Loughborough Avenue, Sneinton, on September 25 last year. He had a history of self harm and depression, which stemmed from physical and emotional abuse as a child, the inquest was told.

Mr Jacques’ family told the Post they considered the decision to stop his benefits was a “major trigger” in a spiral which led him to overdose on heroin, cocaine and alcohol. Mr Jacques was told his benefits of £90-a-week would be stopped on September 18 last year, the same day he took to social networking site Facebook to vent his frustration at Prime Minister David Cameron and Atos – the company which carries out medical assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions” (Nottingham Post).

 

18th October 2013

‘Absolute hell’ after benefits were axed by Atos

“A FORMER school meals worker from Canonbury who is being treated for cancer and heart disease was told she was fit for work after a 20-minute assessment by a nurse. Single mother-of-four Hatije Musa, 48, from Essex Road, lost half of her benefits as a result of the decision by the official working for Atos. As a result she went into serious debt” (Islington Tribune).

 

19th October 2013

‘Man with spinal injuries told he is fit enough to work’

“A former foundry worker who has not worked for 21 years after injuring his back in an industrial accident has been told he is now fit enough to look for a job. Charles Foreman, who is in continual pain and has to use a walking stick, frame or wheelchair to get around, has been told he does not qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), following an assessment by a doctor working for Atos Healthcare on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions” (Leicester Mercury).

 

22nd October 2013

‘Chronic pain woman, 60, told ‘you’re fit to work”

“A Calverton woman who lives in ‘near constant’ pain after breaking her back in four places in a freak accident 28 years ago has hit out after being considered fit for work. Linda Martin-Hacket, 60, of Broadfields, was given incapacity benefit indefinitely after the accident on Front Street, Arnold, where she fell through a grate when she was 32. She had a number of operations to deal with her injuries and takes morphine twice daily to deal with the pain.

But in September this year, she was given a work assessment by Atos to fill in following changes to the benefit system and, to her surprise, Mrs Martin-Hackett was found fit to work and moved to a work-related support group” (Nottingham Post).

 

24th October 2013

’59-year-old declared fit for work – while he has brain surgery’

“A former chef had his sickness benefits stopped — while he was in hospital recovering from emergency brain surgery. Rana Ahmed collapsed with a brain haemorrhage and stroke and had to undergo an urgent operation.
And it was while the 59-year-old from Bolton was recovering at Salford Royal Hospital that a social entitlement tribunal upheld a Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) ruling that he was fit to work.

Mr Ahmed, who collapsed on June 26, had to live off scraps, and at one stage went three weeks without eating, before he turned to the Unemployed Advice Centre (UAC) in Deansgate for help following the tribunal on July 9” (Bolton News)

 

29th October 2013:

‘Four kidney transplants and dialysis three times a week – but dying Derek was still ‘not disabled enough”

“The last time Derek McInally was turned down for part of his disability benefits he waited 13 months for a tribunal. By the time the date arrived, he was in the early stages of recovery from a double kidney transplant.

At his tribunal hearing, the judge looked over the top of his glasses at the lawyer for the Department for Work and Pensions. “He’s dying of kidney disease,” the judge said. “How much more ­disabled do you want?” So in February 2012, Derek’s Disability Living Allowance was reinstated in full.

Since then, his health has deteriorated ­dramatically. In June that year, his kidney transplant failed, and he had to restart dialysis. He now had four failed kidneys inside him, and was ­seriously ill. Dialysis was three times a week for four hours. He was frequently laid out by infections. Yet, incredibly, in December 2012, Derek, 48, was told he had to re-apply again for ­Disability Living Allowance” (Mirror)

 

3rd November 2013

‘Bedroom Tax: Pensioner killed himself over fears he could not afford his home’

“A pensioner hanged himself after telling pals he was worried about how he would afford the Bedroom Tax, the Sunday People reveals. Charles Barden would have been exempt from it due to his age, 74. But he still feared being forced to leave his three-bedroom house by the tax – introduced six months after he died in October last year” (Mirror).

 

2014

13th January 2014

“Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Has the Secretary of State managed to watch programmes such as “Benefits Street” and “On Benefits & Proud”? If so, has he, like me, been struck by the number of people on them who manage to combine complaining about welfare reform with being able to afford to buy copious amounts of cigarettes, have lots of tattoos, and watch Sky TV on the obligatory widescreen television? Does he understand the concerns and irritation of many people who go to work every day and pay their taxes but cannot afford those kinds of luxuries?

Mr Duncan Smith: My hon. Friend is right: many people are shocked by what they see. That is why the public back our welfare reform package, which will get more people back to work and end these abuses. All these abuses date back to the last Government, who had massive spending and trapped people in benefit dependency” (Hansard).

 

24th February 2014

‘Man too ill to attend fit-for-work interview but terrified of losing benefits dies after Atos test’

“A seriously ill man died hours after he was hauled into an Atos fit-for-work assessment. Terry McGarvey knew he wasn’t well enough to attend the hearing, but was terrified his benefits would be stopped if he didn’t turn up. He dragged himself to the assessment but had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance. Terry, 48, died the next day.”

McGarvey  suffered from blood disorder polycytheamia, and liver disease. He died in Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary from pneumonia (Mirror).

 

28th February 2014

‘Vulnerable man starved to death after benefits were cut’

“The family of a man who starved to death four months after his benefits were cut off has called on the government to reform the way it treats people with mental health problems when it assesses their eligibility for benefits.

Mark Wood, 44, who had a number of complex mental health conditions, died at his home last August, months after an Atos fitness-for-work assessment found him fit for work. This assessment triggered a decision by the jobcentre to stop his sickness benefits, leaving him just £40 a week to live on. His housing benefits were stopped at around the same time” (Guardian).

 

22nd July 2014

‘Payday loan firms sent one thousand texts to grandad after he killed himself over debts’

“A tragic grandad who killed himself after his debts to payday loan firms spiralled out of control received 1,000 text messages from them after his death. Ian Jordan, 60, racked up more than £20,000 worth of debt to more than 12 firms after his benefits were slashed. The dad-of-two took his own life on November 22 last year, overdosing on painkillers” (Mirror)

 

27th August 2014

As described by the BBC:

“Diabetic David Clapson, 59, from Stevenage, died from lack of insulin, 18 days after his Jobseeker’s Allowance was suspended in July. His sister, Gill Thompson, said more than 177,000 people had signed a petition backing the family’s calls. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said Mr Clapson had not appealed.

On 2 July, Mr Clapson’s £71.70 a week allowance was stopped for a month, after he missed an appointment with the Government’s Work Programme (GWP) in May. Ms Thompson said he was found dead in his flat on 20 July, with £3.44 in his bank account. She added his electricity card had no credit, meaning the fridge where his insulin was kept chilled, was not working” (BBC).

As described more accurately by the Independent:

“Diabetic David Clapson died two weeks after his benefits were stopped because he missed two appointments. Now his sister wants the DWP to admit they contributed to his death”

“David Clapson, who served as a Lance Corporal in Belfast during the height of the Troubles, passed away in his flat in July 2013 from diabetic ketoacidosis – caused by an acute lack of insulin. His body was found a few metres away from a pile of CVs and he had £3.44 in his bank account” (Independent)

 

20th September 2014

‘Benefits bosses hounded my disabled lover to death – because he went on charity bike ride’

“The family of a man stripped of disability allowance because he did a charity bike ride say ­benefits bosses hounded him to death. Nathan Hartwell, 36, died of heart failure after an 18-month battle with the ­Department for Works and Pensions. They stopped his allowance, accused him of lying about his condition and demanded £11,000 after learning he had cycled from John O’Groats to Land’s End and back to raise £2,000 for Help for Heroes.

The DWP pursued Nathan even after prosecutors dropped a benefits fraud charge against him. Reports by two surgeons said although walking caused him pain, he could ride a bike. The former IT salesman had contracted a flesh-eating bug aged 15 and needed vein transplants. He was forced to give up work at 27” (Mirror).

 

22nd September 2014

‘Man with brain damage and “uncontrolled” epilepsy hanged himself when DWP threatened to cut benefits’

“A man with permanent brain damage and ‘uncontrolled’ epilepsy hanged himself after being ordered to take part in ‘work related activity’ or risk his benefits being cut. Trevor Drakard was panic-stricken at the thought he would have to find a job when he could suffer a severe attack at any time.

The shy 50-year-old suffered from meningitis at five months old which left him brain damaged, causing severe epilepsy first seen when he was just six. He suffered countless attacks throughout his life, never went 10 days without a fit and would fall ‘like a tree’ to the ground.

Despite heavy medication, he was regularly taken to hospital and had suffered a broken nose, cheekbone, jaw, lost his front teeth and split his head open after hitting pavement during attacks. Even disabled employer Remploy – where he worked for six years – deemed his condition so severe he had to leave.

Yet ConDem reforms meant he received a letter saying his Incapacity Benefit was being replaced with £112.05-a-week ‘Employment and Support Allowance’. It stated he had to attend a ‘Work Related Activity Group”, or his benefits could be hit” (Mirror).

 

2015

25th January 2015

‘Atos tell stricken grandad he has to sign on – but he’s had a stroke and can no longer write’

“David Waite, 60, suffers from a string of health problems including brain damage and depression. He was referred to a stroke clinic after taking ill in November, just weeks before he was assessed by Atos. But he was left shocked when examiners told him his benefits were being axed because he was fit for work.

His family say David suffers tremors and shakes and is having more tests to establish his underlying condition. He also suffers from neck pain and diabetes. Despite his poor health, he was told his Employment and Support Allowance was being stopped and he’d need to get a job or sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance” (Daily Record)

 

29th January 2015

‘Boy battling leukaemia fed by foodbanks after Department for Work and Pensions axed his benefits’

“The family of a seven-year-old boy battling leukaemia have been forced to use foodbanks after their benefits were axed. Tommi Miller’s parents received £700 a month to help look after him until he was given the all-clear last April. But when the cancer returned in a more virulent form, Ruth, 39 and Kevin, 42, stopped work to care for their son.

