Tag: Mandatory Review

Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP

Susan Roberts was found dead because of a morphine overdose (Photo: Philip Coburn)

A disabled mum, Susan Roberts, was found dead at home following an overdose of morphine. Susan died just metres away from a heartbreaking 11-page letter she had written to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), detailing her suffering following being told she wasn’t eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). 

Susan, a grandmother of eight, had survived four heart attacks. She died £4,000 in debt, after taking a fatal overdose within hours of being informed that her claim for PIP was unsuccessful. She had previously claimed Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and had been given an indefinite award, as her medical conditions were considered highly unlikely to get better.

The letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (Photo: Philip Coburn)

Susan was asked to apply for PIP by the DWP following the proposed closure of her DLA claim. Many people who have previously been eligible for DLA have found that they lose their support once they are reassessed for PIP. The government introduced PIP to replace DLA and to cut costs in 2013, as a part of their welfare “reform” programme, which inflicted cuts on the poorest citizens. The Conservatives claim that PIP “targets those most in need”. However, many people with the highest level of needs have been turned down for PIP after having indefinite or lifetime awards of DLA.

Susan’s tragic death also highlights that despite their claims, the government are not succeeding in “targeting the most vulnerable people”

Before taking a fatal dose of morphine, Susan had placed the paperwork from the DWP, which informed her that she had been turned down for PIP following mandatory review, a Do Not Resuscitate note and her unsent letter, on her dresser.

Susan was shocked when she was informed that she did not even qualify for an award of PIP at the lower rate. 

She began her heartbreaking letter: “Dear sirs, first of all, I request that you read this through carefully – this is my life after all.”

She said: “I am in a considerable state of depression after receiving your decision about my claim for PIP.”

Describing her health, she said: “My gall bladder needs to be removed because of multiple stones, weight loss, vomiting, excruciating pain – but specialists won’t operate because of my heart condition.”

She then describes the impact of suffering from ME, and explains that she can only manage to do tasks for just two or three hours a day. 

Susan had a stent fitted after her heart attacks and spent most of her time bedbound, largely due to also having ME.

An operation to remove part of her bowel meant she needed help to go to the toilet. She also needed help with her personal care, such as showering and with shopping, as she struggled to walk. But in late 2015, the Conservatives scrapped DLA and replaced it with PIP. Anyone 65 or older on April 8, 2013 still got DLA.

Susan’s daughter, Hayley Storrow, said: “It’s so sad. If she was born a week earlier she may have still been alive today.”

Susan’s PIP assessor had somehow erroneously decided that she could wash and bathe unaided, go to the loo and walk over 200 metres. Shockingly, this type of “error” and gross inaccuracy is very commonplace in the reports produced when disabled people are assessed for their lifeline support. In fact, earlier this year, the Labour party, the Green party and the Liberal Democrats called for the government to act on claims of widespread dishonesty by the medical professionals paid to compile benefits assessment reports, following a two-month investigation by Disability News Service.

Susan added in her letter that she would be virtually housebound without her Motability vehicle and her concluding comment is: “Thank you for reading this, with the greatest respect.”

She lost her Motability car last April because of the DWP’s decision not to award her PIP. Susan had sent a heartbreaking text to her daughter, Hayley, saying: “I’m never going to be able to see you again because they are taking the car.”

Susan is among thousands of disabled people who have lost their specialist Motability vehicles and wheelchairs because of cruel Conservative cuts and the restrictions to the eligibility criteria of PIP, and many more are likely to be affected. 

The PIP is supposed to help with the additional costs of being disabled, and in supporting disabled people in maintaining their independence and dignity, but many people are being denied the benefit because they are not assessed properly, and because the eligibility criteria have been made increasingly restrictive.

This means people previously eligible for the mobility component of DLA lose their cars and wheelchairs once they have been reassessed for the new PIP, if they don’t qualify for the mobility component. For many disabled people, this is a massive blow which impacts on their ability to remain independent, take part in their communities or get and keep a job. PIP is not means tested, so disabled people in work may claim it to help with additional support and extra costs. Many people losing their Motability vehicle will no longer be able to work.

Susan had asked for a review of the DWP decision following her first appeal. On 18 May last year, a letter arrived at her warden-assisted flat to tell her that the PIP award had been turned down yet again.

She was found dead the following morning and despite the letter and papers left out on the dresser, remarkably, a coroner said in October that she “had not taken her own life as there was no suicide note”, ruling it was a “drugs-related death”.

However, her daughter, Hayley, said: “I believe her unsent letter was her suicide note.”

It’s highly unlikely that an accidental overdose would have somehow prompted Susan to include a Do Not Resuscitate note with her letter and the bundle of DWP paperwork, too.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders are basically notes kept in a patient’s file that they do not want to be resuscitated should their heart stop. The medical establishment views DNR orders as the patient’s choice, though they do request that those considering DNR orders to discuss it with their family members. DNR orders may be requested by patients for a variety of reasons, all of them designed to keep the patient from suffering further. However, DNR laws do not take into account the situation of mentally ill patients framing a DNR order as a preparation for suicide.

The fact that Susan left the DNR note out with her letter and bundle of DWP documents indicates that her overdose was not accidental.

The Coroner’s verdict

By the end of 2015 it had emerged that the UK had experienced the largest annual spike in mortality rates for nearly 50 years.

Much media coverage seems to avoid reporting suicide as a response to structural conditions, and instead tends to emphasise suicide as an outcome of “mental illness” – as an individual act, rather than a problem that is influenced by socioeconomic and political conditions. The government has attempted to reconfigure wider social and economic problems as psychological problems, which has pushed highly politicised individual clinical and state therapeutic interventions – embodied in a rise of the mass provision of cognitive behavioural therapy and mandatory “attitude adjustment” classes for welfare recipients in the UK. This approach reflects political ideology and prejudices, rather than tackling the bigger issues of social inequality, poverty, lack of opportunity and an extremely punitive welfare regime. All of which are largely shaped by government policies.

Earlier this year, the Samaritans pubished their report Dying from Inequalitywhich clearly recognised rising socioeconomic inequality with a higher risk of suicide. The charity called on the government to direct support to those with unstable employment, insecure housing, low income or in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.

Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner North London, wrote directly to the DWP in 2015, stating that the suicide of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who hanged himself, had been a direct result of being ruled “fit to work.

The coroner’s verdict of Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide is widely seen as ground-breaking by disability rights campaigners and groups like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) because the DWP, the media and charities usually frame suicide as “complex” with no single cause, which means suicide has rarely been directly linked to the austerity programme, nor have government policies more generally been seen as directly responsible for suicides. 

