Tag: ESA

A man ended his life when his ESA award was stopped, because he couldn’t find work

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Damien Lawler, who had a generous nature and a heart of gold. (Image: Karen Lawler)

Last year on 19 July, Karen Lawler found her son Damien, aged 34, dead at his flat in Newtown Court, Hull.

Damien killed himself after struggling to find work and his social security support – Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was due to be stopped. Known as ‘Damo’ to his family, he was found dead in his flateast Hull, flat with a suicide note in his hand.

In the note, he wrote that he felt like a “hindrance” and “couldn’t carry on anymore” after having no success for the numerous job applications he had made. He also wrote that his ESA was due to be cancelled, and he was so terrified about being put on Jobseeker’s Allowance he was experiencing “stupid” panic attacks.

He wrote: “I’m sorry for all the pain and heartache I’m leaving behind. I love you with all my heart but I can’t carry on anymore.”

Damien’s mother, Karen Lawler, spoke of her heartache and described her son as someone “with a heart of gold”.  She said: “He never had much money but he would always give his last penny or his last cigarette to a homeless person on the street. He always had a care for the homeless.” 

“He had a wicked sense of humour and a heart of gold. He would do anything for anybody.”

Lawler, who found her son after letting herself into his home on July 19, 2018, said her son had been suffering depression for a number of years, and said more needed to be done to support people with mental health issues.  She said: “Damo was just so tired and exhausted with it all.

“There was not enough support for him.

“There’s just nothing there. He’s not the only one. The recent cases with males in Hull is going sky high because they can’t cope anymore.”

An inquest on Tuesday heard Ms Lawler took her son to his GP in November 2013 after he deliberately self-harmed, using a Stanley knife to cut off his toe nails. He was prescribed with anti-depressants but his mental health difficulties took a turn for the worse in 2017.

During a visit to his GP in January 2018, Damien revealed he had thoughts of self-harm and suicide. He was advised to return to the surgery for further consultation, but he did not follow through with the appointments.

Many people who are ill and struggling find it very difficult to keep appointments, especially when they face difficulties accessing acute services for help. Many need immediate help to follow from the first appointment, because by that time, they are in crisis. But all too often, people in terrible distress, with suicide ideation, are being told they must attend yet another appointment.

This system sets up a bureaucratic wall, placing an all too often insurmountable barrier between citizens in the greatest need – those least ability to cope with navigating the wall – and the services and support they need to access. 

We must also question the decision to end Damien’s ESA award, when he was so clearly ill and unfit for work. We must challenge a system that leaves people feeling as if they are some kind of ‘burden’ simply because they are ill.  

“There needs to be something there if they do not turn up for any appointments,” said Ms Lawler.  “They cannot just discharge someone. They need to try and find out why they have not come to the appointment. Maybe contacting a next of kin or something.

She added: “I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t suppose there is an easy answer but something needs to be changed. Something has got to change in Hull, it really has.”

I agree. Something has to change. The social security and health care systems no longer function to meet fundamental human needs. Instead they have been redesigned to provide as little support as possible at the lowest costs, while a host of private companies make profits at citizens’ expense. 

The Coroner, James Hargan, returned a verdict of suicide.

If you need help

Please, please talk to someone.

Samaritans (116 123)
 samaritans.org operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org , write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, STIRLING, FK8 2SA and visit http://www.samaritans.org  find your nearest branch.

CALM (0800 58 58 58) thecalmzone.net has a helpline is for men who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. They’re open 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year.

Childline (0800 1111 ) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill. 

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal. 

Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information depressionalliance.org 

Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying studentsagainstdepression.org

You can also contact me on this site any time, too. I’m a good and experienced listener. I can also signpost people to organisations that can help.

 



I don’t make any money from my work. I have a very limited income. But you can help if you like, by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others affected by the Conservative’s welfare ‘reforms’. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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250,000 disabled people sent 45-page form demanding evidence by DWP bureaucrats following DWP underpayment blunder

Image result for disabled people

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have issued ‘senseless’ 45 page forms to thousands of ill and disabled people who are owed £970m in unpaid Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by the government, leaving people having to provide evidence of details of their lives from up to seven years ago.

More than 250,000 people are being told they must fill out the ‘scandalous’ 45 page form to have their award changed after a government error has left them underpaid by thousands of pounds.

Unreasonably, families are expected to recall intricate financial details and arrangements from up to seven years ago. The form asks claimants to state exact dates they were in hospital and give details of insurance payouts, mortgage payments and savings. 

Campaigners warn it is “passing the buck” to benefit claimants who now face an unnecessary barrier to justice.

Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Marsha De Cordova, branded the form “scandalous”, adding: “People will very often not have kept the evidence the DWP is asking for which could lead to many being denied vital support once again.”

The 45 page form is being sent to thousands of people who are owed £970m in unpaid ESA dating back to 2011, through no fault of their own. 

The government blunder, revealed earlier this year, affects people who moved from older incapacity benefit – Incapacity Benefit to ESA between 2011 and 2014,when the government made fundamental cost-cutting changes to the welfare system. In total 570,000 cases are currently being reviewed, of which 180,000 are expected to receive back payments by the end of 2019.

A DWP spokesperson insists that everyone owed money will receive it. But some claimants expressed bafflement after the ESA3(IBR) form dropped on their doormats.

Carol Willoughby, 73, from Chessington, was asked to fill in details dating back to February 2013 for her 68-year-old husband Michael.

ESA claim form

 A page of the form asks about money set aside for repairs or from a pension.

Questions on her form included “please provide dates that you have been an inpatient in hospital” and requests to state amounts of lump-sum state pension, trust fund income and money set aside for essential repairs.

Mrs Willoughby said: “The DWP were supposed to check all the errors and deal with it.

“Now they’re putting the onus back onto us to provide all the information going back five years, half of which we won’t have any more.

“It will take me hours. They’re asking ‘have you been in hospital, when were you in, how long were you in for’.”