They hoped the Department for Work and Pensions would restart the payments. But officials said No. With no income for six months, the family have relied on foodbanks to eat. They have struggled to pay gas bills, been threatened with eviction and could only celebrate Christmas after friends raised £1,200” (Mirror).

 

6th February 2015

‘The appalling death of a man caught up in benefits nightmare’

“Malcolm Burge, 66, faced a bill of £800 because of a payments mix-up by Newham Council. With a bank balance of only £50, he took the only way out he could see…

A coroner ruled this week that Mr Burge, who like his father before him had worked tending the graves at the City of London Cemetery, committed suicide after a 50 per cent cut in his housing benefit left him ensnared in bureaucracy and begging for help from Newham Borough Council, which was in turn engulfed by its caseload” (Independent).

 

5th March 2015

‘Former Gt Doddington woman killed herself after “constant battle” to receive disability benefit’

“Julia Kelly, of Kingsthorpe, Northampton, committed suicide in November after she had been sent a series of letters from the DWP, including one that demanded she pay back £4,000…

Ms Kelly, who previously worked for Northamptonshire Young Carers, had to give up work in 2010 due to a severe back injury that had grown progressively worse since a car crash, which wasn’t her fault, in 2005. In 2013, Ms Kelly was involved in another car crash which fractured the part of her spine that had been fused together. To repair this damage she needed a major operation lasting six hours” (Northants Telegraph).

 

6th March 2015

‘Dad-of-three killed himself after benefits were stopped and he was threatened with eviction’

“A father-of-three from Nelson took his own life after his benefits were stopped and he was threatened with eviction from his home, an inquest heard. The body of Benjamin Del McDonald, of Vaughan Street, was found off Gib Hill Road, where he played as a child, last November.

His sister, Mickayla Carr, told Burnley Coroner’s Court Mr McDonald was “a happy-go-lucky person” who “doted” on his five-year-old daughter. Mr McDonald, 34, suffered from depression and was reported missing by his ex-partner, Joanne Almond, on November 19 before being discovered near Marsden Park Golf Club that afternoon” (Lancashire Telegraph).

 

22nd June 2015

‘Heart attack victim has benefits axed for missing Jobcentre appointment as he fought for his life’

“A jobseeker had his benefits cut when a heart attack left him unable to attend his Jobcentre appointment. David Duncan’s jobseeker’s allowance was stopped last week after the 58-year-old suffered a major cardiac arrest” (Mirror)

 

22nd August 2015

‘Brutality of the Bedroom Tax exposed in disgraceful images of disabled Merseyside man driven from home’

“Rob Tomlinson, who has cerebral palsy, had to bathe in a paddling pool after Iain Duncan Smith’s rules forced him out of the home converted for his care” (Liverpool Echo)

 

28th August 2015

‘Disabled woman loses all but one of 49 hours of ILF support’

“Gaping holes have been exposed in the government’s Independent Living Fund (ILF) promises, after a local authority slashed a disabled woman’s support by 48 hours a week when the fund closed”. She had been “receiving 49 hours a week of ILF support, in addition to 35 hours of council support, but that package is now set to be cut to just 36 hours in total.

Hounslow council – which originally offered her just 21 hours a week, before it agreed to carry out another assessment – even suggested that she started using adult nappies, to lower her reliance on support from personal assistants and so ‘increase her independence” (Disability News Service)

 

21st September 2015

‘Coroner rules man with severe mental illness killed himself after he was found to be “fit to work” in a government assessment and lost access to his disability benefits’

“A coroner has ruled that a father with severe mental health issues killed himself after he was found ‘fit to work’ following a government assessment and lost access to his disability benefits. Michael O’Sullivan, 60, from Highgate, north London, hanged himself after being told he would no longer receive the money he had claimed for ten years, despite three doctors concluding that he was suffering from depression” (Daily Mail)

 

6th October 2015

‘Seriously ill Willesden man had his benefits stopped after he was deemed ‘fit for work’ weeks before he died’

“Ricky Neacey was forced to fight the decision by the Department of Work and Pensions to axe his Jobseekers allowance before it finally did a U-turn and accepted his health was failing.

The 52-year-old, who lived in a bedsit in Park Avenue, was eventually allowed to claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is given to people who are deemed too ill to work, three weeks before dying from chronic liver failure.

Mr Neacey had developed diabetes and was in need of a liver operation; yet had been declared fit for work and informed that his benefits would be stopped unless he actively sought employment. At the time of his death he “had accrued rent arrears as Brent Council had stopped his Housing Benefit payments after the DWP alerted them to his benefits being axed” (Kilburn Times)

 

25th October 2015

‘Official letters worsen Daryl Major’s anxiety disorder’

“Housebound Daryl Major is concerned he will be left penniless if the Department for Work and Pensions continues to demand he attends an assessment centre. The 26-year-old, of Park South, has been receiving ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) for about two years after an injury to his knee left him unable to work.

Despite making numerous phone calls to the department to explain his condition, and being continually told just to send through medical evidence from his doctor, he has also received several letters over the past six months threatening to take action and stop his benefit.

He says the stress of the situation has made his anxiety disorder worse, making it even more difficult for him to leave his home. ‘They keep refusing, despite the amount of evidence stating that I need a home assessment, but they keep ignoring it,’ he said” (This is Wiltshire).

 

3rd November 2015

‘Pottery worker wins fight to get his benefits restored’

“Pottery worker Carl Bromfield is celebrating following a successful fight to have his employment and support allowance reinstated after it was wrongly withdrawn. Carl, a kiln placer at Royal Doulton for 20 years, had been working at Churchill China for four years before falling victim to a raft of knee problems. The 56-year-old dad-of-one, of Grays Close, Scholar Green, had to leave his job in 2013.

He was receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) until late August when he was called in by the Department of Work and Pensions for an assessment on his capability to work. Following his assessment, which was carried out on behalf of the DWP by U.S. company Maximus, Carl’s weekly payments of £72 were abruptly stopped, despite the fact he presented valid medical evidence highlighting his injuries” (Stoke Sentinel).

 

4th November 2015

‘DWP to take adapted car away from Alsager teenager who had leg amputated’

“Student Olivia Cork, 19, has raised thousands of pounds for charity since her leg was amputated because of cancer – now benefits changes mean she will lose her car ” (Crew Chronicle).

 

8th November 2015

‘Anfield man named after pirate: I’m victim of daylight robbery with £80-a-week benefits cut’

“A disabled Anfield man who is named after a pirate accused the government of daylight robbery when his benefits were slashed by £80 a week. Sin Bad, 46, who changed his name by deed poll from Richard Moore, suffers severe epilepsy and struggles to walk after injuring his head during a stairwell tumble.

He was given a benefits assessment and, as a result, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) announced his income would be cut by £80 per week, leaving him with £167 a week to live on” (Liverpool Echo)

 

11th November 2015

”’Go back to work’, DWP tells man who suffered four heart attacks’

“A tenants’ champion who has been told he must go back to work despite having four heart attacks says he has been left ‘financially destitute’ and shivering cold with only a duvet to keep him warm.

The 61-year-old man – a longstanding District Management Committee activist who did not want to be named – has been fighting for his Employment Support Assessment (ESA) benefits to be reinstated after they were removed following a “work capability assessment” on September 9.

The man has been diagnosed with pancreatitis, heart disease and suffers from ‘anxiety and stress’, according to his appeal letter, which adds that his condition has ‘deteriorated considerably’ since the test” (Camden New Journal).

 

12th November 2015

‘Benefit sanctions against people with mental health problems up by 600 per cent’

“The number of benefit sanctions imposed on people with mental health problems has increased by over 600 per cent over the last four years, Department for Work and Pensions statistics show. A joint analysis of the figures by the Independent and the mental health charity Mind found that 19,259 people with such conditions had their benefits stopped under sanction in 2014-15 compared to just 2,507 in 2011-12 – a 668 per cent rise.

The finding comes weeks after ministers rejected a call to investigate whether such sanctions – which involve stopping a person’s disability benefit income for weeks at a time to enforce compliance – are damaging to mental health” (Independent)

 

13th November 2015

‘Disabled man died of heart attack after being told of ESA sanction threat’

“A disabled man died of a heart attack, just an hour after being told that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was threatening to stop paying his out-of-work disability benefits”. Alan McArdle “who had previously been homeless but was living in council accommodation in Slough with the support of a charity, told the friend who had read the DWP letter to him: ‘They’ve sanctioned my money,’ before he collapsed” (Disability News Service).

 

13th November 2015

‘Family of Great Yarmouth man who starved to death say he was ‘failed by the system’’

“Emidio Dos Santos, 43, was found dead in the Victory Hotel in Nelson Road South on October 22. It is believed he had been dead for around five days and a postmortem found he had died of bronchial pneumonia and malnutrition”.

His step-father said: “My son, Adam, had seen him in St George’s Park and it looked like he’d been beaten up, but we didn’t know how bad it was. We know that his money was stopped in August, for sanctions I think,” added Mr Pollard, 73. “But he wasn’t able to get any money from anywhere, and because his English wasn’t great I don’t think he knew where to turn. I feel like he’s been failed by the system. You can say what you like about immigrants and such but they’re still humans” (Norwich Evening News)

 

16th November 2015

‘Father with kidney failure and rare heart condition ‘denied Government financial support”’

“A father with kidney failure and a rare heart condition claims he has been denied financial support
from the Government. Stephen Beet, 30, undergoes five hours of dialysis at his home in North Bransholme three times a week.

Mr Beet, who works at the Aunt Bessie’s factory in west Hull, has twice applied for Personal Independence Payments (Pip) from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), but has been turned down. A tribunal hearing also rejected his claim” (Hull Daily Mail).

 

3rd December 2015

‘DWP to apologise to woman whose brother killed himself after his benefits were cut’

“A woman whose partially sighted brother killed himself after his benefits were cut is to receive an apology from the Department for Work and Pensions, after the health service ombudsman partially upheld her complaint about his case. It marks the end of a two-year battle for Linda Cooksey, 60, who believes her brother Tim Salter, a recluse with undiagnosed mental health problems, should never have been found fit for work by DWP assessors.