Suicide is a significant social problem. Over 800,000 people commit suicide every year. Many of these can be quite properly understood as “economic suicides” because they take place against a backdrop of structural adjustment policies and rampant neoliberal market-led reforms. A counter discourse to the government tendency of psychologising socioeconomic conditions, making them the responsibility of individuals, rather than government and wider society, is of course crucial.

Technically, a coroner makes a finding of fact at the end of an Inquest. The coroner cannot attribute blame to any individual and cannot imply a criminal or civil liability, by law. The Coroner must use the evidence heard to decide who the deceased person was, where they died, when they died, and what the cause of their death was. Commonly, the “finding of fact” is referred to as a verdict or conclusion. A conclusion of suicide is decided where the evidence indicates a person has voluntarily acted to destroy his or her life in an intentional way. Inquest verdicts of Suicide (and Unlawful Killing) must be decided “beyond reasonable doubt”. Other causes of death may be decided on “a balance of probability”.

However, there is evidence to suggest that suicides are being under-reported because of the change in Coroner’s statutory regulations and guidelines, in 2013. Interestingly, contrary to the current trend in health and safety inquests, the Ministry of Justice guidance tells coroners that, wherever possible, short-form conclusions should be delivered, rather than the more detailed narrative conclusion.

Furthermore, open conclusions are discouraged, to be used only as a “last resort”. Concerns have been raised about the government’s new short-form conclusions and some organisations, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have asked the government to give due consideration to changing the standard of proof required for suicide verdicts. The 2013 reforms also enable the government to suspend an independent inquest into any death in favour of an inquiry, which under the Inquiries Act 2005 can be now be held in secret. 

The House of Commons Health Committee Suicide prevention: interim report Fourth Report of Session 2016–17 says: “Our evidence suggests the need for a more rapid provisional notification of suicide at the time when a suspected death by suicide occurs. We recommend that the Government take action to improve consistency between coroners and to make routine the use of provisional notifications of suicide. Furthermore, we recommend that the standard of proof for conclusions of death by suicide should be changed to the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt.” 

Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules (1984) states that if the Coroner is of the opinion that a death could have been prevented if different action had been taken by a particular person or organisation, he/she may make a recommendation for change. Also, the scope of the coroner’s investigation must be widened to include an investigation of the broad circumstances of the death, including events leading up to the death in question, where this wider investigation is necessary to ensure compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life). The positive duty to protect life implies a duty to investigate unnatural deaths, including but not confined to deaths in which state agents may be implicated.

Hayley has accused the government of having blood on their hands. She said: “People are living in poverty or considering suicide because of these benefits changes. My Mum won’t be the last to die.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are with Mrs Roberts’ family but there is no evidence to suggest any link between her death and her benefit claim.”

There is no evidence to suggest it isn’t, either, without further investigation, which so far, the government have refused to do. There is an established correlation between disability benefit assessments and increased mental health problems, distress and exacerbations of physical illness symptoms, too. While correlation isn’t necessarily the same thing as causation, it quite often implies a causal link, which may only be ruled out following further investigation, rather than political denial.

The DWP has quietly carried out investigations into 60 cases where benefit claimants are said to have taken their own lives. Labour MP Diana Johnson said the figures cast doubt on claims that there is no link between suicide and welfare re-assessments, with the DWP carrying out the internal reviews over the last five years. 

Johnson said: “Ministers have repeatedly claimed there to be no link between suicide and welfare re-assessment whenever figures have come to light.

“This parliamentary answer to me blows this claim out of the water.

“If there was no link, there wouldn’t have been 60 reviews of suicides in the past five years.

“I am appalled that these figures have remained unpublished for so long.”

A written parliamentary question from the Hull North MP revealed that the DWP carried out 15 internal reviews into suicides or alleged suicides of so-called DWP “clients” in 2012/13 alone.

“Families who’ve been left in the dark need to know everything the DWP knows about these cases,” Johnson said.

“Most importantly, we need a welfare system that supports, rather than victimises, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”

Susan’s daughter, Hayley said: “When my brother went to mum’s flat after she died, he found 37p in her purse. Even with DLA she was living day to day, scraping by. She was found dead with the PIP refusal letter placed strategically on a dresser.

“She was a poorly woman and this ­decision tipped her over the edge – she was in a desperate situation. I feel if it wasn’t for PIP and the Tory Government, my mum would still be alive. 

“They failed her like they have failed thousands.”

Susan wrote the 11-page letter criticising the decision and outlining her circumstances but as the DWP turned down her initial appeal within six days, she did not have time to send it. 

Hayley said: “I just want Theresa May to know that her rules and regime are killing the most vulnerable people in society.

“With the election coming up, it is so vital that things change.

“I feel any vote for the Tories is going to lead to more deaths.”

 

If you are experiencing distress and feel suicidal, please don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans have launched a free telephone national helpline number, 116 123. 

People who are going through a difficult time can access the service round the clock, every single day of the year.

This number is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call 116 123.

 

Related

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

Government subverts judicial process and abandons promise on mental health ‘parity of esteem’ to strip people of PIP entitlement

New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today


 

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A black day for disabled people – disability benefit cuts enforced by government despite widespread opposition

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“The fact is that Ministers are looking for large savings at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. That was not made clear in the general election campaign; then, the Prime Minister said that disabled people would be protected.” – [Official Report, Commons, 2/3/16; cols. 1052-58.]

A coalition of 60 national disability charities have condemned the government’s cuts to benefits as a “step backwards” for sick and disabled people and their families. The Disability Benefits Consortium say that the cuts, which will see people lose up to £1,500 a year, will leave disabled people feeling betrayed by the government and will have a damaging effect on their health, finances and ability to find work.

Research by the Consortium suggests the low level of benefit is already failing to meet disabled people’s needs. 

A survey of 500 people in the affected group found that 28 per cent of people had been unable to afford to eat while in receipt of the benefit. Around 38 per cent of respondents said they had been unable to heat their homes and 52 per cent struggled to stay healthy.

The Government was twice defeated in the Lords over proposals to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for sick and disabled people in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from £103 to £73.

However the £30 a week cut is set to go ahead after bitterly disappointed and angry peers were left powerless to continue to oppose the Commons, which has overturned both defeats. The government has hammered through the cuts of £120 a month to the lifeline income of ill and disabled people by citing the “financial privilege” of the Commons, and after Priti Patel informing the Lords that they have “overstepped their mark” in opposing the cuts twice.

