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Does anybody remember when ‘accountability’ was the buzzword of the times? The public was going to be able to see who was responsible for the decisions affecting us, and would be able to seek recompense from those people when injustice arose.
Did we get it?
Here’s a story that you might have missed in all the Olympic hubbub, that raises the question of accountability again.
On August 2, The Independent reported on a letter that has started appearing on the doormats of parents who claim Disability Living Allowance for their children – the in-work benefit to cover the increased living costs faced by those with disabilities. It seems this document, the BF57B, goes out to every parent or guardian in receipt of DLA when they renew their claim, and the form must be signed before the claim can move forward.
The letter states that the Department for Work and Pensions wishes to review the recipient’s role as a parent. This seems innocent enough, but in fact it is the thin end of a threat to take the child into care, unless the wishes of the writer are followed.
It says the parent must “always act in the best interests of the child”, which is fair enough but exactly what every parent is expected – and hopes – to do, whether the government tells them or not. Then it provides a bullet-point list of what DWP demands this should include. This list includes: “manage and spend any money from Disability Living Allowance in a way that best serves [the child’s] best interests”.
What is this letter saying? That DLA claimants – unless coerced by the heavy hand of Iain Duncan Smith – will spend their cash on cigarettes, alcohol and satellite TV (the suggestions of the Independent columnist), rather than on necessities?
This is an in-work benefit. It is not likely to cover all the costs of looking after a disabled child. It is therefore likely that one or both parents will have a job as well, in order to cover those costs in full. Budgeting that money is their own business, as the people best qualified to care for their own child and manage their own household.
Not according to the DWP, though! Because they have a disabled child, the Department clearly now believes it is entitled to root around every aspect of a family’s life, in search of an excuse to cut off payments.
Beneath the bullet points are the ominous words, “We will review your status as an appointed person if we think that you are not acting in the best interests of the person named above”. In other words, if you do not spend your money exactly as we tell you, then we will remove it – and your child.
The letter might not say it in as many words, but the message is clear: We do not believe you are a fit person to receive money for this child. Our reason for thinking this is the fact that you have claimed this money. We intend to find a reason to take both the child and the money away from you.
The DWP says it is careful about the language it uses, and has re-stated its mantra that the benefits system has “trapped” many people in a “spiral” of welfare dependence.
The latter point is completely irrelevant to parents of disabled children on DLA. I repeat: It is an in-work benefit intended to help cover the extra costs of living with a disability. Depending on their individual conditions, those disabled children may find themselves claiming the benefit – perfectly correctly – throughout their life.
It is absolutely wrong to accuse parents of wrong-doing, simply because they have claimed what the law says they should.
So I want to know who wrote this letter. I want to see that person come out in public and explain precisely what their instructions were, why they chose those particular words, the meaning of the bullet-point list and how the threat to take children into care will be carried out. Then I want to see some good, old-fashioned punishment – not just for the person who wrote the letter but for the people who told them to do it, as well.
And anyway, what will the DWP do with all these disabled kids it wants to take into care?