Salter, described by his sister as a lovely man, killed himself in September 2013, nine months after his benefits were stopped. A coroner ruled that a major factor in the 53-year-old’s death was that his benefits had been greatly reduced, leaving him almost destitute” (Guardian)

 

11th December 2015

‘Leiston man, 50, died after being unable to cope with changes to benefits’

“Stephen Smith, of Seaward Avenue, took his own life on January 17 this year, following a long period of mental health problems. Changes to the benefits system in June last year meant that Mr Smith was invited to submit a Personal Independent Payment (PIP) claim, as his disability allowance was about to expire.

But after the Department of Work and Pensions ruled that he was ineligible, Mr Smith and his partner Lucy Stewart, who was also on benefits relating to a learning disability, saw their weekly total cut by £137.55, and left the 50-year-old in despair over his financial situation” (East Anglian Daily Times).

 

2016

7th January 2016

‘Braintree mum Dawn Amos, 67, told she’s too healthy for sick benefits on the day she dies’

“A mother battling a serious lung condition was told she no longer qualified for benefits on the day she died from her illness. Dawn Amos, 67, died as a result of suffering chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a collection of lung diseases.”

Her husband discovered a letter sent from the DWP two days after his wife’s death; notifying her that the disability benefits she received were being withdrawn based on “treatment, medication, symptoms and test results” (Clacton and Frinton Gazette).

 

11th January 2016

‘Cancer patients could be left homeless because of brutal Tory benefit cuts’

“Macmillan Cancer Support says Government cuts to ESA would leave 10% unable or struggling to pay their mortgage or rent if they lost their current £120 a month” (Mirror)

 

18th January 2016

‘Bedroom Tax victory: Brain damaged ex-footballer in Rocket flyover fall beats hated Tory policy’

“An ex-footballer left permanently brain damaged after a 60ft fall from a motorway flyover has beaten the government’s controversial Bedroom Tax. Neil Carroll took the near-fatal plunge after being abandoned by a rogue cabbie who’d stolen his bank card and cleared his account of £250.

The 25-year-old’s injuries left him virtually paralysed, wheelchair-bound and unable to walk and talk – and he now needs round-the-clock care. Last week, the ECHO revealed the ex-LFC academy player was being penalised by the Tory party’s Bedroom Tax at his specially-adapted home in Prescot.

But last Friday, his family successfully argued the charge was unfair at Liverpool Tribunal Court, as it was ruled Neil’s four-bedroomed home was not under-occupied” (Liverpool Echo)

 

21st January 2016

‘Luke Loy had a life, until his benefits started falling away’

“when his mother died of cancer, Luke found his housing benefit cut: the bedroom tax meant that from 2013 his late mother’s bedroom was classed as ‘spare’. A year later, another piece of support was pulled from him: Luke had been receiving incapacity benefit for over 20 years, but after a work capability assessment (WCA) in late 2014, he was declared ‘fit for work’.

What came next for Luke is a now familiar spiral: pushed off sickness benefits and unable to cope with the requirements of the jobcentre, he had his jobseeker’s allowance taken away. His housing benefit and council tax support were also cut. His debts started to mount and he began to struggle to feed himself. Three months later – on 29 May 2015 – when Luke failed to respond to his family’s calls, police officers broke into his house and found him dead on his bedroom floor. An inquest returned an open verdict” (Guardian)

 

29th January 2016

‘Mum left with just £4 after disability benefit bungle thanks Chronicle after payments resume

“A mother who had just £4 to her name after her daughter’s disability payments were unexpectedly cut is thanking the Chronicle after they were resumed. Rebecca Mason found herself in dire straits when the Department for Work and Pensions wrote to her saying benefits for her daughter Bobie Jane had stopped.

“I got a letter in the post saying that we wouldn’t be getting our disability living allowance anymore because we hadn’t returned the application for my daughter’s personal independent payments,” said Rebecca, who lives at Steeple Bay Holiday Park. But I never received the form in the first place” (Essex Chronicle)

 

29th January 2016

‘The government denied me disability benefit because I could ‘probably make a sandwich'”

“I allegedly didn’t look tired enough at my assessment to convince them that my Multiple Sclerosis-induced fatigue is real” (New Statesman).

 

11th February 2016

‘Stroke sufferer says DWP are “forcing him back into work”’

“A Crewe man says he feels he is being punished for having a stroke because the DWP is forcing him back into employment when he is unfit. Michael Ashley, who worked at Airbus in Broughton, had a stroke in December 2014 and now struggles to use one side of his body. On occasion he has had ‘accidents’ where he has been unable to get to the toilet on time.

But, following a 43 minute health assessment to see if he is eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the benefit which has replaced incapacity benefit – the DWP has just ruled he is fit to work” (Crewe Chronicle).

 

18th February 2016

‘Emily has organ failure – yet her mother had to battle for benefits’

Emily Field “has had type 1 diabetes since she started primary school. Over the past three years Field’s health has deteriorated rapidly – she’s struggled with chronic fatigue, pain and failing eyesight – and in the spring of 2015 she was diagnosed with diabetic kidney disease”. Doctors informed Ms Field that she would not live “much longer without dialysis and a pancreas and kidney transplant”.

Yet, the jobcentre declared her ineligible for employment and support allowance, because her fiance works more than 16 hours a week: “while she was waiting for a double organ transplant – Field’s rejection for personal independence payments (PIP) was confirmed. Looking through the rundown of the assessment sent to Atos’s customer service department, it is filled with references to Field’s appearance (‘well kept’) and scatterings of medical detail in broken sentences (‘she goes to the renal clinic … She has blood tests, it hurts her and stresses her out … she goes to eye clinic’).

This was the third time that Ms Field had been denied disability benefits in two years; or perhaps the fourth, as on one occasion the DWP lost the paperwork, meaning she had to reapply (Guardian).

 

22nd February 2016

‘Grieving mum found hanged near Bedroom Tax eviction letter had written poverty plea to David Cameron’

“Frances McCormack, aged 53, had been badgered for Bedroom Tax after the death of her 16-year-old son Jack Allen in 2013, an inquest heard” (Mirror)

 

3rd March 2016

‘Paul Donnachie’s benefits were suspended. Months later, he killed himself’

“Paul Donnachie, who had depression and anxiety, would have turned 51 a fortnight ago. Instead, his elder sister, Eleanor, from Coatbridge, Lanarkshire – 10 miles from Paul’s former council flat in Glasgow city centre – is speaking to me about his death.

Last June, Paul had his sickness benefits stopped by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when he missed his fifth ‘fit for work’ test. The DWP contacted Glasgow city council, and Paul had both his housing benefit and council tax support suspended”.

It took several months for Mr Donnachie’s benefits to be to be reinstated. During the period when he had no income, “he relied on the council for two Scottish welfare crisis grants to pay for electricity, gas, and food” as well as food parcels from a relative.

A month later, the council made an error, and stopped paying Mr Donnachie’s housing benefit. On 15 January, Paul Donnachie’s body “was found by bailiffs arriving to evict him. He had killed himself: it’s thought he had been dead for two months” (Guardian)

 

14 March 2016

‘Dying woman told by DWP the mobility car she calls her “legs” is being taken away’

“A terminally ill woman has been informed by the Department of Work and Pensions that the mobility car she relies on as her ‘legs’ is being taken away, following an assessment at her home. Marie Piles, 34, from Port Talbot, is unable to walk around the room without running out of breath and needs to carry up to four oxygen tanks with her whenever she leaves the house in case her oxygen levels drop, she told Wales Online. She will be left ‘housebound’ if the car is taken, she said” (Independent)

 

18th March 2016

“I am incredibly proud of the welfare reforms that the government has delivered over the last five years” – Iain Duncan Smith (BBC)

 

21st March 2016

‘Dying dad’s disability benefits axed after he cuddled his little girl during assessment’

“A dying dad has told how his disability benefit was axed – after he lovingly reached out to hug his four-year-old daughter. Father-of-five Mark Roberts, 45, has just two years to live after surviving a massive heart attack. But he says he scored zero on a test of his mobility and daily living after an assessor watched him embrace his little girl Saffron, who was suffering from chicken pox” (Mirror)

 

13th May 2016

‘Suicides of benefit claimants reveal DWP flaws, says inquiry’

“A series of secret internal inquiries into the deaths of people claiming social security reveal that ministers were repeatedly warned of shortcomings in the treatment of vulnerable claimants facing potentially traumatic cuts to their benefits entitlements.

The conclusions are contained in 49 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) inquiry reports finally released to campaigners on Friday after a two-year Freedom of Information (FOI) battle. Some 40 of the reports followed a suicide. In 10 cases, the claimant had had their benefits sanctioned” (Guardian)

 

3rd June 2016

‘Disabled woman has benefits removed by DWP after trying to find work – the woman had written permission from the Department for Work and Pensions to start work when her benefits were stopped’

“A paraplegic woman has been penalised by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after resigning from a part-time job she sought herself but was unable to continue due to ill health. The woman had her benefits stopped after she gave up working eight hours a week for a consultancy agency.

The DWP allow disabled people to receive sickness benefits if they are employed fewer than 16 hours a week and earn less than £115.50 for it. Speaking to the Guardian under the pseudonym Sarah Jones, she said she received written permission from the DWP to start work. But by March, Ms Jones told the DWP she had to resign because the job was taking a toll on her health.

A month later, the DWP fraud department accused her of working without permission” (Independent)

 

28th August 2016

‘This man has had his Disability Living Allowance stopped despite having had a heart attack, two strokes and kidney problems’

“Philip Williams, 56, from Caernarfon has been plagued by health problems in recent years including kidney failure, loss of hearing and ulcerative colitis – which brings on bouts of extreme diarrhoea and vomiting.