The Strathclyde review, commissioned by a rancorous and retaliatory David Cameron, following the delay and subsequently effective defeat of government tax credit legislation in the House of Lords, recommends curtailing the powers of Upper House. Strathclyde concludes in his report that the House of Lords should be permitted to ask the Commons to “think again” when a disagreement on proposed legislation exists, but should not be allowed to veto. MPs would ultimately make a decision on whether a measure is passed into law. The review focuses in particular on the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, in relation to the former’s primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation, and serves to highlight the government’s very worrying increasing tendency towards authoritarianism.

The cuts to ESA and proposed and probable cuts to Personal Independent Payments (PIP), take place in the context of a Tory manifesto that included a pledge not to cut disability benefits.

Yesterday in the House of Lords, independent crossbencher Lord Low of Dalston warned: “This is a black day for disabled people.”

Contrary to what is being reported, it won’t be only new claimants affected by the cuts to ESA. Firstly, it may potentially affect anyone who has a break in their ESA claim (and that could happen because of a reassessment with a decision that means needing to ask for a mandatory review), and secondly, those migrated onto Universal Credit will be affected. The benefit cap will also cut sick and disabled people’s income if they are in the ESA WRAG.

Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Grey-Thompson said she was bitterly disappointed that this “dreadful and punitive” part of the Bill was going ahead.

Parliamentary procedure had prevented her putting down another amendment opposing the move, which will have a harsh, negative impact on thousands of people’s lives.

Already facing a UN inquiry into grave and systematic abuses of the human rights of disabled people, Cameron remains completely unabashed by his government’s blatant attack on a protected social group, and the Conservatives continue to target disabled people for a disproportionately large burden of austerity cuts.

The Government have been accused of failing to fulfil their public sector equality duty. Under the Equality Act 2010, the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies on the elimination of discrimination, the advancement of equality of opportunity and the fostering of good relations. This is shameful, in a very wealthy first-world democracy.

The “justification” the Tories offer for the cut of almost £120 a month to the lifeline support of people judged to be unfit for work by their own doctors AND the state, is that it will “help people into work”. I’ve never heard of taking money from people who already have very little described as “help” before. Only the Conservatives  would contemplate cutting money from sick and disabled people, whilst gifting the millionaires with £107, 000 each per year in the form of a tax “break”.

Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t “incentivise” anyone to find a job. It will just make life much more difficult. The government have made the decision to cut disability benefits because of an extremely prejudiced ideological preference for a “small state” and their antiwelfare agenda. There are alternative political choices that entail far more humane treatment of sick and disabled people. The fact that ministers have persistently refused to carry out a policy impact assessment indicates clearly that this measure has got nothing to do with any good will towards disabled people, nor is it about “helping” people into work.

The cut simply expresses the Conservative’s contempt for social groups that are economically inactive, regardless of the reasons. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors, and by the state via the work capability assessment. Simply refusing to accept this, and hounding a group of people who are ill, and who have until recently been considered reasonably exempt from working, is an indictment of this increasingly despotic government.

I can’t help wondering how long it will be before we hear about government proposals to cut the financial support further for those in the ESA support group. There does seem to be a recognisable pattern of political scapegoating, public moral boundaries being pushed, and cruel, highly unethical cuts being announced. Social security provision is being dismantled incrementally, whilst the Conservative justification narrative becomes less and less coherent. Despite the arrogant moralising approach of Tory ministers, and the Orwellian rhetoric of “helping” and “supporting” people who are too ill to work into any job, or face the threat of starvation and destitution, none of this will ever justify the unforgivable, steady withdrawal of lifeline support for sick and disabled people.

Baroness Meacher warned that for the most vulnerable the cut was “terrifying” and bound to lead to increased debt.

Condemning the “truly terrible” actions of the Treasury, she urged ministers to monitor the number of suicides in the year after the change comes in, adding: “I am certain there will be people who cannot face the debt and the loss of their home, who will take their lives.” Not only have the government failed to carry out an impact assessment regarding the cuts, Lord Freud said that the impact, potential increase in deaths and suicides won’t be monitored, apart from “privately” because individual details can’t be shared and because that isn’t a “useful approach”.

He went on to say “We have recently produced a large analysis on this, which I will send to the noble Baroness. That analysis makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying—however you die—and the fact that someone is claiming benefit.”

Actually, a political refusal to investigate an established correlation between the welfare “reforms” and an increase in the mortality statistics of those hit the hardest by the cuts – sick and disabled people – is not the same thing as there being no causal link. Often, correlation implies causality and therefore such established links require further investigation. It is not possible to disprove a causal link without further investigation, either.

Whilst the government continue to deny there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation, which warrants further research – an independent inquiry at the VERY least. But the government are hiding behind this distinction to deny any association at all between policy and policy impacts. That’s just plain wrong.

Insisting that there isn’t a “causal link” established, whilst withholding crucial evidence in parliament and from the public domain is what can at best be considered the actions and behaviours of tyrants.

 

Related reading

House of Lords debate: ESA – Monday 07 March 2016 (From 3.06pm)

Thatcher’s policies condemned for causing “unjust premature death”

MP attacks cuts hitting disabled people – Debbie Abrahams

Leading the debate against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – 3rd reading – Debbie Abrahams

My speech at the Changes to Funding of Support for Disabled People Westminster Hall Debate – Debbie Abrahams

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

A Critique of Conservative notions of “Social Research”

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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Benefit sanctions: Britain’s secret penal system – Dr David Webster

Benefits claimants are subjected to an ‘amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system’, writes Dr David Webster of the University of Glasgow.

Few people know that the number of financial penalties (‘sanctions’) imposed on benefit claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts. In Great Britain in 2013, there were 1,046,398 sanctions on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, 32,128 on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, and approximately 44,000 on lone parent recipients of Income Support. By contrast, Magistrates’ and Sheriff courts imposed a total of only 849,000 fines.

Sanctioned benefit claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts. The scale of penalties is more severe (£286.80 – £11,185.20 compared to £200 – £10,000). Most sanctions are applied to poor people and involve total loss of benefit income.

Although there is a system of discretionary ‘hardship payments’, claimants are often reduced to hunger and destitution by the ban on application for the first two weeks and by lack of information about the payments and the complexity of the application process. The hardship payment system itself is designed to clean people out of resources; all savings or other sources of assistance must be used up before help is given.

Decisions on guilt are made in secret by officials who have no independent responsibility to act lawfully; since the Social Security Act 1998 they have been mere agents of the Secretary of State. These officials are currently subject to constant management pressure to maximise penalties, and as in any secret system there is a lot of error, misconduct, dishonesty and abuse.