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Another page asks for details of dates and visits to hospital from years ago.

When they were asked about Mr Willoughby’s case, the DWP said that some 261,000 of the excessively bureaucratic forms have been sent out.

This huge figure is utterly shocking, and it comes just weeks after the Mirror revealed up to 15,000 people caught up in the scandal have already died.

James Taylor, Head of Policy at disability charity Scope, said: “This feels like the DWP is passing the buck onto disabled people and their families.

“They have already been short-changed by bureaucratic errors in the welfare system that go back nearly a decade. 

“The DWP need to make sure that those who have missed out on their full ESA entitlement are payed back promptly with the minimum amount of stress and anxiety.”

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The intrusive form also asks disabled people to provide details of payments from ex-partners, if relevant

Ayaz Manji, policy officer at mental health charity Mind, said the DWP must ensure “nobody falls through the gaps”.

He added: “Those of us with mental health problems can struggle to navigate a complex application process.

“The DWP needs to do all it can to take responsibility for fixing these errors.

“It’s senseless to place unnecessary barriers in front of those who have already gone through a lengthy, complicated and stressful process.”

Yes, anyone would think that the government have placed this bureaucratic barrier in front of ill and disabled people to make it as difficult as possible for them to be fairly reimbursed the money they were entitled to but not paid because of a government error.

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The form asks for details of property owned in the dates on the form.

A DWP spokeswoman insisted people only need to complete sections that are relevant to their circumstances. Officials claim that anyone can seek help completing the form over the phone, and where needed staff can arrange a home visit.

The DWP are also contacting people who they do not hear from within three weeks of sending out a form.

The DWP spokeswoman said: “We want to have all the information we need to make sure everyone gets the money they are owed and anyone can provide this over the phone with our support.”

I wonder why the DWP bothered with the forms, then, if that’s the case. 

It’s widely assumed that public services are organized and delivered for the benefit of citizens. The reality, however, is very different. The more we scrutinise the role and function of different government departments and programmes, the clearer it becomes that they are being redesigned to bring direct and indirect benefits to private businesses.

Ministers have been accused of creating a “hostile environment for sick and disabled people” following the blunder, which occurred when claimants were transferred onto the main sickness benefit, ESA.

Both PIP and DLA are designed to help people with the extra costs of disability, or long-term health conditions, yet any award is reluctantly made, and all too often people have to go to court to challenge extremely inaccurate assessment reports and enormously unfair decision-making.

Yet the British public are funding corporations as well as government departments, and we should expect and demand that those businesses observe certain conditions of basic fairness. Private companies were hired to fulfil a role of  discrediting disabled people’s accounts of their disability, and to engage in very bad report writing, with an ultimate aim of resource gatekeeping. At the same time, legal aid was withdrawn to prevent citizens from accessing justice and seeking redress.

The Centre for Health and Disability Assessments Ltd (Maximus, who conduct Universal Credit Work Capability Assessments) saw profits double between 2016 and 2017. 

One director got a £373k dividend and £12 million was paid in shares. Thousands of disabled and ill people had their lifeline support cut due to the private companies contracted to gatekeep essential financial support. The majority of ill and disabled people have worked and paid tax. They now need to draw on their social insurance, and are finding instead of support, they face punitive policies and a hostile environment, while big businesses are making obscene levels of profit for inflicting  hardship and utter misery on some of our most vulnerable citizens.  

Meanwhile, the government and media constructed a narrative to demonise and condemn the poorest citizens, labelling them as undeserving “scroungers” and would be “fraudsters.” This was a justification narrative –  an attempt to try and pass the state abuse of disabled people as somehow “fair”. 

Image result for disabled benefit scroungers

The government has awarded at least £1.4billion of outsourcing contracts linked to the roll-out of Universal Credit and the other welfare reforms since 2012.

The 10 highest value contracts awarded by DWP linked to Universal Credit and welfare reforms since 2012

  • £595million to Maximus People Services Ltd for health and disability assessment services. 
  • £207million to Atos for Personal Independence Payments assessment service Lot 1 contract extension (Lot numbers refer to different geographical areas)
  • £184million to Atos for Personal Independence Payments assessment service Lot 3
  • £122million to Capita for Personal Independence Payments assessment service contract extension Lot 1
  • £122million to Capita for Personal Independence Payments assessment service contract Extension Lot 2
  • £90million to Atos for a medical services IT contract
  • £8.2million to Serco to deliver a new claims telephony service for Personal Independence Payments
  • £6million to Advanced Personnel Management Group to provide healthcare staff to conduct work capability assessments for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance
  • £3.9million to Pinnacle People Limited for Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in the north east to support people into self-employment and to start their own businesses
  • £3.3million to Ixion Holdings (Contracts) Limited for Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in London and the home counties

Source: Tussell

It’s about time we had a public debate about the size and uses of the corporate welfare state. And about democratic accountability.

Curiously, none of those private companies that were contracted to profit through disabled people’s loss and distress have received forms that demand evidence and details of their histories.

Corporate welfare is prioritised rather more by the government than citizen welfare. In fact private companies are faced with perverse incentives – to generate profit requires undermining the welfare of citizens.

 


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The government prioritises corporate welfare at the expense of social welfare

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The welfare ‘reforms’: public policies for private profit

It’s widely assumed that public services are organized and delivered for the benefit of citizens. The reality, however, is very different. The more we scrutinise the role and function of different government departments and programmes, the clearer it becomes that they are being redesigned to bring direct and indirect benefits to private businesses.

In 2014, Aditya Chakrabortty wrote in the Guardian: “[…] as the Tory faithful cheered on George Osborne’s cuts in benefits for the working-age poor, a little story appeared that blew a big hole in the welfare debate. Tucked away in the Guardian last Wednesday, an article revealed that the British government had since 2007 handed Disney almost £170m to make films here. Last year alone the Californian giant took £50m in tax credits. By way of comparison, in April the government will scrap a £347m crisis fund that provides emergency cash for families on the verge of homelessness or starvation.