But he has now been told via a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on Monday saying that his Disability Living Allowance will be stopped next month after a recent medical assessment deemed him ineligible for benefits” (Wales Online)

 

29th August 2016

‘Man who had heart attack and two strokes has Disability Living Allowance revoked by DWP’

“A man said he had been declared fit to work despite suffering from a heart attack, two strokes and having 12 hours of kidney dialysis a week. Phillip Williams, from Caernarfon, Wales, has been informed by the Department of Work and Pensions that his Disability Living Allowance will be stopped next month.

The 56-year-old was born with Alports Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which causes kidney disease, hearing loss and can also affect the eyes. He has also been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which brings on bouts of extreme vomiting and diarrhoea” (Independent).

 

19th September 2016

‘Disabled multiple sclerosis sufferer wins appeal after being told he is ‘fit enough to get bus’ to work’

“A disabled man has won his appeal against cruel benefits cuts that left him stranded without a car. David Trotter – who has multiple sclerosis (MS) – lost his vehicle when a vital mobility payment was slashed by officials. The 32-year-old, who needs crutches to walk, was told he was fit enough to take a bus from his home in Dalkeith, Midlothian, to his job 15 miles away in Livingston. But David has had his payments reinstated after winning an appeal last week” (Daily Record)

 

20th September 2016

‘Stroke victim “told to take back-to-work test while still in hospital”‘

“An MP is demanding an investigation after a stroke victim claimed she was told she must undergo a back-to-work test – while in a hospital stroke unit. Labour’s Iain Wright said the case was one of the most disgraceful he had heard from constituents on sickness benefits who have been told to undergo a work capability assessment” (Independent)

 

6th October 2016

‘Woman has disability benefits stopped – despite not being able to climb her own stairs’

“A woman suffering from a long list of debilitating conditions who was told her benefits had been stopped because she was deemed capable of working

Sally Rahali is barely being able to walk up a set of stairs, and has welcomed news that people with chronic illnesses will no longer be reassessed…The 42-year-old scored ‘zero’ on a work capability assessment, meaning her Employment and Support Allowance payments (ESA) of £299 a fortnight have been stopped” (Mirror).

 

15th October 2016

‘Woman whose benefits cut during open heart surgery has PIP payments slashed again’

“A disabled woman who had much-needed benefits stopped because she missed appointments whilst having open heart surgery , has had her benefit slashed again. Lyn Wright from Colwyn Bay had her Personal Independence Payments (PIP) stopped in August but had it reinstated after the Daily Post highlighted her plight .

Now, after being assessed by a Capita, the private company tasked by the DWP to carry out ‘work assessments’ she was told she will lose her higher rate Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The higher rate PIP entitled Lyn to a mobility car and she said she will be unable to make weekly doctor’s appointments without it.

She said vital care will have to be scrapped because of the reduction in money, from £139.75 to £55.10 a week, which came after what she described as an ‘inadequate assessment’ in which the assessor told her she ‘didn’t have time’ for Lyn to list her ailments” (Daily Post)

 

18th October 2016

‘MS sufferer who struggles to walk has had disability allowance taken away’

“A mother-of-two who struggles to walk more than a few metres without help has had her mobility allowance taken away. Assessors from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) visited multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer Mel Wiseman at her home in Newton Burgoland in July and decided she no longer qualified for the £87-a-month personal independence payment (PIP) awarded the previous year due to her disability” (Leicester Mercury).

 

26th October 2016

‘Victory for Cinderford woman in benefits battle with DWP’

“Sophie Allen, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2015, has won an appeal against the government department after being refused Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in the summer.”

As Ms Allen outlined: “After the initial struggle of being newly diagnosed with a lifelong illness and receiving no support, I started to apply for PIP in January 2016. It was a horrible process. You have to be assessed which is very demoralising and from a personal point of view, pointless. I was asked lots of irrelevant questions about my education, what food I liked and my house. I was denied the benefit, as if it’s not bad enough that I’m 35 years-old and walk up the road like I’m drunk, with my three children, because of my condition” (Forest Review).

 

30th October 2016

‘Boy with half a heart gets benefits taken away on his eighth birthday’

“The schoolboy will need a transplant if he is to reach adulthood, and has already undergone five operations and been brought back to life twice. He was born without a left ventricle, meaning his heart only has one pump instead of two – making it difficult for blood to be sent around his body…now the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) say his condition is ‘not as severe’ as previously thought because he can walk 50 metres at a normal pace.

Shockingly, Ben received the letter (referring to him by the wrong name) saying the majority of his benefits are being taken away on his eighth birthday, June 26 this year. His family are now facing a shortfall of £700 a month after his dad Paul’s carer’s allowance was also taken away” (Metro)

 

 

 

 

Ordeals of this kind did not begin with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition government, of 2010-15. In 2007, one of my own relatives was left unable to continue working as a long-distance haulier, following the onset of illness. He was misdiagnosed as having suffered a minor stroke; and subsequently undertook the equivalent of a work capability assessment in order to qualify for disability benefits. He was declared ineligible. After nearly half a year of deteriorating health, he was eventually diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. He died several months afterwards.

In fact, there were a number of similar cases preceding the Coalition government’s reforms; which were introduced during the period 2011-13. In December 2009, a pregnant woman called Christelle Pardo jumped to her death, while holding her five-month-old son; after her benefits had been stopped. In April 2010, an unemployed man, named Stephen Cawthra, committed suicide. He had previously seen his benefits stopped, though reinstated; and had been taken to court over debts. Anxieties about money were believed to be the primary factor behind his suicide.

There were at least two incidents of this kind during the immediate months of the Coalition government’s term in office, however. During July 2010, the Scottish author Paul Reekie committed suicide; and friends of his affirmed “letters informing him that his welfare benefits were to be halted were found close to his body”. In August 2010, Leanne Chambers took her own life, after “receiving a letter telling her she had to be assessed by a doctor to see if she was fit to return to work”.

For years now, people have been dying in needless distress – either due to the conditions they were left in through the failures of the benefit system; or at their own hands, when they could no longer cope with the circumstances which confronted them. Why has there been such a systemic failure to protect people from deleterious changes in their lives? Moreover, why have a succession of governments continuously denied people the support which they required, when they needed it most? And why has so much misery been imposed upon socially vulnerable men and women, so needlessly?

Is the ‘EU Migrant Welfare Bill’ a problem, as the Daily Mail claims? No.

‘£886million… That is the eye-watering sum YOU pay in benefits to out-of-work EU migrants in just one year’ – so thunders the Daily Mail. Is the sum accurate? Yes. Is it a problem? No.

Needless to say, this Mail piece is distorting matters. The data in question is hardly a secret, despite the Mail’s claims to the contrary. It was alluded to in the government’s recent document, ‘The Best Of Both Worlds‘; in which they outlined their case for Britain remaining within a reformed European Union. The actual source, however, is a six-page report by the Department for Work and Pensions, released simultaneously; entitled ‘DWP benefit expenditure on EEA national-led claims 2013/14‘.

As it outlines, 5% of the DWP’s overall “Working Age expenditure” is on EU migrants living in the UK; while only 3% of DWP expenditure is on out of work benefits for EU migrants. The majority of DWP expenditure on EU migrants is on those who live in Britain, and are in work: it comprises 16% of overall in-work benefit expenditure. The £886 million figure relates to the out-of-work expenditure – of which half is on housing benefit. All of the in-work DWP expenditure on EU nationals in Britain is upon housing benefit.

It is therefore very difficult to contend that the UK is losing out, when this funding keeps people in homes owned by local British authorities; enabling the people in question to work. Moreover, these forms of social security are all available to UK nationals living/working in the EU. There isn’t a valid basis to the Daily Mail’s complaint on this – and whatever anyone thinks about Britain’s EU membership, it should at least be discussed on its actual merits, with honesty.

 

The New Reforms To Employment & Support Allowance Are Reckless And Dangerous

Just as they have been so frequently during the previous five years, the government’s new wave of reforms to incapacity support were outlined in an article published by the Daily Mail; as the government propose to “shake-up” the “‘fundamentally flawed’ system” of Work Capability Assessments, in a “bid to get 2 million on sick benefits back to work”.

It’s true that there are severe flaws in this system, which do cause many well-documented problems for claimants; but these are not what the government intends to remedy. On the contrary, what becomes clear from the article is that the government are seeking to remove protections from people who have been incapacitated by mental health problems. The case put forward to justify these reforms by Iain Duncan Smith, and the Daily Mail itself, is misleading and inaccurate. Let’s look at their claims, one by one.

Firstly, the Mail bemoans a “sick pay culture” which supposedly “costs Britain billions of pounds a year”. The reforms in question do not relate to ‘sick pay’. Statutory Sick Pay is categorically different from Employment and Support Allowance. Sick Pay is paid to people by their employers, when they are too ill to work. Employment and Support Allowance is provided directly by the government to people who are left incapacitated by illness or disability.

The Daily Mail’s article then mischaracterizes the nature and outcomes of Work Capability Assessments; contending that “currently the 2.3 million claimants on ESA are either assessed as being fit to work or signed off altogether”. Iain Duncan Smith is quoting making the same claim

“Mr Duncan Smith said the test is too ‘binary’, adding: ‘It is a system that decides that you are either capable of work or you are not.’Two absolutes equating to one perverse incentive – a person has to be incapable of all work or available for all work”.

This is simply not true – and is flatly disproven by the very reform Duncan Smith is set to apply. People who have undergone a Work Capability Assessment are either categorised as Fit For Work, or eligible for Employment and Support Allowance. However, this subsequently breaks-down into two separate sub-categories. As the Department for Work and Pensions’ own webpage explains:

“Following your Work Capability Assessment you’ll be placed in either the work-related activity group or support group if you’re entitled to ESA”.

People placed in the Work-Related Activity Group or the Support Group are recognised as being incapable of retaining employment, due to their health problems. The key difference is that people required to undertake work-related activity are expected to recover at some point in the future.