The claimant is not present when the decision on guilt is made and is not legally represented. While offenders processed in the court system cannot be punished before a hearing, and if fined are given time to pay, the claimant’s punishment is applied immediately. Unlike a magistrate or sheriff, the official deciding the case does not vary the penalty in the light of its likely impact on them or their family. If the claimant gets a hearing (and even before the new system of ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ only 3 per cent of sanctioned claimants were doing so), then it is months later, when the damage has been done.

‘Mandatory reconsideration’, introduced in October 2013, denies access to an independent Tribunal until the claimant has been rung up at home twice and forced to discuss their case with a DWP official in the absence of any adviser – a system which is open to abuse and has caused a collapse in cases going to Tribunal.

Yet the ‘transgressions’ (DWP’s own word) which are punished by this system are almost exclusively very minor matters, such as missing a single interview with a Jobcentre or Work Programme contractor, or not making quite as many token job applications as the Jobcentre adviser demands.

How did we get to this situation? Until the later 1980s, the social security system saw very little use of anything that could be called a sanction. Unemployment benefits were seen as part of an insurance scheme, with insurance-style conditions. Any decision on ‘disqualification’ (as it was called) from unemployment benefit was made by an independent Adjudication Service, with unrestricted right of appeal to an independent Tribunal. The maximum disqualification was 6 weeks, and those disqualified had a right to a reduced rate of Supplementary Benefit assessed on the normal rules.

‘Sanctions’ are almost entirely a development of the last 25 years.

[“Conditionality” has been a part of welfare to some degree since its inception. However, the Coalition made sanctions a key part of welfare conditionality as a part of their welfare “reforms in 2012, considerably increasing their severity, timescale and frequency. My insert. KSJ].

The British political class has come to believe that benefit claimants must be punished to make them look for work in ways the state thinks are a good idea. Yet the evidence to justify this does not exist. A handful of academic papers, mostly from overseas regimes with milder sanctions, suggest that sanctions may produce small positive effects on employment. But other research shows that their main effect is to drive people off benefits but not into work, and that where they do raise employment, they push people into low quality, unsustainable jobs.

This research, and a torrent of evidence from Britain’s voluntary sector, also shows a wide range of adverse effects. Sanctions undermine physical and mental health, cause hardship for family and friends, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to Food Banks and payday lenders, and to crime. They also often make it harder to look for work. Taking these negatives into account, they cannot be justified.

Benefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system, but lacks its safeguards. It is time for everyone concerned for the rights of the citizen to demand their abolition. 


David Webster’s written and oral evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into Benefit Sanctions beyond the Oakley Review is available on the Parliament.uk website and and his other papers on sanctions are available via Child Poverty Action Group.

This article first appeared on Monday, 26 January, 2015 on the  Centre for Crime and Justice Studies site. You can read the original here

Related
Sanctions are founded on Tory psychobabble. You can’t “incentivise” people by starving them

Department of Department of Work and Pensions officials admit to using fake claimant’s comments to justify benefit sanctions

As predicted, Mandatory Review has effectively destroyed independent Tribunals

IDS_nSection 102 and Schedule 11 of the Welfare Reform Act, (Clause 99) is the (State) power to require revision before appeal. People who wish to challenge a benefit decision will no longer be allowed to lodge an appeal immediately. Instead, the government introduced mandatory revision or review stage, during which a different Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker will reconsider the original decision and the evidence and, if necessary, send for more information.

Many of us have campaigned since 2012 to raise awareness of Clause 99. During the Consultation period, I wrote a set of responses to the government’s proposals, which many people used as a template for their own responses.  I remember that we ALL RAISED THE SAME CONCERNS.

In summary, the main concerns were that basic rate Employment Support Allowance was to be withdrawn during the mandatory review period, leaving sick and disabled people with no money to live on, whilst the DWP reconsidered their own “fit for work decisions” that were wrong.

I know that our consultation responses were ignored by the government. The changes were introduced anyway, despite our grave concerns. Since October 2013 people have to apply for mandatory review separately before they can lodge an appeal. We were also very worried that no time limit was established for the DWP to undertake and complete the mandatory review. Our concerns were fully justified, as it’s emerged that people are waiting 7-10 weeks for the mandatory review decision. Meanwhile, these people cannot appeal. And have no money to live on.

An added concern is that this system as it stands demands such a lot from people who may be very vulnerable, seriously ill and/or have mental health problems. Their difficulties are exacerbated by cuts in legal aid for welfare rights advice and cuts in local authority grants. There is a significant contraction of the availability of help for those who need it the most from advice agencies.

A Benefit Sanctions Briefing was released on 18 February 2015 by the Department of Work and Pensions, comprising of an update of sanctions statistics up to the end of September 2014, and for the first time it also included the outcomes of Mandatory Reviews (or sometimes called “reconsiderations.”)

Dr David Webster, Senior Research Fellow at Glasgow University, said: “The Mandatory Reconsideration system (MR), introduced on 28 October 2013, has fundamentally changed the whole appeal process, introducing additional steps and a new Jobcentre Plus structure. MR has cut the proportion of Job Seekers Allowance sanctions which are challenged by claimants from about one third (33%) to about 20-25%. Employment Support Allowance sanction challenges have returned to below their pre-MR level, at about 45%.

The independent element in the system offered by Tribunals has been effectively destroyed, completely in the case of Employment Support Allowance and almost completely for Job Seekers Allowance, where only 0.14% of sanction decisions are now being taken to a Tribunal.

MR has had no overall impact on the proportion of Job Seekers Allowance sanctions overturned, which remains at about 13%. But the proportion of Employment Support Allowance sanctions overturned has fallen from about 35% to about 20%.

The most disturbing possibility is that Employment Support Allowance claimants’ medical conditions are rendering them unable to cope effectively with the phone calls made to them by DWP officials at home during the MR process.”

He also said: “Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) Reconsiderations and Appeals: The revised DWP statistics show much lower claimant success rates at both internal DWP reconsideration and Tribunal appeal. However, success rates for the few who appeal to a Tribunal have risen and successful Tribunal appeals are at an all-time high. For a claimant prepared to go all the way in the appeal process, the probability of overturning a sanction is now 51%.

Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants have higher success rates than JSA claimants at reconsideration and appeal.

In 2013 their reconsideration success rate was 56.1% and their appeal success rate was 26.1%. A higher proportion of ESA claimants than JSA claimants ask for reconsideration. This proportion has been rising rapidly, from below 10% up to March 2011, to over 40% during 2013.

The proportion appealing to Tribunals is lower, only about 1%. In 2013 there were 8,428 reconsiderations or appeals where the claimant was successful in overturning an ESA sanction.