“Benefits are what we grudgingly hand the poor; the rich are awarded tax breaks. Cut through the euphemisms and the Treasury accounting, however, and you’re left with two forms of welfare. Except that the hundreds given to people sleeping on the street has been deemed unaffordable. Those millions for $150bn Disney, on the other hand, that’s apparently money well spent –whoever coined the phrase “taking the Mickey” must have worked for HM Revenue.”

Ministers have admitted this week that more than 4,500 disabled people were wrongly stripped of their benefits despite having a good reason for missing reassessments. The Department for Work and Pensions has now acknowledged the ‘blunder’ – more than one year after a court ruling that the disability living allowance (DLA) payments should not have been stopped. The grossly unfair withdrawal of support happened when disabled people were being transfered from DLA to the government’s cost cutting replacement benefit, personal independent payments (PIP). Disabled people had their lifeline payments stopped entirely.

“We expect around 4,600 people to gain as a result of this review exercise,” a statement from Sarah Newton to MPs says.

But those disabled people are not “gaining” anything. They are simply being paid what they should have been paid.

The admission was slipped out as MPs left Westminster for their Christmas break, as one of a dozen last-day announcements. The disability equality charity Scope described it as “deplorable”.

The latest mistake comes in the wake of the DWP admitting to £970m of underpayments to people being migrated onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) between 2011 and 2014. Ministers were accused of creating a “hostile environment for sick and disabled people” following the blunder, which occurred when claimants were transferred onto the main sickness benefit, ESA.

Both PIP and DLA are designed to help people with the extra costs of disability, or long-term health conditions, yet any award is reluctantly made, and all too often people have to go to court to challenge extremely inaccurate assessment reports and enormously unfair decision-making.

If the British public are to fund corporations, they should expect and demand that those businesses observe certain conditions of basic fairness. It’s difficult, however, to challenge what is hidden from view.

In his article, Chakraborrty discusses the work of Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, who has spent the best part of a decade studying corporate welfare – delving through Whitehall spreadsheets and others, and poring over Companies House filings. He’s produced the first ever comprehensive audit of the British corporate welfare state.

Chakrabortty says: “Farnsworth has achieved something extraordinary: he has yanked into the open an £85bn subsidy that big business and the government would rather you didn’t know about.

“Thinking over this giant corporate bung, two responses immediately suggest themselves. First, it shows up the stupidity of all those newspaper spreads and BBC discussions constantly demanding “What would you cut?”, like some middlebrow ransom note (“Choose now: or the lollipop lady gets it”). It’s a question you’ll be hearing more and more in the run-up to the election. Perhaps next time, as well as mentioning schools, fire services and benefits, some brave Radio 4 presenter will mention the business coaching and marketing and advocacy services provided by the Department for Business (annual cost: nearly £5bn).”

But it was more a case of “choose now and disabled people still got it.” The cuts to the welfare support for the poorest citizens – paid for by the public FOR the public – were carefully planned and coordinated. Private companies were hired to fulfil a role of  discrediting disabled people’s accounts of their disability, and to engage in very bad report writing, with an ultimate aim of resource gatekeeping. At the same time, legal aid was withdrawn to prevent citizens from accessing justice and seeking redress.

Meanwhile, the government and media constructed a narrative to demonise and condemn the poorest citizens, labelling them as undeserving “scroungers” and would be “fraudsters.”

The state’s costly private gatekeepers of public funds

The government has awarded at least £1.4billion of outsourcing contracts linked to the roll-out of Universal Credit and other welfare reforms since 2012.

As Universal Credit continues to be rolled out, forcing the poorest citizens into debt, food poverty and rent arrears, new data has shown the  private companies that have profited from implementing the government’s social security reforms.

The data, which was obtained by HuffPost UK,  was generated by searching Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) public contract tenders for Universal Credit and related keywords. It reveals the vast sums the DWP has spent carrying out health and disability assessments on disabled people claiming support.

The information has prompted mental health and disability charities to call for the DWP to urgently review the failing system of assessment.

Among the companies that have won contracts are global consultancy giants. Some of the firms’ names are known to the public, but details of the awarded contracts are not.

A huge £595million contract was awarded to American consultancy group Maximus to provide health and disability assessments, the largest single DWP contract related to welfare reform since 2012, according to the data.

Atos and Capita also won contracts totalling £634million to carry out assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a disability benefit.

Consultancy firm Deloitte was awarded a £750,000 contract for work to support the Universal Credit programme and a £3million deal was signed with IT firm Q-Nomy to develop an appointment booking service for the social security payment, which is intended to simplify working-age benefits.

Recap: “Deloitte were responsible for advising Carillion’s board on risk management and financial controls, failings in the business that proved terminal. Deloitte were either unable to identify effectively to the board the risks associated with their business practices, unwilling to do so, or too readily ignored them.” Frank Field

Another £60,000 contract was awarded for the purchase of MacBooks for Universal Credit to Software Box Limited.

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, told HuffPost UK: “Despite the vast amounts the government spends on benefits assessments – delivered by companies like Atos, Capita and Maximus – we hear every week from people with mental health problems who get the wrong decision, leaving them without support.

“We’ve long been calling for an overhaul of benefits assessments so that they work for those being put through them. For many people with long-term mental health problems, there’s no need to be put through the stress and pressure of repeated reassessments.”

Geoff Fimister, of the Disability Benefits Consortium, which represents 80 charities, added: “These are very large amounts of public money to be spending on services that are falling short.”

The DWP has awarded 76 separate contracts related to welfare reform since 2012, totalling £1.4billion.

But it is estimated that the true figure will be higher as prior to 2015 some government procurement tenders were not published publicly. This changed from 2015 onwards when new rules under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 meant all tenders had to be made public.