There is a persistent confusion about the purpose of Work-Related Activity; which Iain Duncan Smith is encouraging.  Given that the government’s policy concerns a reform to the Work Related Activity Group, he himself clearly know that the outcomes of Work Capability Assessments are not binary. In fact, what Smith is outlining amounts to a policy which will treat people as if they are simultaneously incapable of working, and capable of it; which is devoid of reason.

It is also yet another policy purporting to fix a problem which does not exist. The Mail/Smith (it’s not entirely clear whose words these are) notes that following this latest reform, people will “be tested for what they are able to do – not what they cannot”. This is already what Work Capability Assessments are presupposed to do. The very phraseology employed is a direct echo of the sentiment underscoring the introduction of Employment and Support Allowance, via the Welfare Reform Act of 2007:

“The Work Capability Assessment will look at people’s physical and mental ability, such as learning disabilities and other similar conditions. It will assess what an individual can do – rather than can’t do”.

One pretext for these reforms is therefore invalid; but so is another: namely the supposed need to reduce government spending on this support, because of its expense. The Mail suggests that this reform will reduce “the £14.2billion sickness benefits bill”. This is a misuse of statistics. The changes in question relate solely to expenditure on people assigned to the Work Related Activity Group; which costs approximately £2 – 3 billion per annum [1]. However, even the basic accountancy on this policy fails to support the rationale behind it.

The government’s own Impact Assessment makes plain that the financial bearing of the reform will be minimal for the government, but severe for recipients. While the document notes that “Reduction of the Work-Related Activity Group and Limited Capability for Work component to £0” is estimated to generate “savings to the Government” which will “reach £640m by 2020/21”, this is somewhat discursive. The amount of estimated cuts to expenditure on incapacity support for people in the Work Related Activity Group – which is what the euphemism ‘savings’ actually relates to – are outlined as follows:

2017/18 – £55 m
2018/19 – £225 m
2019/20 – £445 m
2020/21 – £640 m

This is how much support is going to be withdrawn from people who are too ill to work. So, it’s not particularly surprising to see the Impact Assessment noting that the new legislation underscoring this policy “proposes to remove a number of the legal duties and measures set out in the Child Poverty Act 2010”. The policy will disproportionately affect people who are already living on low incomes – or to put it another way, this is a reform which will increase poverty among people who are already poor. The Impact Assessment itself denotes this outcome: “as a result those in the lower half of the income distribution are the more likely to see a notional change in income compared to those in the higher half of the income distribution”.

The third rationale for the policy is the most egregious of all, however – namely that the ESA benefit itself prevents somebody from acquiring employment. Duncan Smith is quoted, opining that:

“‘The sickness benefit culture in this country is in dire need of reform,’ he said. ‘Getting people into work is more than just earning a salary and certainly more than balancing the public purse. For culturally and socially, work is the spine that runs through a stable society. I want those who remain trapped and isolated on welfare to move from dependence to independence.’

This is nonsense. It is also hidebound – it was the same rhetoric Smith himself employed in 2010, in order to justify the very policies which have led up to the present day: the ones which supposedly need reforming.

However, aside from the very obvious fact that the people in question have undergone the government’s own assessment, and been adjudged incapable of working, it is untrue to imply that anyone in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance is ‘trapped’ by the benefit, rather than by their health difficulties. Recipients of Employment and Support Allowance can work up to 16 hours per week, and still continue to claim the benefit. Duncan Smith’s rhetoric is an inversion of reality. He continues:

‘In the world beyond ESA, things are rarely that simplistic. Someone may be able to do some work for some hours, days or weeks, but not what they were doing previously.’

This is the whole point of being allowed to work a limited number of hours per week, while in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance, of course – that many disabled people have fluctuating conditions. Making the benefit more flexible than it already is would be a worthwhile reform – which unarguably would be of value to claimants. That is not what the government has in mind, however. If anything, quite the contrary; as the stated intent is to make the conditions of receipt more onerous and overbearing.

After alluding to the introduction of a ‘new test’, which appears to be a reference to nothing more than a continuation of Work Capability Assessments, the Daily Mail contends that people:

“will then be found work for around ten hours a week, or whatever is possible, to get them back into the workplace…those who repeatedly refuse could have their support cut”.

This can only relate to mandatory work placements, and sanctions. Both already apply to people in the Work Related Activity Group. People within this can be made to undertake mandatory work placements indefinitely; under a policy introduced in 2012. Moreover, not only have sanctions always applied to people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance, but participants have been sanctioned in high number under Duncan Smith’s tenure. The most recent data on this was published in November 2015. Between the inception of Employment and Support Allowance in October 2008, up until June 2015, a total of 134,596 recipients had been sanctioned; at an unprecedented rate of thousands per month since June 2012.

What’s being outlined by Duncan Smith is therefore not a reform – but a pretense at solving problems which do not exist; and what follows is a quite remarkable series of falsehoods to justify this. The Mail and Duncan Smith between them misrepresent what the Work Related Activity Group is for; declaring that it applies to “those who are judged to be capable of work with the right support”. This is not what the category stipulates. What is required of people placed in it is, again, outlined by the government’s own webpage: people “must go to regular interviews with an adviser who can help with things like job goals and improving your skills”.

Worse still is the generalisation made about the participants within it – namely that “almost half of ESA claimants have a mental or behavioural disorder as their primary condition, often ‘depression or anxiety'”. Perhaps needless to say, if almost half do, then the majority do not. This is aside from how inaccurate it is to imply that depression and anxiety can’t somehow be severe problems in their own right – let alone when they are not the only health problem somebody suffers from.

In reality, as of February 2015, there were 4,800 people with progressive muscular-skeletal problems in the Work-Related Activity Group; and these are the people with degenerative conditions who haven’t been wrongly declared Fit For Work following their Work Capability Assessment – as many thousands of people have been.

Even finding employment would not be enough to spare people from this regimen, however; as the Mail continues:

“Once claimants have found employment, they will remain under the care of a job centre until they are doing sufficient hours to leave the Universal Credit benefits regime”.

In addition to this, “firms will also be encouraged to do more to prevent staff taking long-term sick leave”. So ultimately, people who are too ill to work will be pressurised into seeking it despite their health problems; and even if they do gain it, they will still be put under pressure to seek more hours, or a better paid position. If their illness persists, their employers will be pressed into not letting them take a leave of absence.

This policy revolves around strong-arming people into seeking or entering work, when they are too ill to do so safely; and ultimately pressurising them off benefits altogether. Precedents for the harm these reforms are liable to cause is abundant. There have been a significant number of deaths and suicides among people whose incapacity support was taken away, following their Work Capability Assessments – which have at times proven almost risibly flawed; even seeing people being declared Fit For Work while undergoing brain surgery, for instance. In 2012, the Department For Work and Pensions itself reported that “1,300 people died after being put into the Work Related Activity Group. 2,200 people died before their assessment was completed”. A significant number of people are already being wrongly declared Fit For Work, when there are valid grounds for concluding that Work Capability Assessments are flawed. Given the high number of people who have died of their illnesses within weeks of being declared fit and healthy, there is overwhelming cause for serious concern.

An example of how people will be affected was brought to light only recently, in the case of Luke Loy, as reported in the Guardian. He was an unemployed man with schizophrenia, who had been declared Fit For Work following a Work Capability Assessment. He was subsequently made to claim Job Seeker’s Allowance, and had been sanctioned, leaving him destitute. He died shortly afterwards, in circumstances which remain unclear. Similar to this was the case of Lee Robinson in 2013; who had likewise seen his claim for Employment and Support Allowance end. He had also been referred to the Job Centre, and committed suicide after his council tax and housing benefits had been stopped. This is the same route which many more people will be required to take, with similar risks to their health and well-being.

Myths surrounding the benefit system have long been encouraged by major media outlets, and exploited by government ministers, in order to justify policies which are evidently very dangerous. There is undeniable evidence that the people at the centre of these reforms are susceptible to being severely harmed, as a result of changes to incapacity benefits. What’s particularly galling is the fact that these policies are completely needless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See the Excel document entitled ‘ESA expenditure by reported medical condition and phase of claim, 2010/11 to 2014/15. Available from the webpage:

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/benefit-expenditure-and-caseload-tables-2015

Has Universal Credit Made It ‘Significantly More Likely’ That Claimants Will Find Employment?

Are Universal Credit claimants “significantly more likely to move into work than those on Jobseeker’s Allowance” as the DWP suggest? Not really.

The DWP’s Press Office announced on 8th December 2015 that their report ‘Universal Credit At Work’:

“shows that this government is delivering on its commitment to reform welfare to help people into work. Universal Credit at Work finds that 71% of Universal Credit claimants moved into work in the first 9 months of their claim, compared with 63% of comparable JSA claimants. This means that for every 100 people who would have found employment under the old JSA system, 113 UC claimants will have moved into a job.”

This is not entirely accurate. The report in question says something slightly different – namely that:

“Universal Credit claimants are eight percentage points more likely to have been employed in the first nine months of their claim – 71% for Universal Credit versus 63% for Jobseeker’s Allowance” (p. 8).

It’s not a given that these people moved into work permanently. In fact, the indications are quite the contrary. The research this data was drawn from makes it clear that after 9 months of their claims, in terms of entering employment, the difference between people in receipt of Universal Credit, and those claiming Job Seekers Allowance, dropped to 3%:

” 270 days after making a claim the proportion of UC claimants employed was 3 percentage points higher than the proportion of matched JSA claimants in work at the same point in time”.

So, it appears to have a statistically significant impact for 9 months; yet as it goes on to add: “UC claimants had worked an estimated 12 days more than their matched JSA counterparts”. This is not particularly impressive – it signifies that Universal Credit is encouraging people to “do small amounts of work”; and that this is liable to be temporary. In fact the DWP’s research report states – perhaps optimistically – that

” It is important to highlight also this second figure, because the contrast to the first figure suggests that the increase in employment chances with UC may be to temporary work. This would be consistent with other evidence discussed with DWP, which suggests that a high share of claimants are willing to accept short-term or temporary jobs”

Equally problematic are the DWP press announcement’s claims that Universal Credit somehow encourages people to to seek more working hours:

“Of the UC claimants working less than 30 hours a week, 86% were actively trying to work more hours, compared to 38% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants.”