The big surge in ESA sanctions during 2013 was due to penalties for failure to participate in work-related activity. By December 2013 this reason accounted for 87% of ESA sanctions, the other 13% being for failure to attend a work-related interview.

This is in contrast to the experience under the Labour government, when the only reason for sanction was failure to attend an interview [without good reason], and there were no sanctions in relation to work-related activity.

Dr David Webster has submitted evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into benefit sanctions.

Many of the key issues with the mandatory review can be seen summarised herehere and here. Sheila Gilmore and Dame Anne Begg have covered these extensively during the ongoing Work and Pensions Committee ESA inquiry, as well as during the course of the many separately tabled debates.

Clause 99 – Mandatory Review – was undoubtedly introduced to make appealing wrong decisions that we are fit for work almost impossible. Sick and disabled people are effectively being silenced by this Government, and the evidence of a brutal, dehumanising, undignified and grossly unfair system of “assessment” is being hidden.

It also hides the crass unfairness and terrible consequences of Tory draconianism – the using of behavioural modification techniques in the form of benefit sanctions that have now been integrated into welfare “conditionality” criteria, and imposed on people who are already struggling materially, some of who are sick and disabled.

Most of those people claiming benefts do so through no fault of their own. To punish people by removing all of their income – and thus their only means of meeting basic survival needs – so arbitrarily, is obscene in a so-called civilised society.

The only way for a tiny group of people to become obscenely rich is for huge masses of others to be kept chronically poor. The tories have spent five years lying to us about who “deserves” what, but the bottom line is this: almost every tory policy has intentionally resulted in money being taken from the poorest or money being handed to the [already] wealthiest and most powerful. (See: Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor and ‘We are raising more money for the rich’ revisited: some thoughts.)

Related

Clause 99, Catch 22 – The ESA Mandatory Second Revision and Appeals

Clause 99, Catch 22 – State sadism and silencing disabled people

Clause 99, Catch 22 and Penning is telling lies

The New New Poor Law

Sanctions misery for tens of thousands of families this Christmas

Pregnant and sanctioned just in time for christmas… Sanctioned and frozen to death….The latest news from Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre.

Rachel Reeves promises to remove benefit sanction targets with a Labour Government

Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Commitee

Benefit sanctions are not fair and are not helping people into work

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for the memes.

David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public

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Lord Freud, a Conservative Welfare Reform Minister, has admitted comments he made that some disabled people are  not worth” the full national minimum wage”  were “offensive”, after they were disclosed by Ed Miliband during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday afternoon. The Labour leader has called on the Tory peer to resign. Cameron called for a full apology from Freud.

He has since apologised after slipping up and suggesting that disabled people are “not worth” the national minimum wage and some could only be paid “£2 an hour.” Cameron says the comments made by Lord Freud at the Tory conference do not represent the views of government. However, his austerity measures and the welfare “reforms” tell us a very different story.

Cameron betrayed his anger at being challenged when he once again alluded to his severely disabled late son, Ivan, and his late father, as he told Miliband that he would take no lectures on disabled people.

This is not the first time that the prime minister has used his son in anger, as a tactic designed to cause others emotional discomfort, deflect criticism and to avoid answering difficult questions regarding this government’s harsh and punitive policies towards disabled people.

The Labour leader quoted Freud, saying: “You make a really good point about the disabled. There is a group where actually, as you say, they’re not worth the full wage.”

Amidst cries of “outrage” and “shame” from the Labour benches, Mr Miliband said: “To be clear about what the Welfare Reform Minister said, it’s very serious. He didn’t just say disabled people weren’t worth the minimum wage, he went further and he said he was looking at whether there is something we can do, if someone wants to work for £2 an hour.”

He added: “Surely someone holding those views can’t possibly stay in your Government?”

Cameron said: “Those are not the views of the government, they are not the views of anyone in the government. The minimum wage is paid to everybody, disabled people included.”

Clearly very angry, the prime minister added: “Let me tell you: I don’t need lectures from anyone about looking after disabled people. So I don’t want to hear any more of that. We pay the minimum wage, we are reforming disability benefits, we want to help disabled people in our country, we want to help more of them into work. And instead of casting aspersions why doesn’t he get back to talking about the economy.”  

Once again, note the rhetorical diversionary tactics that Cameron used.

Miliband responded: “I suggest, if he wants to protect the rights of disabled people, he reads very carefully what his welfare minister has said because they are not the words of someone who ought to be in charge of policy related to disabled people.

“In the dog days of this government the Conservative party is going back to its worst instincts – unfunded tax cuts, hitting the poorest hardest, now undermining the minimum wage. The nasty party is back.”

In the Guardian said: We are in the climate of the Work Programme  and  employment and support allowance travesties, in jobseeker’s allowance sanctions and personal independent payment delays.

Coerced, free labour and a shrinking, ever conditional benefit system. Freud has not spoken out of turn, but encapsulated Conservative attitudes to both disabled people and workers: pay them as little as possible and they will be grateful for it.

The Tories are not content with forcing disabled people into work. They want to pay them a pittance when they get there. I suppose we can thank Freud. The government has been producing enough measures that infers disabled people are slightly less than human. He’s finally said it out loud.”

I couldn’t agree more. Freud’s comments are simply a reflection of a wider implicit and fundamental Social Darwinism underpinning Tory ideology, and even Tim Montgomerie, who founded the Conservative­Home site has conceded that: “Conservative rhetoric often borders on social Darwinism…and has lost a sense of social justice.”

Of course the problem with such an ideological foundation is that it directly contradicts the basic principles that modern, western democracy was founded on, it is incompatible with our Human Rights Act, which enshrines the principle that we are each of equal worth. And our Equality Act, introduced by Labour to ensure that people are not discriminated against on the grounds of their disability, gender, age and a variety of other protected characteristics.

Sam Bowman, research director of the Adam Smith Institute, has said that Freud was “shamefully mistreated” by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

The Adam Smith Institute – a think tank that promotes Conservative “libertarian and free market ideas”, minarchism and claims it is:“known for its pioneering work on privatization, deregulation, and tax reform, and for its advocacy of internal markets in healthcare and education, working with policy-makers”  – has, perhaps unsurprisingly, defended Lord Freud’s disgraceful comments regarding striving disabled workers.

Mr Bowman said: “His (Freud’s) point was that the market value of some people’s wages is below the minimum wage. This is often true of the severely disabled and can have appalling consequences for their self-esteem and quality of life.”

He added: “To point out that someone’s market value is less than minimum wage has nothing to do with their moral value as human beings.”