Four of the contracts also show a £0 value and do not include the contract amount.

Tussell’s figures show the DWP has awarded £4.7billion in outsourced contracts across all areas of its work since 2012.

It is clear from the information publicly available that contracts relating to Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) constitute the vast majority of the DWP’s sub-contracting pre-2015. 

But from 2015 onwards, when the data is more robust, this trend was reversed.

Since January 2015, only about 2% (£66million) of DWP contract awards relate to Universal Credit or other welfare reforms of a total £2.8billion bill.

The most valuable contract since 2015 was an £8.2million award to Serco to manage a call centre for claimants of the disability benefit PIP.

The second was a £6million award to Advanced Personnel Management Group to provide healthcare staff to help conduct work capability assessments for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance. 

Also included are multiple contracts awarded in 2017 regarding Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance scheme, which offers support to those claiming Universal Credit to become self-employed and start businesses.

A contract of £8.2million has been awarded to Serco to deliver a new claims telephony service for Personal Independence Payments.

Gus Tugendhat, founder of Tussell, said: “With the controversial rollout of Universal Credit still very much a work in progress, contract notices analysed by Tussell provide insight into some of the challenges the government is facing, including with IT systems and recruiting healthcare professionals for assessments.

“While the challenges are many, the government deserves credit for its transparency which we hope to see maintained.”

Universal Credit is being introduced to replace six existing benefits with one monthly payment and the government says it is a more streamlined system that will ‘help move people into work.’ 

But it is rather more expensive to deliver.

The DWP said that technical support was vital to carry out a digital delivery on the scale of Universal Credit and said the department operates within strict procurement guidelines to ensure maximum value for money.

The DWP claim that while Universal Credit will cost £1.7billion to deliver, the new system will bring about £8billion a year in economic benefits when fully rolled out. 

A DWP spokeswoman told HuffPost UK: “This is a random selection of some of our contracts spanning six years covering a range of DWP services and benefits, used by hundreds of thousands of people, that offer support to jobseekers to move into work, while having the right care in place for those that cannot work.”

The 10 highest value contracts awarded by DWP linked to Universal Credit and welfare reforms since 2012

  • £595million to Maximus People Services Ltd for health and disability assessment services. 
  • £207million to Atos for Personal Independence Payments assessment service Lot 1 contract extension (Lot numbers refer to different geographical areas)
  • £184million to Atos for Personal Independence Payments assessment service Lot 3
  • £122million to Capita for Personal Independence Payments assessment service contract extension Lot 1
  • £122million to Capita for Personal Independence Payments assessment service contract Extension Lot 2
  • £90million to Atos for a medical services IT contract
  • £8.2million to Serco to deliver a new claims telephony service for Personal Independence Payments
  • £6million to Advanced Personnel Management Group to provide healthcare staff to conduct work capability assessments for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance
  • £3.9million to Pinnacle People Limited for Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in the north east to support people into self-employment and to start their own businesses
  • £3.3million to Ixion Holdings (Contracts) Limited for Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in London and the home counties

Source: Tussell

Farnsworth’s research should have triggered a public debate about the size and uses of the corporate welfare state.

In his article about corporate welfare, Aditya Chakrabortty goes on to say “[…] what you get on the issue is silence. A very congenial silence for the CBI and other business lobby groups, who can urge ministers to cut benefits for the poor harder and faster, knowing their members are still getting their bungs.

“An agreeable silence for Osborne and David Cameron, who still argue that the primary problem in Britain is that the public sector “crowds out” private enterprise, without ever acknowledging how much the public subsidises business.”

Most of all, a silence at the very centre of our democracy.

Personally, I agree with Chakrabortty’s conclusion: I’ll believe we’re getting somewhere when Channel 4 puts on Corporate-Benefits Street – with White Dee replaced by the likes of Amazon founder and inveterate tax-dodger Jeff Bezos, or the sweatshop  king pension-swindling crook, Philip Green.

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Labour party pledge to reinstate legal aid, restoring equal access to justice

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The Labour party will restore legal aid for people appealing against cuts to social security, such as Universal Credit and Personal Independent Payment, the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, is to announce.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, warned last month that cuts to legal aid meant many could no longer afford “to challenge benefit denials or reductions” and were “thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy”. 

Back in 2012, I warned that without equal access to justice, citizens simply cease to be free. I strongly welcome this move from the opposition, in particular because I regard access to justice – a basic human right – as absolutely fundamental to a functioning democracy.

Those seeking to challenge decisions by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on social security payments, many of which are incorrect and unfair, will be able to gain access to legal advice to help them pursue appeals, Labour has pledged.

Burgon argues that restoring such financial support would encourage the DWP to get decisions right the first time, thereby reducing costs for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

More than two-thirds of appeals against DWP decisions on personal independence payments (PIP) and employment support allowance (ESA) are successful, says the Labour party, adding that those decisions have affected thousands of vulnerable people with illnesses, disabilities or in poor health. 

Since the Coalition government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into effect in early 2013, the number of people receiving legal aid to challenge benefit decisions has fallen by 99%. The MoJ spends more than £100m a year on tribunals disputing appeals against benefit decisions.

In addition, the DWP has spent more than £100m on PIP and ESA reviews and appeals since October 2015. That means  the state is spending huge amounts of money to get its’ own way in imposing wrongful decisions, while ensuring those affected cannot easily challenge such unjust decision making processes, which become embedded into an increasingly punitive social security system. It’s difficult to regard this as anything other than a politically coordinated attack on the rights of citizens and the welfare state by the Conservatives.

Since the Laspo act came into effect, many expert social security lawyers have left the field because cases were no longer funded. The MoJ has experienced the deepest cuts of any Whitehall department since 2010; its budget is to shrink further over the next two years.

Burgon said: “People should never be expected to navigate a complex appeals process all by themselves. That can force some to give up their claim altogether after a wrong initial decision. Others endure months of stress trying to prepare their own case. It’s bad now but will be even more difficult after universal credit’s rollout.