A Universal Credit evaluation does report this:

“JSA claimants working less than 30 hours per week were much less likely to be actively trying to increase either their hours or their income at Wave 2 (38% were looking to increase their hours and 51% their income).”

The question is – why? It isn’t made clear by this particular research report. However, a pathfinder evaluation from October 2014 offers an explanation: namely, the recipient’s ‘Claimant Commitment’ meaning that even when people are working, being in receipt of Universal Credit requires them to fulfill strict jobsearch requirements. Otherwise, they can – and evidently will – be sanctioned (p. 40).

Is all of this particularly significant or worthwhile? It would appear not to be. In terms of gaining temporary employment, Universal Credit seems to have a slight impact during the first nine months of receipt; but otherwise, its primary effect is that recipients spend more time searching for work, without any noteworthy outcome arising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Welfare Reform And Work Bill, July 2015 – The Actual Implications Of Labour’s Abstention

A lot of media discourse has focused on Labour’s abstention as the Welfare Reform And Work Bill (2015) progressed through its second reading in Parliament; and yet somehow, not enough has been. Moreover, very little has been said about the contents and implications of the Bill itself. This is deeply problematic, in several respects.

First, let’s clarify the actual Parliamentary circumstance here, because it’s been badly misrepresented by many journalists and commentators. The Welfare Reform And Work Bill was receiving its second reading in Parliament – which is the first opportunity for Members of Parliament to debate the main principles of the Bill. As the House of Commons website explains:

“Once second reading is complete the Bill proceeds to committee stage – where each clause (part) and any amendments (proposals for change) to the Bill may be debated.”

For Labour’s part, they did oppose the Bill via tabling a Reasoned Amendment, which failed to pass:

‘this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be controls on and reforms to the overall costs of social security, that reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families are welcome, and that a benefits cap and loans for mortgage interest support are necessary changes to the welfare system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill because the Bill will prevent the Government from continuing to pursue an ambition to reduce child poverty in both absolute and relative terms, it effectively repeals the Child Poverty Act 2010 which provides important measures and accountability of government policy in relation to child poverty, and it includes a proposal for the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance which is an unfair approach to people who are sick and disabled”.

The upshot of this was for the Second Reading of the Bill to proceed. It was herein that most Labour MPs abstained; and that the Bill progressed to the Committee Stage, whereby each of its proposals can be debated on their individual merits. Therefore all Labour MPs voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill before the Second Reading, via a Reasoned Amendment; whereas 48 Labour MPs voted against the entirety of the Bill during its Second Reading. Moreover, while this latter group has been widely feted, it is again not receiving due scrutiny. The problem herein is that the Welfare Reform and Work Bill contained many proposals – some of which arguably are worth voting for – such as the increased funding for apprenticeships; whilst others warrant being voted against. It is therefore a complete misreading of matters to suggest that the votes on this demonstrate the Labour Party to be devoid of principles, or is somehow in crisis. It is also ultimately immaterial – Labour are not the government; the Conservatives are. It is the Conservatives who have drafted this bill; and they have an absolute majority in the House of Commons – meaning that if all Conservative MPs vote for the Welfare Reform and Work bill, it will be ratified, irrespective of opposition.

This point can be left aside for the time-being. What matters more here is the content of the Bill, and the likely consequences if its more damaging policies are enacted; along with the pretexts cited by the government to justify its proposals – very little of which have received any critical scrutiny from journalists/pundits.

Parliament has provided an overview of the Welfare Reform And Work Bill: it sets out to abolish the Child Poverty Act of 2010, along with the government’s statutory duties to reduce poverty among children. The specific welfare reforms it proposes are as follows:

“Reducing the benefit cap to £20,000, except for £23,000 in Greater London

Freezing certain social security benefits and certain tax credit amounts for four tax years

Limitation in the amount of support provided by the child tax credit for families who become responsible for a child born on or after 6 April 2017

Limiting the child element of universal credit to a maximum of two children and removing the distinction between the first and subsequent children in the rate of the child element

Removing the work-related activity component in employment and support allowance and the limited capability for work element in universal credit

Changes to conditionality for responsible carers in universal credit

Replacing current support for mortgage interest payments for benefit claimants with the offer of a recoverable interest-bearing loan secured as a second charge on claimants’ properties

Changes to social housing rents”

The problems this Bill will cause for those impacted by it are clear. For instance, the government’s own Impact Assessment on reducing the Benefit Cap reports that 330,000 children from low-income families will be affected. The original Benefit Cap resulted in families becoming homeless – extending this will evidently put more at risk. There are a number of agencies which have responded to the government’s proposals, and have outlined their problems in detail – for example, Crisis express their concern about the increased risk of homelessness; whereas the Child Poverty Action Group warn that the Bill’s reforms will not only increase poverty among children, but also limit the government’s ability to properly monitor levels of child poverty throughout the UK.

However, the rationale offered by the government to justify its benefit cuts herein is significant. It indicates very plainly the various deceptions involved in drafting policies which are liable to increase poverty, and prove harmful to many people. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith’s Parliamentary contributions during the Second Reading are the key ones here, as he is the Minister responsible for implementing these reforms.  His pretexts for them rest upon what he refers to as “three key principles”:

“first, work is the best route out of poverty, and being in work should always pay more than being on benefits; secondly, spending on welfare should be sustainable and fair to the taxpayer while protecting the most vulnerable; and, thirdly, people on benefit should face the same choices as those in work and those not on benefits”.

There are more than three supposed principles advanced here – and none of them withstand any scrutiny. Most people who live in poverty are people who work. The benefit system has always ensured that being in work does pay more than being unemployed – the sleight of hand here is to divide benefits from work; when in fact in-work benefits, such as tax-credits, are precisely the mechanism which guarantees employment of at least 16 hours per week is financially more rewarding than being unemployed. Sustainability is difficult to address as a principle, because its meaning isn’t defined. However, a possible measure of sustainability would be expenditure on benefits, as a proportion of national financial resources – that is, Gross Domestic Product. The Institute for Fiscal Studies measure ‘Spending on benefits in cash terms and real terms (2011–12 prices), real increases and spending as a share of GDP’, from 1948-2012 (p. 72). Readers can make their own minds up about the trends therein. Moreover, by far the largest bulk of benefits-expenditure is on pensions: these are not being reduced; so even if the principle herein was valid, the method of attaining it is not. “Protecting the most vulnerable” is the opposite outcome of this bill, because it will reduce the financial support awarded to people in the work-related activity group. In other words, it will increase poverty among people who are physically sick, and/or mentally ill, and have been found incapable of working.

The more specific claims Smith makes are equally untruthful. For example:

“The £26,000 cap we introduced in 2013 has been a huge success…in getting people back to work and reintroducing fairness to the welfare system. Capped households are more than 40% more likely to go into work after a year than similar uncapped households”.

This is divorced from reality. As CPAG explain, the principle of the Benefit Cap is based on a false comparison:

” between an out-of-work family’s income and an in-work family’s earnings, ignoring in the process the various top-ups from the state that those in work may also receive, such as child benefit, working tax credit and housing benefit” (p. 9).

However, is it true to suggest – as Smith does – that the Cap has been “getting people back to work”; and that people subject to the Benefit Cap are “more than 40% more likely to go into work after a year than similar uncapped households”? No. The data in question was published by the DWP in May 2015; and the report notes that as of February 2015:

“35.6 thousand households (61%) who have (previously) been capped are no longer subject to the cap as at February 2015. Of these, 14.4 thousand households are exempt with an open Working Tax Credit claim, which is 41% of those no longer subject to the cap”.

This evidently does not indicate cause and effect; nor demonstrate any disparity between households capped/uncapped gaining employment. Given that no evidence appears to exist which would support Smith’s claims, the point can probably be left there – however, Full-Fact have taken issue with the way government officials have misused this data, should further explanation be necessary. As they note:

“The Department for Work and Pensions has previously been reprimanded by the UK Statistics Authority for suggesting that having benefits capped was the cause of all instances of a household member moving into employment.”

The DWP has clearly not taken this reproach on board.

The rationale for reducing financial support to people in the ESA work-related activity group is equally disingenuous. Smith proposes to “end the disparity between what people receive on the work-related activity component of ESA and on jobseeker’s allowance”; adding that:

“We know that the majority of people receiving work-related activity ESA payments want to work, but the current system discourages claimants from making the transition into work. People on ESA receive £30 a week more than those with a health condition on JSA, but they receive far less support in finding work: people on JSA can expect about 11 hours of work coach time per year, whereas those on ESA typically receive only about two hours per year”.

This is simply nonsense. The people in question have been subject to a work capability assessment, and deemed incapable of working. ‘Finding work’ is immaterial – they have been found by the government itself to be unable to gain or retain employment. These are people who have debilitating health problems, either physical or mental – as indicated by a departmental release discussing sanctions applied to them; and who are now going to be treated as if they were without these conditions, in order to justify reducing their financial support, and making them live in poverty. This demonstrates precisely how hollow it is to claim that these measures will continue to “protect the most vulnerable”. They will harm the self-same. The excuse for this policy is that cutting benefits for people who are too ill to work will galvanise them into gaining employment. This ignores the manifold problems experienced by people placed in the work-related activity group. The lived reality of the government’s approach here has been borne-out in numerous reported instances of people dying, or committing suicide, after their benefits were cut.

The rest of Smith’s claims about social security expenditure can be disproven in a more straightforward manner. For instance, he contends that “in 1980 working-age welfare accounted for 8% of all public spending, but by 2010 it had risen to nearly 13%, which is over £200 billion”; which suggests a continual increase across this period, ignores the effects of the financial crash in 2008, and implies that ‘working-age welfare’ costs the UK £200 billion – none of which has any basis in fact. As the Office for Budget Responsibility have previously noted:

“Over the past 30 years, welfare spending has risen steadily in cash and real terms, but on average that increase has been broadly in line with growth in the economy. So the proportion of national income devoted to welfare spending has not shown a significant upward or downward trend over time. Welfare spending has, however, fluctuated significantly with the economic cycle” (p. 5).