I beg to differ. We have a government that claims meritocratic principles define those who are worthy and deserving of wealth.We have a government that generates socially divisive narratives founded on ideological dichotomies like strivers and skivers. We have a government that systematically disregards the human rights of disabled people. Their very policies define the moral value they attribute to the poor, disabled people and the wealthy, respectively. This defence is based on a false distinction, because the Tories conflate market value and moral value explicitly, their policies are evidence of that.

The think tank president, Madsen Pirie,  once said: “We propose things which people regard as being on the edge of lunacy. The next thing you know, they’re on the edge of policy.”  

This group of neoconservatives brought you the fundamentals of Thatcher’s poll tax, the Adam Smith Institute was also the ideological driving force behind the sales of council house stock. If you need any further convincing of their Tory credentials, then their proposals that the National Health Service should establish an internal market with hospitals buying the use of facilities from other districts and from the private sector ought to be sufficient.

The Institute has always been a fierce critic of the NHS, it thinks that the government should only regulate healthcare and that healthcare should be privately funded and privately provided by private sector companies. The Adam Smith Institute said: Congratulations to the new Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, for what could be the biggest revolution in the UK’s state-run National Health Service for 60 years. 

Also recommended by this group of privatisation vultures was an internal market system for UK schools that would have (reduced) state funds to follow students to independently run academic institutions. This approach to school funding is now Coalition policy. Following the Institute’s call for the use of private businesses by local governments, many council-run local services, such as waste collection and cleaning, were contracted out. Additionally, local governments are now required to solicit competitive bids for local services.

And it was this group of Hayek-worshipping, pro-exploitation neofeudalists, who don’t declare their funding sources, that called for a radical shake-up of welfare policy, which would make work requirements absolutely central to the benefits system. These proposals subsequently became Tory policy.

And who could forget their peddling of unfettered free markets and trade as an objection to fair trade?

In the UK and elsewhere, such Conservative neoliberal ideas have drastically changed how states operate. By heavily promoting market-based economies that highly value competition and efficiency, such neoliberalist economies have moved countries to retrogressively adopting Social Darwinist philosophies to prop up free market “logic”. 

Bourdieu (1999) contends that neoliberalism as a form of national governance has become a doxa, or an unquestioned and simply accepted world-view.(See also Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man.)

Harvey (2005) is not surprised that the ideas of capitalism have been infused into political, social, and cultural institutions at state-level. By placing a mathematical quality on social life, the neoconservatives have encouraged a formerly autonomous state to regress into penal state that values production, competition, and profit above all else, and social issues and consequences are increasingly disregarded.

Tories view their brand of economics as a social science that is capable of explaining all human behaviours, since all social agency is thought to be directed by a rationale of individualistic and selfish goals. And the focus on the individual means that ideas related to concepts such as “the public good” and realities such as “the community” are now being discarded as unnecessary components of a welfare state.

Unsurprisingly, then, high unemployment, gross inequality, and increasingly absolute poverty are increasingly blamed on individuals rather than on structural/economic constraints.

Tory economic policy is designed to benefit only a very small class of people. Such a world-view also makes it easier to justify the thought that some people are deserving of much more than others because, after all, it is a common refrain that we are all responsible for our own destinies. (See the just-world fallacy.)

Freud’s comment was not a momentary lapse, nor was it unrepresentative of Tory views more generally. He is the contemptuous architect of the grossly punitive Tory Bedroom Tax that disproportionately affects households of disabled people. The Tories endorsed Freud’s discriminatory policy proposal, and savagely ridiculed the UN rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, when she pointed out, very professionally and reasonably, that the policy contravened human rights.

He is the same government minister that rejected suggestions that austerity policies have led to an increase in food bank use – making the jaw-droppingly astonishing suggestion that food bank charities are somehow to blame. This former investment banker and peer told the Lords that the increase in the usage of food banks was “supply led”.

He said: “If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly, food from the food banks is a free good and by definition with a free good there’s almost infinite demand.”

Poverty reduced to individual neoliberal motivational formulae. Yet it is the government that are responsible for policies that create and sustain inequality and poverty.

In the wake of the longer wait for unemployment benefits introduced by George Osborne, a massive increase in the use of cruel benefit sanctions, the introduction of the mandatory review, during which benefits are not payable to disabled people, Freud also rejected suggestions by leading food bank operators that delays in benefit payments drove demand for emergency food aid.

Such brutal, dehumanising and inequitable treatment of our most vulnerable citizens cannot be regarded as an exceptional incident: the Tories have formulated policies that have at their very core the not so very subliminal message that we are worthless and undeserving of support, basic honesty and decency.

Social Darwinism, with its brutalising indifference to human suffering, has been resurrected from nineteenth century and it fits so well with the current political spirit of neoliberalism. As social bonds are replaced by narcissistic, unadulterated materialism, public concerns are now understood and experienced as utterly private miseries, except when offered up to us on the Jerry Springer Show or Benefit Street as spectacle.

The Tories conflate autonomy (the ability to act according to our own internalised beliefs and values) with independence (not being reliant on or influenced by others). Tories like Freud have poisoned the very idea that we are a social species, connected by mutual interdependencies that require a degree of good will, kindliness and willingness to operate beyond our own exclusive, strangle hold of self-interest.

The time has come to ask ourselves what possible benefit to society such a government actually is – what use is an authoritarian, punitive state that is more concerned with punishing, policing and reducing citizens than with nurturing, supporting and investing in them?

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Tory Values Explained In One Easy Chart

Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23

tory cuts
That we live in times when a government can withhold information about the impact of its policies on sick and disabled people, the poorest and the vulnerable is extraordinary, and certainly reflects the fact that we are no longer a democracy.

We knew in 2012 that an average of 73 sick and disabled people were dying after they had their lifeline benefits withdrawn. But now the government refuses to provide us with information about deaths since then. It’s my own belief that this refusal is because the truth will be horrifying and that even those that supported benefit cuts originally will raise their objections when they learn the truth. We cannot claim to be a civilised society when our government policy is killing some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Well done Mike Sivier, for standing up against an increasingly authoritarian government, and good luck from your fellow campaigners.

From Vox Political: Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23.

“The only way the public can judge whether this has worked, or whether more must be done to prevent unnecessary deaths, is by examining the mortality statistics, but these have been withheld”. 

Yes, just like the toxic clause 99 – mandatory review – silences those wishing to appeal, also hiding evidence from the public eye. The Tories are showing form here.

 In a so-called democracy, ALL campaigning is both essential and part of an inbuilt safeguard against authoritarianism.

Vox Political: Case proven? Government stays away from benefit deaths tribunal

Related:

The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst the Disabled.
Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy

Clause 99, Catch 22 – The ESA Mandatory Second Revision and Appeals

552733_435687149834152_88095195_nSection 102 and Schedule 11 of the Welfare Reform Act, (Clause 99) – Power to require revision before appeal.