“Cuts to early legal advice have been a false economy. Ensuring that people are armed with expert legal advice to take on incorrect benefits decisions will not only help people get the benefits they are entitled to, it should make it less likely that flawed decision takes place in the first place, which would be good for the individuals themselves, and help to tackle the tens of millions of pounds spent on administering appeals against flawed decisions.”

Unless, of course, the intention all along was to ensure that the state’s ‘incorrect’ decisions stand. I rather suspect that is so.

The number of people granted legal aid in welfare cases has plummeted from 91,431 in 2012-13 to 478 in 2017-18, according to Legal Aid Agency figures.

A 2010 Citizens Advice report (pdf) concluded that for every £1 of legal aid expenditure on benefits advice, the state potentially saved £8.80.

Labour estimates that to restore early legal advice to pre-Laspo levels for benefits cases would cost £18m a year and help about 90,000 cases.

The party has already pledged to restore legal aid funding for advice in all housing cases, reversing far-reaching cuts imposed by the government five years ago. It has also promised to re-establish early advice entitlements in the family courts and to review the legal aid means tests.

Burgon says “Cuts have left vulnerable people without the legal support they need when faced with a rogue landlord, a difficult family breakup, or Theresa May’s “hostile environment. 

“But of all the cuts to legal aid, the slashing of advice for ill and disabled people unfairly denied their benefits is one of the cruellest. It creates the shameful situation where people are first denied the financial support to which they are legally entitled and then must struggle through a complex appeal without legal advice, causing further stress and anxiety.”

He says that the Labour-initiated Bach commission on access to justice outlined the direction in which the government needs to go. The Conservatives’ review (due before Christmas) should follow its recommendation to boost funding for early legal advice. Instead, however, it’s likely to be ‘another missed opportunity’. 

As Burgon notes, next year marks the 70th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949. Too often, legal aid has been treated as the forgotten pillar of the welfare state. Access to health and education are rightly recognised as the right of every citizen. Access to justice should be too.

 

See also: Labour will restore legal aid so all citizens have access to justice – not just the rich


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‘Pointlessly cruel’ sanctions regime must be reassessed, says Commons Select Committee

A protest in Kentish Town, north-west London, against benefit cuts and sanctions.

The Work and Pensions Committee has published a report this month regarding the findings of an ongoing inquiry into welfare conditionality and sanctions. 

The Committee says in the report:“Of all the evidence we received, none was more compelling than that against the imposition of conditionality and sanctions on people with a disability or health condition. It does not work.

“Worse, it is harmful and counterproductive. We recommend that the Government immediately stop imposing conditionality and sanctions on anyone found to have limited capability for work, or who presents a valid doctor’s note (Fit Note) stating that they are unable to work, including those who present such a note while waiting for a Work Capability Assessment. Instead, it should work with experts to develop a programme of voluntary employment support.” 

The report concludes that “The human cost of continuing to apply the existing regime of benefit sanctions – the ‘only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated’ – appears simply too high. The evidence that it is achieving its aims is at best mixed, and at worst showing a policy that appears ‘arbitrarily punitive’.” 

The Committee says the Coalition Government “had little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime” when it introduced it in 2012 with the stated aim, as the NAO describes it, that “benefits, employment support and conditions and sanctions together lead to employment.”

At that point, the Government promised to review the reform’s impact and whether it was achieving its aims on an ongoing basis. But six years later, Government “is none the wiser.” 

As one expert witness suggested, “if it was not for the embarrassment, the Government would have suspended Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions altogether as soon as that National Audit Office finding came out that sanctioned ESA claimants were less likely to get into work.”

Some groups ‘disproportionately vulnerable’

The report highlights that single parents, care leavers and people with a disability or health condition are disproportionately vulnerable to and affected by the withdrawal of their benefit. The Committee says that “until the government can show unequivocally that sanctions actually help to move these claimants into work, it cannot ‘justify these groups’ continued inclusion in the sanctions regime’.

In the meantime, and until that positive link is proven, people who are the responsible carer for a child under the age of 5, or a child with demonstrable additional needs and care costs, and care leavers under the age of 25, should only ever have a maximum of 20% of their benefit withheld.”

The report authors go on to say: “The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must urgently evaluate the effectiveness of the reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions since 2012, including their impact on people’s financial and personal well-being.

“Until the Government can point to ‘robust evidence that longer sanctions are more effective’, higher level sanctions should be reduced to 2, 4 and 6 months for first, second and subsequent failures to comply”.

The report goes on to say: “Government should also “immediately stop imposing conditionality and sanctions on anyone found to have limited capability for work, or who presents a valid doctor’s note” stating they cannot work. Instead, it should work with experts to develop a programme of voluntary employment support for those who can get into work.”

Sanctions have no effect on in-work claimants

Randomised Controlled Trials have shown sanctions had no effect on in-work claimants’ outcomes, and work coaches are not yet equipped to get enough decisions right. Sanctioning people who are working is too great a risk for too little return. DWP should not proceed with conditionality and sanctions for in-work claimants until full roll-out of Universal Credit is complete, and even then, only introduce sanctions on the basis of robust evidence that it will be effective at driving progress in work. 

Comment from Work and Pensions Committee Chair Frank Field MP

 “We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.

While none of them told us that there should be no benefit sanctions at all, it can only be right for the Government to take a long hard look at what is going on. If their stories were rare it would be unacceptable, but the Government has no idea how many more people out there are suffering in similar circumstances. In fact, it has kept itself in the dark about any of the impacts of the major reforms to sanctions introduced since 2012.

The time is long overdue for the Government to assess the evidence and then have the courage of its reform convictions to say, where it is right to do so, ’this policy is not achieving its aims, it is not working, and the cost is too high: We will change it.”

