If you thought that the withdrawal of plans to change the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) signalled an end to the harassment, it seems you were wrong.
Rumours from the Department for Work and Pensions suggest that new secretary of state Stephen Crabb is likely to announce renewed plans to change the descriptors to PIP for aids and adaptations in August or September.
It seems they are part of proposals from the think tank Reform that have already been partly implemented with the cut in Employment and Support Allowance for people in the Work-Related Activity Group.
The Reform paper – written and published in February this year by people who are all former members of Conservative Party support staff who now claim to be politically neutral – claims that the amount of money paid to people on sickness and disability benefits adversely affects their likelihood of moving into work. So it states:
The Government should therefore set a single rate for out-of-work benefit. The savings from this rate reduction should be reinvested into Personal Independence Payment – which contributes to the additional costs incurred by someone with a long-term condition – and into support services.
We have already seen part of this policy enacted – the cut in ESA-WRAG payments – and it is well worth reminding ourselves that Tory MPs appear to have voted this through on the misunderstanding that it affects people who are able to work, rather than those who, by definition, cannot.
The document also recommends the end of the Work Capability Assessment in its current form. This has been trailed in the media – most notably by The Sunday Times, which has reported that Mr Crabb wants to end the involvement of private firms in disability benefit assessment.
What that newspaper didn’t say is that the plan is to abolish Employment and Support Allowance altogether and roll sickness benefits into Universal Credit with “a single online application for the benefit, including a ‘Proximity to the Labour Market Diagnostic’ to determine a claimant’s distance from work and a health questionnaire”. The paper states:
This questionnaire should determine whether a separate occupational health assessment is needed. If it is, this should be carried out by an appropriate health professional, with oversight from an occupational health specialist. Unlike the ‘pass/fail’ WCA model, the assessment should take a broad view of a claimant’s multiple health-related barriers to work, including ‘biopsychosocial’ factors. The claimant and health adviser should, where appropriate, jointly produce a rehabilitation plan, and this should come with a personal budget. Those with mild or moderate health conditions that, with support, could be managed should be expected to take reasonable rehabilitative steps – some level of conditionality should therefore be applied. Employment advisers must be appropriately trained to support those claimants, and given a high degree of discretion in how they apply that conditionality.
So the plan is to continue using the discredited perversion of ‘biopsychosocial’ theories (that claim illness is a personal choice and is all in the mind) as the basis for any assessment of a claimant’s illness; to put anyone with “mild or moderate” health conditions such as cancer or Parkinson’s on the welfare-to-work treadmill, with sanctions applied if they fail to participate (even if that failure is due to their illness); and to have all sickness benefit reduced to the same level as Jobseekers’ Allowance.
That’s right. Cutting ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group was only part of it. If the plan to roll sickness benefits into Universal Credit is implemented, then people in the Support Group – those with serious conditions that are not expected to improve within the foreseeable future – will also lose a huge amount of their weekly income.
All this from the Conservative Government that has claimed it has no further plans to attack benefit claimants.
Here’s the icing on the cake: The Reform paper recommends that savings from the ESA rate reduction could be reinvested in PIP and in support services – but there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Mr Crabb is planning to do so. Quite the opposite, in fact. It seems he is cherry-picking the recommendations that suit him and abandoning the rest.
It seems clear he is also planning to abandon the sick and disabled to an uncertain and desperate future.
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