If anyone left in doubt that this Government’s policies are grossly unfair, and are intentionally punishing sick and disabled people – some of whom are amongst the most vulnerable of our citizens – you need look no further than Clause 99 for verification. Currently, claimants who are found fit for work can continue to receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) at the basic rate by immediately lodging an appeal if they think the decision is wrong. ESA will then remain in payment until the appeal is decided.

That is all set to change, however, under Clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Bill, intended to be effective from April 2013 – and according to the Department for Work and Pensions, from October 2013 that includes ESA and DLA decisions. Under the new rules, claimants who wish to challenge a benefit decision will no longer be allowed to lodge an appeal immediately. Instead, there will be a mandatory revision or review stage, during which a different Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker will reconsider the evidence and, if necessary, send for more information, before deciding whether to change the original decision.

There will be no time limit on how long this process may take. The requirement for a mandatory review/revision before proceeding with appeal applies to all DWP linked benefits. During the review, no ESA will be payable, not even the basic rate. However, once the review is completed, those wishing to appeal may claim basic rate ESA again, up until the tribunal. It’s important that people know to request this continued payment from the DWP, once they have lodged their appeal. 

The ludicrous claim from Government is that this “simplifies” the appeal process, and  “the changes will improve customer service by encouraging people to submit additional evidence earlier in the process to help improve decision making. Resolving any disputes without the need for an appeal will also help ensure that people receive the right decision earlier in the process.”

Call me a cynic, but I don’t believe this is the genuine reasoning behind clause 99 at all. The successful appeals to date provide a growing and substantial body of evidence that the Work Capability Assessment isn’t fit for purpose. People are being wrongfully denied their claims for ESA. Mandatory review will make it very difficult for people to continue with an appeal, since their lifeline income will end for an indefinite period until the review is completed and they can proceed with appeal.

You will also have to appeal directly to HM Courts and Tribunal Services – this is known as “direct lodgement” – as DWP will no longer lodge the appeal on your behalf. DWP has agreed with the Tribunal Procedure Committee to introduce time limits to stipulate how long DWP has to respond to an individual appeal. The DWP is currently discussing what these time limits might be with the Tribunal Procedure Committee. That is assuming, of course, that people manage to circumnavigate the other consequences of this legislation.

From 1 April 2013 you will not be able to get Legal Aid for First-tier Tribunal hearings. Legal Aid will still be available for appeals to the Upper Tribunal and Higher Courts. See appealing to the Upper Tribunal against a first tier tribunal decision here: legal aid act 2012 for more information. So much for the right to a fair hearing.

There are some serious implications and concerns about these changes. Firstly, there is no set time limit for DWP to undertake and complete the second revision. Secondly, claimants are left with no income at all whilst they await the review, and until appeal is lodged. The DWP have stated that there is “no legal reason” to pay a benefit that has been disallowed during the review period. The only choice available seems to be an application for Job Seekers Allowance. (JSA) or Universal Credit. However, we know that people in situations where they have been refused ESA have also been refused JSA, incredibly, on the grounds that they are unavailable for work, (and so do not meet the conditions that signing on entails) or they are unfit for work, because they are simply too ill to meet the conditions.

We know of people who have had their application for JSA refused because they attend hospital for treatment once a week and so they are “not available for work” at this time. Furthermore, the minimum waiting period for a new claim to be processed is 6 weeks. That’s 6 weeks with no income at all.

Moreover, there is some anecdotal evidence of people being told by the DWP that in order to claim JSA, they must first close their original claim for ESA, since it isn’t possible to have two claims for two different benefits open at the same time. DWP are also telling people that this means withdrawing their ESA appeal. However, you have the right to appeal.

Another grave concern is that although most people on income related ESA are automatically passported  to maximum Housing and Council Tax Benefit, from the time that the claim ends, (and for whatever reason), eligibility to housing benefit and council tax also ends. 

However, I would urge people in this situation to contact the Housing Benefit office promptly to explain the situation – the DWP automatically contact the Council to tell them when someone’s eligibility for ESA has ended. It is always assumed that the person claiming has found work when their DWP related benefit eligibility ends.

You can still claim for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit because you have a low income, or nil income, but you will need contact the Benefits Section, and will need bank statements to demonstrate that this is true, and also, any other evidence you may have, such as your notification letter from DWP, evidence of your tenancy and ID. If you have no income as a result of your ESA being stopped, ask for a nil income declaration form. (Like this one, for example)

You may also apply for discretionary housing payments if you are likely to become homeless, and if there is a shortfall between your Housing Benefit, and rent costs. It’s also payable sometimes when you have legal costs. It’s certainly worth asking your Local Authority if you qualify for payment. There are limited funds available.

I am informed that when an appeal is pending, providing the Housing Benefit Office is informed of this, there should be some support towards rent and Council Tax. However, this is going to place further strain and difficulty on people who are ill and disabled. Housing Benefit is calculated by taking the work activity or support component of ESA into account, and currently, when basic rate ESA is payable up to appeal, some claimants are not necessarily eligible for the maximum Housing Benefit awards.

It’s therefore possible that Housing Benefit entitlement will be lower, with no basic rate ESA being payable after April 1st. I would urge people to contact their Local Authority as soon as you know your ESA award has ended, because otherwise they will simply close your Housing Benefit and Council Tax claim.

The FOI.

I can confirm that there was no risk analysis or risk register in respect of clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Bill. I sent an FOI to DWP that asked about these issues, together with questioning that Clause 99 contains no reference to a time limit on ESA reconsiderations, although it makes them mandatory. I asked :-

1) When is the intended implementation date?

2) As yet no decisions have been made regarding ESA payment levels
during the reconsideration period which could be indefinite. Can you
give an assurance that this will be announced BEFORE
implementation?

3) What data will you collect so that the effects of this
legislation can be accurately analysed subsequently?

4) Where are the risk assessment, impact analysis and risk register
that show the effect this will have on claimants whose benefit
payments could be affected indefinitely?

The response informed that the planned implementation date is April 2013, and “the DWP will conduct a  formal public consultation in line with the Government’s code of practice on consultation. This does not include publishing a risk register or conducting a risk analysis. This is because all aspects of the proposed changes are considered during the consultation process and in the impact assessment and equality impact assessments related to the changes”. There are no plans to introduce a time limit, or to retain payments of basic rate ESA throughout the second revision and leading up to appeal.