The Work and Pensions Committee are currently looking into the Government’s plans for moving people who are already claiming benefits onto Universal Credit, which merges six “legacy” benefits into one, single, monthly household payment. The Government calls this “managed migration”. The Committee is also looking at the impact of the changes announced by the Government in the 2018 Budget.

Most recent evidence session: 24 Oct 2018 – Work and Pensions Committee – oral evidence | PDF version (268 KB) | Published 27 Oct 2018.

Evidence given by Steven McIntosh, Director of UK Poverty Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, Save the Children, Dalia Ben-Galim, Director of Policy, Gingerbread, Joe Shalam, Researcher, Centre for Social Justice, Jonathan Broadbery, Head of Policy and External Relations, National Day Nurseries Association Gaynor Rowles, Hairdresser, Lucy Collins, Beauty technician, Vikki Waterman, Administrator, Thuto Mali, full time mum.

Watch this evidence session.

 


Related

New research shows welfare sanctions are punitive, create perverse incentives and are potentially life-threatening

 

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My response to Brandon Lewis when he invited me to support the Conservatives

Image result for brandon lewis and theresa May

I was surprised to get the following email from Brandon Lewis, the Conservative party chairman, yesterday. 

I’ve published my response below the email.

Brandon lewis1

Brandon Lewis 2

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My response:

I want to share some news with you, Brandon,

I won’t ever be supporting the Conservatives. 

The government claims that austerity will ensure our children don’t inherit debt. That’s utter rubbish. I have seen my 2 youngest sons struggle making ends meet to get through university. Their tuition fees cost a lot more than our young people are permitted to borrow through the student loans company to meet their living costs each year. Despite the poorest students struggling to get by, they will still come away from university with a debt that is the same size as my mortgage was in 2003. My sons also lost their Education Maintenance Allowance because of your government.  To be frank, your party have caused my family and loved ones nothing but increasing hardship.

That’s how much this government values young people. Not very much. Certainly not enough to invest in their future, or in in opportunities that are meaningful and secure. My generation had access to free higher education. This generation is the first in a long time to be worse of than their parents were, in multiple ways, and not just because of the heavy costs of an education.

Jobs have become increasingly precarious. Worker’s rights and conditions are deteriorating and exploitation is flourishing because you have viciously attacked trade unionism and undermined the principle of collective bargaining. You have also deregulated the labour market because you are, after all, the ‘business friendly’ party.

Conservative corporatocratic principles have tilted the balance of power away from workers, leading to blatantly exploitative employment practices and grim, insecure working conditions. Your ‘business friendly’ agenda is the reason for bank bailouts, excessive pay for CEOs, increasing socioeconomic inequality, as well as the exploitation of national treasuries, people, and natural resources. Such an approach constitutes proto-fascism. 

Historically, fascists have operated from a social Darwinist perspective of human relations. Like the Conservatives, they create and value inequality. In terms of economic practices, this has generally meant promoting the interests of successful and monopolistic big business while destroying trade unions and other organisations of the working class. Fascists also promoted nationalism. I’m sure you don’t need me to point out the numerous uncomfortable parallels here, including your party’s stranglehold on the media. 

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” – attributed to Benito Mussolini, but probably came from Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher of fascism, in the first edition of the Italian Encyclopedia (Enciclopedia Treccani).

In 2013, JP Morgan wrote a document, which I read at the time – The Euro Area Adjustment—About Half-Way There. Firstly,  they say that financial measures are necessary to ensure that major investment houses such as JP Morgan can continue to reap huge profits from their speculative activities in Europe. Secondly, the authors maintain, it is necessary to impose ‘political reforms’ aimed at suppressing opposition to the massively unpopular austerity measures being imposed at the behest of the banks. 

The authors write: “The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience. Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left-wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism.

“Political systems around the periphery typically display several of the following features: weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labour rights; consensus-building systems which foster political clientalism; and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo. The shortcomings of this political legacy have been revealed by the crisis.

Whatever the historical inaccuracies in their analysis, there can not be the slightest doubt that the authors of the JP Morgan report are arguing for governments to adopt authoritarianism to complete the process of social counterrevolution that is already well underway across Europe.

What JP Morgan is making clear is that anything resembling ‘socialism’ or left inclinations must be removed from political structures; localism must be replaced with strong, central authority; labour rights must be removed, consensus (democracy) and the right to protest must be curtailed. In short, JP Morgan called for authoritarian measures to suppress the working class and wipe out its social gains since the post-war settlement. This is the unadulterated anti-philanthropic voice of neoliberalism, which your party has embraced. 

Last year 16,333 people in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea voted in the general election for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, a constituency that has always been Conservative. Curiously, as the Financial Times pointed out, Kensington is where the senior European bankers live.  Andrea Orcel, chief executive of UBS’s investment bank, is among its denizens. BNP Paribas employs 7,500 people in London, and above VP level, most of them live in the vicinity of South Kensington station. – 25% of inhabitants of the South Kensington neighbourhood in particular work in finance. It is inferred that the swing happened in part because of the complete hash that your party is making of Brexit.

Your ‘high employment’ narrative does not benefit citizens, who face zero hour contracts, little employment security and more than half of those people needing to claim welfare support are in work. Your definition of ‘employment’ includes people who work as little as one hour a week. It includes carers. It also includes people who have been sanctioned.

Now there is a perverse incentive to furnish a hostile environment of DWP administrative practices in action.

When your party took office in 2010, on average citizens earned £467 a week. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that we now take home £460 a week. In other words, average wages have gone down in real terms during the eight years of Conservative-Lib Dem and Conservative governments, while the cost of living has risen substantially. It’s a misleading to make these claims at all when weekly earnings are actually 1.3 per cent lower now in real terms than they were when the Conservatives took office in 2010.

Furthermore, the ONS also produced household data suggesting that the true rate of unemployment is 4 times greater than the government’s preferred statistic.