As they go on to outline, welfare expenditure over this period has been cyclical, rising and falling, as economic circumstances differed – not least of all during periods of recession or economic growth, respectively. Channel 4’s Fact-Check explains the factors behind welfare-expenditure trends since 2008:

“it is true that the share of welfare spending has gone up after 2007/08 – to 13.3 per cent in 2012/13. But this has happened for two reasons. First, the recession has caused unemployment to go up. Second, the recession has caused national income to shrink. It’s not obvious that either of these things constitute welfare spending going out of control. They are a result of the fact that the UK has experienced its sharpest post-war recession”.

Smith’s claim here, however, was being cited as a pretext for taking financial support away from many families, by cutting child tax credit:

“Nine in 10 families with children were eligible for tax credits when we came into government…as a result of our reforms, five in 10 families with children will be eligible for tax credits, bringing greater balance to the welfare budget”.

The supposed justification for this policy is to ensure that:

“people on benefits face the same choices as those in work and those not on benefits. Families in work have to make careful choices about what lifestyle the money they earn can support and what their income can provide for. In that context, it is right that people who receive child tax credit should make the same financial choices about having children as those who are supporting themselves through work”.

Suffice to say, child tax credit is universal, and therefore available to parents whether they are in work, or not. Both sets of people will be affected by this reform. People ‘on benefits’ already face the same choices as people who work – many are one and the same; many live in poverty. This circumstance is set to worsen as a consequence of these policies.

As with previous welfare reforms, the government is encouraging and exploiting popular misconceptions about the benefit system, in order to justify dismantling its protections. The Secretary of State’s rationale comprises a series of false statistics, sleights of hand, data taken out of context, and ultimately telling lies. The Bill in question is set to increase poverty for many people – including children. Far from ‘protecting the most vulnerable’, it actively targets them by reducing the support people known to be incapable of working will receive. It is extremely troubling that the media response to this Bill has focused almost exclusively on the Labour party’s travails – and not on what they were trying to prevent being turned into policy.

 

 

What Can You Do With £3 Per Month? Alternatives To Electoral Fraud

BT0057-04-IL-Portfolio-Charities

The candidacy of Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn, for his party’s leadership has prompted a variety of responses – from bemusement at his unexpected popularity, to pessimism about where it might all end.

Some of this is motivated by concern for the Labour party’s political fortunes and electoral prospects; at least partly driven by a remembrance of the disastrous campaign under Michael Foot’s leadership during the early 1980’s, whose political commitments and priorities were very similar to Corbyn’s own.

However, a different set of people have begun to take an interest in the outcome of this contest, with far more cynicism.

Both the Telegraph newspaper, at least one media pundit, and a number of Conservative party activists have been attempting to organise large-scale electoral fraud, by joining the Labour party in order to vote for Corbyn, as a figure they believe would ‘destroy Labour’.

As unsavoury as this is, it would only prove to be a waste of their own time and money – as it already has done for one of those aforementioned; and if modern Conservatism has taught us nothing else, it’s that personal responsibility, fiscal prudence, and helping people to help themselves, are all optimal ideals to advocate for the benefit of others.

So (with this in mind) if Conservatives have £3 per month to spare, instead of engaging in vote rigging and financial mismanagement, here are some alternative projects to consider donating to:

Why not set up a standing order to your local foodbank? The number of people dependent upon charity in order to eat has increased dramatically since 2012. Government reforms to the social security system have contributed to this; as draconian sanctions, and purposely extended benefit-delays have been implemented.

This scenario is not limited to those out of work, however – many working families also depend upon food charity from time to time, because poverty now affects more people in work than out of it; and with tax-credits set to be cut, this situation will worsen.

Hunger is not limited to adults, either, but has increased among children – whose financial support is also set to be reduced. Many schools now run breakfast clubs; while international relief agencies provide food parcels to British families. £3 will be more than some people have to spend on food for several days – if not weeks, in some cases.

So, while it may be only a small amount, it could make a big difference to somebody’s life – especially if donated on a monthly basis.

Foodbank3

People in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance, who have been placed in the Work-Related Activity Group, are now set to have their financial support cut by £30 per week.

Despite the deceptive title of this benefit, it is only awarded to people who have been deemed by the government to be incapable of working; yet, despite this, they are still subject to sanctions, and will now suffer a reduction of their support.

Most of these people have severe mental health problems. Others may be people undergoing chemotherapy, or dialysis.

£30 per week is a lot of money for one person to lose – however, if ten people clubbed together, with their £3 each, between them they could reduce the deficit on this for one person.

There are a number of charities who provide support services to people who are left with limited capacities by disability/mental illness – for example Mind, Scope, or Mencap; all of whom would welcome public donations, however small. 

download

Cuts to local government budgets have severely reduced support for care-leavers – that is, for young people who have grown up in foster care, or in children’s homes; and have reached adult years.

Many leave these environs without educational qualifications; and people in these circumstances are disproportionately prone to becoming homeless – or something worse.

The Care-Leavers Foundation can provide grants and financial assistance to people – both when in crisis, and in order to undertake training or study; and rely entirely upon public donations.

Also due to public expenditure cuts, the funding for services which support victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse was reduced by 31% between 2010-11 and 2011-12. Furthermore, as one of Parliament’s own briefing papers outlined:

“The number of Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVA) has been reduced: in 2011 among 8 major IDVA service providers supporting 13,180 clients, 2 faced funding cuts of 100%, 3 cuts of 50%, 3 of 40% and 2 of 25%.”

Changes to legal aid have restricted peoples’ ability to access professional advice.

However, there are a number of national charities who specialise in protecting people from domestic violence, and supporting victims: Women’s Aid, or Refuge, for instance; or the Mankind Initiative, which provides support specifically to male victims. They all welcome donations from the public.

2000px-Purple_ribbon.svg

Homelessness services have seen their funding reduced dramatically since 2010, despite demand for their support increasing during this period.

The most recent figures issued by the Government show that the total number of homeless households in temporary accommodation stood at 60,940 as of September 2014.

The homelessness charity, Shelter, estimate that c. 90,000 children were homeless in Britain last winter. This is liable to understate matters, however – because many homeless people do not appear in official statistics.

Another homelessness charity, Crisis, estimate that there are 2.23 million households providing temporary lodging to single persons in England, and to 265,000 couples/lone parents.

Welfare reforms have played a part in making this situation worse, as evidenced by “the growing reliance on locally-prescribed, discretionary schemes such Discretionary Housing Payments, Local Welfare Assistance and Council Tax Benefit to supplement the weakening national welfare system”.

This is set to grow worse, as housing benefit is ended for people under 25. There are numerous charities which provide help and support to people who have lost their homes; or to families which are at risk of becoming homeless.

However, this problem is especially prevalent in London – where 7,581 people slept rough during 2014-15. St. Mungo’s provides outreach help and support to people in the city – and they outline how your financial support can, and does, get put to good use.

Graph_2

One of the key factors behind homelessness is mental illness. Unfortunately, mental health support-services have also had funding withdrawn by the government.

Furthermore, adverse economic circumstances, coupled with the impact of sanctions and benefit-cuts, have between them seen personal crises result in a number of suicides.

The Samaritans provide support and guidance to people in these circumstances – and would be only too glad for public donations.

It may seem that £3 will make little difference to anybody in these circumstances – but collectively, it will make a big one.

Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any publicly-funded organisations to counterbalance the significantly curtailed public-expenditure on schools, colleges, hospitals, local libraries, or prisons – but people could always consider volunteering their time in these environs, which would be equally worthwhile.

It would serve a better purpose than defrauding the electorate, at the very least.

charity_20cm

Have Benefits Risen Faster Than Wages? Is This The Right Question To Ask?

There are several persisting myths which underscore public discourse on benefits and poverty. For one, the notion that somebody can somehow be in better financial circumstances through being unemployed, than by working for a living. This is untrue, precisely because of the benefit-system. As long as somebody is working at least 16 hours per week, at the minimum wage, then in-work benefits ensure that employment is financially worthwhile. Even without understanding how the benefit-system works, however, it defies reason for people to contend that unemployment can be more lucrative than employment, and yet not immediately resign their jobs, and sign-on.

Nonetheless, this particular myth is being used to dismantle the same in-work benefits which ensure that being in work does prove more financially rewarding than being out of work. During the budget announcement of July 2015, the Chancellor claimed that benefits had risen faster than wages:

“Since the crash, average earnings have risen by 11%, but most benefits have risen by 21%.”

This is false, and misleading, as a premise for policy. Those in receipt of benefits, and those receiving wages, are not distinct – benefits are not available only to those who are unemployed. Moreover, they did not actually increase at all in terms of value: they were tied to inflation, meaning that their monetary worth remained constant. They were, however, decoupled from this in April 2013 – causing them to decrease in value since then. The government made the same misleading claim about benefits supposedly rising faster than wages at this juncture – mainly via press-briefings which appeared in tabloid articles [1]. In both cases, they have engaged in a sleight of hand to justify reducing benefits which are paid primarily to people who are working. In reality, many of those whose wages have failed to rise significantly actually rely on benefits – such as tax credits – to prevent them living in poverty, despite the fact that they work. Their incomes are set to be reduced further still.

There is something extremely disturbing about politicians behaving in this manner; and it is equally dispiriting that nobody of consequence took notice. This is perhaps not surprising, however, given the media’s propensity for taking misleading claims on this subject at face value. But the question remains – why do people fall for this; and envy or resent those who have less than themselves? Perhaps a better question to ask here is, why do such egregious falsehoods have credibility?