The DWP published consultation document “Mandatory consideration of revision before appeal” that could be accessed via the DWP web site under the heading “Consultations”. The consultation concerned issues relevant to the implementation and operation of the appeals reform provisions in the Welfare Reform Bill and invited comments on the draft regulations. I worked on raising awareness regarding the issues that the Government’s draft raised, as well as prompting and garnering responses to the consultation.

I can also confirm that the Government response to the consultation did NOT take into account any of the concerns we raised collectively, in particular, regarding the lack of a time limit on the DWP to produce the mandatory review, and the withdrawal of basic rate ESA to those awaiting the review outcome .

So, the consultation was evidently a sham, nothing more than paying lip service to an increasingly perfunctory democratic process. Given that basic rate ESA is exactly the same amount per week as JSA, we need to ask ourselves why the  Government have withdrawn the ESA safety net for those wanting to appeal DWP decisions that they are fit to work. Why introduce another layer of DWP bureaucracy to the appeal process, and why is it the case that there is need for a second revision, if the first response is based on robust procedure and decision making, and yields accurate and fair outcomes?

Of course we know that the outcomes are neither fair, accurate, or based on robust decision making. We know that some 40% of appeals for ESA were successful in 2011 and that this percentage rose to around 80% when claimants had representation at appeal. That is pretty damning evidence against this Governments’ claims that the system is working, and that many disabled people “can work”.

It’s likely that Clause 99 has been introduced to make appealing wrongful decisions that we are fit for work almost impossible. Sick and disabled people are effectively being silenced by this Government, and the evidence of a brutal, dehumanising, undignified and grossly unfair system of “assessment” is being hidden.

More than 10,600 people have died following being told they were “fit for work”, and this presents a significant statistical increase (from 310 deaths over the same period amongst incapacity benefit claimants) that correlates with the current system, and it is astounding that our Government have failed to address this. Instead, they have made the system even more brutally punitive, dehumanising and grossly unfair.

Clause 99 is simply an introduction of an additional obstructive layer of Kafkaesque bureaucracy to obscure the evidence of this. This Government is oppressive and certainly bears all of the hallmark characteristics of authoritarianism.

We need to be pressuring the government for the introduction of a time limit (on both legal and humanitarian grounds) as currently there is none. I did enquire to see if DWP had any internal rules or guidelines yet regarding a time limit but so far they have not. We also need to be pressuring for basic rate ESA to continue. That was a major part of the consultation response, too.  

Meanwhile, legal challenges to this unfair and totally unacceptable addition to the Welfare Reform Bill will be going ahead.

Government’s response to the public consultation.

The DWP published a short mandatory consideration of revision before appeal – Government interim response to public consultation which stated that the Department did not propose to make any significant changes to the draft regulations included in the consultation document as a result of the comments received.

The Government’s final response to the consultation included the following:

  • There is to be no time limit for the completion of mandatory reconsideration of decisions.
  • No decision has yet been made with regard to paying ESA pending reconsideration but other benefits may be available to claimants where ESA has been disallowed.
  • It was confirmed that housing benefit and council tax benefit will not be included in the mandatory reconsideration process.
  • Where a person makes a late application for revision, the Department will be removing the requirement that an application for revision cannot be granted unless it has merit, and removing the regulation which requires that, in deciding whether an extension of time is reasonable, the decision maker cannot take into account the fact that the individual misunderstood the law or was ignorant that they could request reconsideration.

In considering a late application for revision, the decision maker will look at whether it is reasonable to grant the application for an extension of time, and what the circumstances were that meant that the application could not be made within the one month time limit.

The decision maker will still consider whether an any time revision can be made, or whether the decision should be superseded when considering a late application for revision as they do now.

Where a request for reconsideration is made out of time, and the decision maker refuses the application to revise the original decision, the effect of the draft regulations is that there can be no appeal as the Secretary of State must consider whether to revise the decision before an appeal can be made.

Update: No basic rate ESA will be payable whilst people await the mandatory review, to challenge wrongful decisions. No appeal can proceed until that has been done by DWP, there is no time limit on DWP to undertake the review.

Lord Freud speaking in the Lords about  basic rate ESA an the mandatory review :-

I turn now to ESA. At the moment, if someone appeals a refusal of ESA, it can continue to be paid pending the appeal being heard; this is not changing. What is changing is that there can be no appeal until there has been a mandatory reconsideration. So there will be a gap in payment. In that period—and I repeat that applications will be dealt with quickly so that this is kept to a minimum—the claimant could claim jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit. Alternative sources of funds are available. Of course, he or she may choose to wait for the outcome of the application and then, if necessary, appeal and be paid ESA at that point.”

Later he said:

Under the current position, there is a voluntary process whereby people can go for reconsideration and the ESA is not payable until the decision is taken to go formally to an appeal.”  Lord Freud (Source: Hansard)

GL24  and Appeal information.

From April, you will need to send your GL24  appeal form (DWP leaflet “if you think our decision is wrong”) or a letter directly to HM Courts and Tribunal Services.

How to appeal by letter.

 The appeal must contain:

  • the appellant’s name, address and National Insurance number
  • enough information to identify the decision under appeal (benefit claimed and date of decision);
  • the grounds for the appeal;
  • if late, the special reasons for lateness and/or why the appeal has a good chance of success;
  • the appellant’s signature (or the signature of a person with written authority to act on their behalf).

Update: Guidance on revision and handling appeals for benefits
Note 3: The guidance comes into effect
from 8.4.13 for PIP and from 29.4.13 for
UC, JSA and ESA.

Decision Makers should note that mandatory reconsideration is being
introduced from:
8.4.13 for PIP
29.4.13 for Universal Credit
28.10.13 for JSA and ESA.

However, we are still hearing about cases where the mandatory review is being used already, and this ought to be challenged on the grounds that DWP have provided dates when clause 99 is to be implemented, and so ought to be working to that legal timetable.

The revision process applies to:
1. UC, PIP, JSA and ESA
2. decisions on credits
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/adma3.pdf

Further reading:

Further information from Rethink

ESA – Appeal statistics – before the MOJ spin!

Who is accountable and legally liable for the well-being of those deemed “fit for work”?

Step by step guide to appealing a ESA decision: Good Advice Matters

Sign the WOW petition – a call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

It’s a call for an  immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.

Help –  potential sources of funding from Charities and Trusts that help people out of poverty and debt:
United Utilities
3000 benevolent funds
Directory of National food banks
Representing yourself in Court

The LawWorks Clinics Network is a nationwide network of free legal advice sessions which LawWorks supports. Clinics provide free initial advice to individuals on various areas of law including social welfare issues, employment law, housing matters and consumer disputes – List of LawWorks clinics

“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” –  Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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