The Conservative’s official definition of unemployment disguises the true rate, of course. In reality, about 21.5% of all working-age people (defined as ages 16 to 64) are without jobs, or 8.83 million peopleaccording to the Office for National Statistics. I know whose statistics I believe, given your party’s track record of abusing figures and telling lies.

Here is more data here on the effect of chronic underemployment of the unemployment rate, and the depressing new reality of the gig economy.

Conservatives being conservative with the truth as ever.

As ever we are witnessing the same old cheap labour Conservatism, where profits grow and wages are a stagnated pittance. Private companies gatekeep resources and services that were originally intended to meet the most basic needs of citizens, costing the tax payer billions while offering nothing in return but misery and cruel ideologically driven behaviourist practices. 

The clue is in the name: the word “Tory” I guess. It derives from the Middle Irish word tóraidhe, which means outlaw, robber or brigand, from the Irish word tóir, meaning “pursuit”, since outlaws were “pursued men”. It was originally used to refer to an Irish outlaw and later applied to Confederates or Royalists in arms. The term was originally one of abuse. As far as I am concerned, it remains so.

The Tories live by plundering. They steal people’s wages, public services, human rights and liberties, public provision and labour, in order to raise more money for the rich.

People know that wages are low, because of their daily experiences. The cost of living has risen, while wages have remained depressed throughout the last 8 years. People in work have had to queue at food banks, and in-work poverty is growing. Meanwhile you have pared publicly funded welfare support down to the bone. We pay for public services that your government seems to think we shouldn’t need. Your government is a sanctimonious, arrogant Victorian relic, with scant regard for citizens rights and democracy.

A personal account of why I won’t ever support the Conservatives

I’m a disabled person and from where I am trying to stand, I can see very clearly and first hand how your government have taken money from the poorest citizens and handed it out to your very wealthy and powerful friends. At the same time that you were imposing austerity on the poorest citizens and savage cuts on welfare and public services – placing a disproportionate burden on disabled people in particular – you were handing out tax cuts to millionaires to the tune of £107,000 each per year. Your austerity programme was very class contingent. Your generosity is pure elitism in action. Your ‘accumulation by wealthy through dispossession of the poorest’ approach to economics creates a hole in our economy which you attempt to plug every time by squeezing the poorest citizens. It’s a vicious cycle of vicious class discrimination and despotic behaviour, Brandon. 

And you richly reward private companies to gatekeep publicly funded services, causing those who have funded and continue to fund those safety net provisions distress and harm when they need to access the support they have paid for.

I have experienced this first hand. After working for many years, I became too ill to work in 2010, just as the Conservative-led coalition took office. I was forced to give up a social work job I loved because I was very ill. The last 8 years have been the bleakest I have ever known. Not just because I am seriously ill, but because your government have treated my human rights and those of other disabled people as somehow optional and increasingly conditional. Yet the whole point of human rights is that they are universal.

Disabled people like me have been forced to carry the heaviest burden of austerity because of traditional Conservative prejudices. In the last 8 years I have undergone 4 assessments, mandatory review, appeal and years of unwarranted distress and hardship, exacerbating my illness. I lost my home.

At my last ESA assessment, I was so ill that I collapsed. It was just 3 months after I had won my appeal. The nurse who conducted my first assessment said I was fit for work and I scored zero points. Her report must have been about someone else, because it bore no resemblance to my disability, my illness, my life or the assessment. At my last ESA assessment, I ensured that the interview was recorded. The doctor I saw could not understand why the Department for Work and Pensions had sent me for a reassessment when I was so clearly very unwell and having to take chemotherapy. Remarkably, following my collapse, he kindly sent me home in a taxi and Atos paid for it. It was either that or an ambulance.

Because my experiences claiming ESA were so distressing, I couldn’t face claiming PIP for SEVEN years. My local council had helped me, despite the miserly cuts you have imposed on them, (especially in view of the current surplus) because I needed aids and appliances in my home to maintain my mobility, and they offered support with my PIP claim. The assessment experience was once again appalling, leaving me in a lot more pain than when I arrived for the examination. Furthermore, I was told I could not have a point awarded for cognitive difficulties, despite the fact it was noted in the report that I needed prompting during the interview several times, and that my short-term memory is poor – I need aids to remember to take my medication, for example.

The assessor, having acknowledged my cognitive difficulties, went on to conclude somewhat incoherently that it wasn’t a problem. The point was the difference between a basic award and an enhanced award.  The reasoning for deducting that point went as follows: I used to have a driving licence in 2003. I worked as a social worker until 2010 – when I became too ill to work. She also said that I have a degree (gained in 1996, long before I became ill). Therefore there is ‘no evidence’ that [in 2017] my illness has caused cognitive problems, despite it being known to do so. I haven’t been able to drive since 2005 because I developed a sensitivity to flicker, which causes partial seizures. Just driving past lamp posts, telegraph posts and trees triggers vertigo, blindness, severe coordination difficulties, speech difficulties, altered states of consciousness, and muscle rigidity and twitching. I haven’t worked for 8 years, since becoming seriously ill. 

The DWP didn’t even bother to respond to my request for a mandatory review.

My experiences are not isolated events. They have become commonplace. Your government continues to refuse to listen to people like me. You have dismissed us, deplorably, as ‘scaremongers’. Such political gaslighting is shameful.

You have refused to listen to the concerns raised by the United Nations regarding the systematic and grave violations of disabled people’s human rights because of your excruciatingly punitive policies that create hostile environments for those social groups your government clearly despises.

So I’m sure you will understand why I cannot ever support an authoritarian government that refuses to listen to so many citizens’ accounts of their experiences of extremely punitive government policies, or one that refuses to democratically include them in policy design and support them in participating in the economy and society.

What is the point of a government of a wealthy country that not only fails to ensure that all citizens can meet their basic survival needs, but also remains completely indifferent to those needs?

So my answer is no, Brandon.

Ask yourself: what has your party ever done for people like me, my loved ones and my friends? 