This is difficult to answer objectively; but perhaps other myths come into effect, and leave people prone to being deceived on this point – namely, ones which surround poverty. If people are struggling financially, and yet would rather see somebody less fortunate than themselves be made poorer still, than have their own circumstances remedied, then there must surely be powerful misconceptions about the benefit-system at work. This is indicated by the popular perceptions which surround the general subject of benefits and poverty – that poverty only affects those who are unemployed, and thereby unwilling to work; those who mismanage their incomes; or people who are impoverished by addiction. Moreover, that benefit-reforms only affect these people. Evidence disproves these sentiments. They persist, however; and are being exploited by politicians as a pretext for policies which have already been tried, tested, and have proven extremely harmful to many people. The majority of working-age households living in poverty have at least one adult who works. 1.4 million of these people work fewer hours than they wish to; and are only able to gain low-paid and insecure jobs. This is the economic context which causes many working people to be reliant upon benefits  – and yet what social protection does exist for them is being incrementally withdrawn.

 

 

[1] There were at least three articles containing this claim, in their respective newspapers, published within 24 hours of each other during 2013:

‘Benefits Handouts Rise Twice As Fast As Private Sector Pay’ by Alison Little/Daily Express, 2nd January 2013: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/368165/Benefits-handouts-rise-twice-as-fast-as-private-sector-pay

‘Benefit increases far outstrip private sector pay, DWP figures show’ by Christopher Hope/Telegraph, 1st January 2013: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9774333/Benefit-increases-far-outstrip-private-sector-pay-DWP-figures-show.html

‘Benefits rising twice as fast as salaries: Payments to unemployed jump by 20% in five years’ by Gerri Peeve/Daily Mail, 2nd January 2013:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2255837/Benefits-rising-twice-fast-salaries-Payments-unemployed-jumped-20-years.html

 

The Impact Of Changes To Disability Benefit – How Inaccurate Are Inaccuracies?

As proclaimed by the DWP’s Press Office on twitter “The Minister for Disabled People has written to The Guardian newspaper to address a number of recent inaccuracies”, with regard to disability benefit reforms. The letter in question was written by Justin Tomlinson, and published in the Guardian on 11th June 2015; in response to an article by Aditya Chakrabortty, which had discussed the impact of benefit policies upon disabled people. Did Tomlinson’s letter “set the record straight”, as the DWP aver? Was Chakrabortty’s article providing “inaccurate coverage”?

To be succinct, the answer to both of these questions is no. Tomlinson bemoans a “catalogue of inaccuracies” – which amounts to three key claims. Firstly, Tomlinson objects to the “claim that support made available to some disabled people under the independent living fund is to be removed”. As he contends:

“Responsibility for providing this support is, in fact, being transferred to local authorities. Far from being taken away, it will be administered in a way better able to take account of variations in local circumstances and services”.

This is not an accurate depiction of matters. The Independent Living Fund is set to be closed on 30th June 2015 – current users will continue to receive funding through the adult social care system, administered by local authorities. However, this money is not ring-fenced; and local authorities will be subject to continued reductions of their overall budgets – so, it is pretty questionable what will happen to people affected by this reform. The overall total of ILF funding also appears to be set for a reduction of c. £70 million – from £330 million per annum, to £260 million per annum.

Tomlinson continues, however, objecting to the article’s “claim that Atos was commissioned by Iain Duncan Smith in order to test every claimant for employment support allowance and ‘bring down the bill for disability benefits’. In fact Atos was appointed by the last Labour government and under the coalition there has been significant improvement to the process to provide a better experience for claimants. Far from bringing down any bills, the assessment of claimants ensures fairer outcomes, enables employment support for disabled people who might previously have just been written off, and targets financial help at those with the greatest need”

Most of this is beside the point made in the original article – the original piece does not suggest that Atos were appointed by Duncan Smith. However, the substance of the claim made by Chakrabortty was that:

“In an attempt to bring down the bill for disability benefits, Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary in charge of welfare, commissioned the private firm Atos to test every single claimant of employment and support allowance, the successor to incapacity benefit”.

In other words, Smith enacted a specific policy, to reassess people already deemed incapable of working. This is true. In 2011, Atos’s contract was changed – and they began to ‘reassess’ 2.5 million people who were then in receipt of incapacity benefit; while the government revised the framework of work capability assessments in order to make them more exclusionary. Government ministers cannot claim that this did not occur – because they were heralding it themselves. For example, in an article published by the Daily Mail during 2011, the former Employment Minister Chris Grayling referred to the pilot testing of this reform:

“Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: ‘The initial findings from Burnley and Aberdeen serve to underline why it’s right to reassess incapacity benefit claimants and give those who can work the specialist help they need to do so”

They also published an Impact Assessment, outlining the changes they would introduce to these assessments. The policy of re-assessing incapacity benefit recipients had been outlined in detail by the Work and Pensions Committee this same year.

Lastly, Tomlinson criticises the Guardian article’s allegations “that the government has caused an increase in disability hate crime. It is because of efforts to increase awareness of disability hate crime that these types of offences are now more likely to be reported and are finally being treated with the seriousness they deserve”.

Again, the article says something slightly different – that “Some of this must be the responsibility of the government”. So, has the government caused in increase in disability hate crime? The first aspect depends upon what is meant by an increase – the number of recorded crimes can rise, without the number of actual crimes following suit, due to greater awareness of the specific crime, and more reporting to police along with referrals to the prosecution service. They could also be under-reported, however. So, although the level of reported crimes has risen, the actual societal incidence of this is not clear cut. That said, what is more straightforward to assess is whether the government has played a part in encouraging hostility towards disabled people. The reality of this was relayed in the Bad News For Disabled People report published by Glasgow University in 2011. It is not limited to the government – both Conservative and Labour politicians have made problematic comments about disability benefits; while the media arguably plays the most fateful role in fomenting antipathy towards disabled people, with its distorted commentaries on disability benefits.

All told, Tomlinson has no case here. What stands out instead from the Minister’s letter is how evasive his supposed rebuttals are. They don’t address the points raised, so much as carefully avoid them; and rejoin them with spin and soundbites. For instance, ‘targeting support’ means taking it away from people with low-level disabilities, and increasing it to people with high-level disabilities. Even if people agree with the principle of this – which is not free from problems – it is still misleading to word it the way the Minister has. This is something which can change easily, if Ministers are prepared to be transparent about the substance of their policies; and take responsibility for their effects.

 

Lies, Damn Lies, And Conservative Electioneering

David Cameron has a piece in the Independent today, discussing his party’s commitment to renewable energy, overseas aid, and eliminating child poverty.

In the first instance, the coalition government cut Green energy subsidies, and despite implying that most UK overseas aid is humanitarian, it’s not – it’s outlined in the section ‘Bilateral ODA spend by sector in 2013’ on page 36 in the Statistics on International Development published during October 2014: the bulk load is expenditure on health.

This takes the biscuit for shameless dishonesty, however:

At the same time as strengthening the economy, we’ve taken real steps to fight poverty. This has led to 600,000 adults and 300,000 children being taken out of relative poverty.

This is not because they escaped poverty; it’s because they entered absolute poverty. The Guardian reported on this last year: “600,000 people sank into absolute poverty”. Moreover, of these 600,000 people, 400-500,000 were disabled. This was outlined in the government’s own official statistics on household poverty.

The fact that 300,000 children sank into absolute poverty was also reported in a previous release of official statistics on household poverty:

“The percentage of children in absolute low income BHC increased by 2 percentage points, or 300,000 children, between 2010/11 and 2011/12”

So, Cameron did not merely oversee policies which increased poverty, he’s taking this very fact and in a fatuously disingenuous way, using it to pretend that poverty decreased.

Almost certainly of a piece, and at least as egregious, the disability activism charity Black Triangle Campaign have uploaded a letter on their Facebook page, which purports to be from the SNP to its supporters – urging them to vote Conservative. It appears to be not merely fake, however, but a piece of professional(ish) concern-trolling.

It says in its last paragraph:

“it is clear to us that any collaboration with the labour party would not work. So, in order to provide the SNP with the greatest chance of exerting real power in Westminster I must urge you to vote conservative, not SNP. We have sufficient SNP support already in your constituency”.

The signatory Hamish Mcleod appears not to exist; nor does an SNP department called ‘Strategy and Futures’.

 

 

Decisions

There are valid reasons to vote David Cameron and the Conservatives out of government; but they’re not being referred to by the media. In terms of their record in office – no matter what their opponents may or may not do – the Coalition’s period has been typified by ineptitude, chaos, and a quite determined callousness: it’s reflected in their reforms to the health service, the schools’ system, prisons, the post office, and especially social security.

700,000 people are waiting for incapacity assessments. A lot of these people will be very ill. 300,000 people are waiting for disability benefit assessments. Circa half a million benefit sanctions are imposed per annum, including people who are incapable of working; with an even larger number of people now dependent on food charity. At least 49 benefit-related deaths have been investigated by the DWP, despite repeated denials. Cuts to mental health services and homeless shelters have seen an upsurge in problems affecting both overlapping groups of people. Reforms in prisons have caused major problems in terms of understaffing, underfunding, and a stark deterioration of prison welfare – as reflected by the increase in suicides among prisoners. This list is hardly exhaustive – but it suffices to demonstrate what type of government the Coalition has been.

Approximately £17-21 billion was removed from social security expenditure between 2010-15. Indexation was the primary method used to achieve this, and it pushed working families into poverty. Poverty now affects more people in work than out of it. 300,000 more children are living in poverty since 2010-11. Disability support was cut by 20%, which is one of many reasons why disabled people have borne the financial brunt of austerity measures: of the 600,000 people who sank into absolute poverty during 2013-14, between 400,000 to 500,000 were disabled. This happened without any real reduction of overall government expenditure actually occurring. The billions in ‘welfare’ cuts were offset by expenditure in other areas: primarily on housing benefit and tax credits, due to an unprecedented stagnation of nominal wages.

Probably the same as a lot of people, I think it’s important that the next government is drastically different to the Coalition; but also, that the Conservatives have to lose it for the right reasons – not because of lame astroturfed letters backfiring, or fibs about liking football coming to light; but because people reject the type of society which they want all of us to live in.