With utmost sincerity,

Sue Jones

 

Related

Conservatism in a nutshell

JP Morgan wants Europe to be rid of social rights, democracy, employee rights and the right to protest (2013)



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Disability campaigners & organisations meet with Labour ministers to discuss devastating impacts of government’s draconian disability policies

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On Wednesday, many of the disabled campaigners, researchers and organisations that have played a key role in exposing the discrimination and harm caused by the government’s social security reforms traveled to Westminster to attend a meeting with five Labour shadow ministers. The meeting was chaired by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

The original idea for a meeting of politicians, activists and researchers had originally come from Black Triangle’s John McArdle, who had put the idea to John McDonnell.

The meeting was conducted under the Chatham House rule, so although the contributions made during the meeting may be reported, the names of those who spoke and their organisations cannot, unless they spoke afterwards, specifically adding comment on record. I was permitted to report the names of the five shadow ministers who attended.

Other ministers participating were Margaret Greenwood (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), Marsha de Cordova (Shadow Minister for Disabled People); Mike Amesbury, (Shadow Employment Minister) and Lyn Brown, (Shadow Treasury Minister, with responsibility for social mobility).

This initial meeting is to be the launch of a series of campaigning efforts and consultation between the Labour party, disabled activists, researchers and allied organisations. Labour is also hoping to secure support from members of other political parties in the longer term.

A second meeting is set to take place later this autumn.

The discussion was particularly focused on the harm, psychological distress and deaths caused by the controversial work capability assessment (WCA), but concerns were also expressed around the table about the damage caused to disabled people by the government’s roll out of universal credit. Some of us had also submitted work in advance of the meeting and contributed to shaping the agenda.

Other crucial concerns were raised about the ongoing problems with personal independence payment (PIP), the harm caused by the welfare conditionality regime and sanctions, and the cuts to social care support. There was also discussion about the cumulative impact of the government’s reforms on disabled women. 

There was discussion about the importance of putting the government’s reforms into an ideological and historical perspective, which highlighted how successive governments have been strongly influenced by the US insurance industry, which had led to disabled people seeking support  “to be treated as bogus claimants”.

Added to this are criticisms of how the biopsychosocial model of disability, notions of ‘the sick role’ and ‘behavioural medicine’ have provided an underpinning ideology and veneer of political credibility to justify the steady and incremental dismantling of lifeline welfare support for disabled people.

One key commentator on this subject added “The WCA was brought in to destroy public confidence in the welfare state.”

Linked with this was concern raised at the continuing roll-out of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which has led to mental health professionals to “come out with the sort of language we are hearing from the Department for Work and Pensions”. 

One contributor told the meeting: “You can’t divorce what’s happening in DWP with what’s happening in psychiatry.” 

She also added that the approach by IAPT practitioners, who largely draw on the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) model, is tantamount to political gaslighting, since it blames the victims of circumstances that caused at a structural level, and are therefore beyond an individual’s control. The government’s ideological claim that ‘work is a health outcome’ has also been embedded in IAPT practices and aims, despite there being very little evidence that employment is generally beneficial to people with mental health problems. Evidence has emerged that some kinds of employment are in fact further damaging to mental health.

There was also a call for nurses and GPs to be held to account for the way they had compromised their own medical ethics in dealing with requests for evidence to support disability benefit claims and in acting  in the role of assessor for private contractors.

There was a little dispute regarding precisely where the focus should lie concerning the work capability assessment, with some people feeling quite strongly that our aim should be simply to see it abolished. The Labour party are committed to scrapping the highly controversial assessment process, but it was recognised that it’s highly unlikely the current government will do the same. One activist told the meeting that there was a need both for “harm reduction”, to address the immediate problems with the assessment process, and “system change” to secure the eventual abolition of the WCA altogether.

He pointed out: “Saying ‘change the WCA right now’ is not saying ‘keep the WCA’, it is saying ‘stop it killing so many people’.”

Several contributors said that the government had made a deliberate attempt to create a “hostile environment for disabled people”. 

The meeting was broadly welcomed by disabled activists. Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, added afterwards that he believed the meeting could herald the start of “a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system” and secure “permanent change”.

There were representatives present from many of the disabled-led grassroots organisations who have campaigned for many years against the Conservative’s punitive reforms and the disproportionate targeting of the disabled community with austerity measures. There were also researchers, union representatives and journalists gathered together to add to the discussion and to contribute in planning a response to the government’s persistent denials that there is a correlation between their policies and serious harm. 

McDonnell told journalists after the meeting: “I think this is a breakthrough meeting in terms of getting many of the relevant organisations and individuals together who have their concerns about what is happening to disabled people and their treatment in the welfare system.

I think it is the start of what could be a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system, but more importantly to secure permanent change.”

Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, said that it was the first time that the various groups had been brought around the same table to talk about different issues – including crucial concerns about the imminent “migration” from benefits such as employment and support allowance onto universal credit – that all fed into the idea that the government had created a “hostile environment towards disabled people”.

She said: “It is good that we are talking about it. It’s great that we are bringing people around the table, and mainly disabled people.”

The meeting has consolidated new momentum and hopefully, a unity to our diverse and ongoing campaigns against the mounting injustices surrounding the welfare reforms, austerity, the fatally flawed Work Capability Assessment, welfare conditionality and sanctions, the targeted cuts embedded in Personal Independent Payment and universal credit. 

We will be challenging the government’s persistent denial of a ‘causal link’ between their draconian welfare policies and the distress, systematic human rights violations, serious harm and deaths of disabled people that have arisen in correlation with those policies. Unless the government permit an independent inquiry into the terrible injustices that have followed in the wake of the welfare reform acts, they cannot provide evidence to support their own claims.

 

Related

John McDonnell attacks Tory disability cuts and vows to address suicides linked to welfare reforms

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow comes to Newcastle

Nothing about you without you – the Labour party manifesto for disabled people

 

 


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