Secret DWP benefits survey cherry-picks respondents – so it can lay blame on claimants?

Too much Coffey: the Work and Pensions Secretary (right) seems to have commissioned a survey of benefit claimants in order to say their failure to budget properly has put them into hardship – not her insistence on providing starvation-level payments and using the slightest excuse to cut them off. Meanwhile, she parties.

The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a secret survey – sent only to specially cherry-picked claimants.

The reason seems to be to blame benefit recipients for any hardship they suffer, claiming that poor budgeting skills are the root of the problem rather than the political decision to fix payments at starvation levels – and then to use the flimsiest excuses to stop them.

The survey asks about debts claimants may have, what effect the debts have had on them and what support they need. It is the last question that has raised concerns, as Benefits and Work, which hoisted the red flag on this apparent scam, pointed out:

The full question and list of options is as follows:

What types of help or support, if any, would be most useful in helping you manage your finances?

  • Help with working out what money I have left to spend each/day/week/month.
  • Advice on how to spread my spending so I don’t run out of money
  • Advice on how to reduce my spending
  • Advice on how to reduce my debt
  • Advice on how to increase my income
  • Help with setting up a direct debit/standing order
  • Help with opening a bank account
  • Other (specify)

In this context, advice to increase my income is most likely to relate to those in employment.  In general claimants cannot increase their income unless there is a benefit they could be claiming that they are not aware of.

What is entirely missing from these options are the ones that would actually make a difference to claimants, such as:

  • Pay benefits at a rate that is enough to live on
  • Remove the 5 week waiting time for UC
  • End the long delays for PIP assessments and WCAs

Because there are no such options, this survey will produce results that say that, of claimants who are in debt:

X% say they need advice on working out what money they have left to spend

X% say they need advice on how to reduce their spending

X% say they need advice on how to reduce their debt

Whilst some people may indeed say in the ‘Other’ box that the help they need is a higher rate of benefits, this will not be listed as a percentage in outcomes as everyone’s answers will be worded differently.

In other words, all the support needs will be around claimants not understanding how to manage their money, rather than it being impossible to manage on the money they receive.

See how it works?

Benefits and Work has made Freedom of Information requests to ask how the claimants taking part in this survey are selected, how many are taking part and whether the results of the report are going to be published.

The logical conclusion to be drawn is that the DWP has been stung by having to reveal the findings of its secret report on how people on sickness and disability benefits are struggling with unmet needs.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey had repeatedly refused to publish the DWP-commissioned report on disabled people’s experiences of the benefit system – so the Commons Work and Pensions Committee ordered its authors to provide a copy to Parliament. It has now been published.

The report, received by the government in September 2020, stated that many people are using disability benefits such as PIP, which is intended to meet the additional costs of disability, for very basic needs such as food, rent and paying debts:

“The participant had kidney failure, arthritis in his back, legs and arms, depression and bulimia which caused chronic stomach pains. He lived alone in a flat rented from a Housing Association, using Housing Benefit. He was in the ESA Support Group and received PIP. He made monthly repayments for utility bill arrears and had a £5,000 bank loan which he could not afford to repay. His debt repayments meant he could not afford essential day-to-day living needs and used a foodbank. He found it difficult to wash independently due to his arthritis and needed a walk-in shower but could not afford one and seemed unaware that he may be eligible for support through the local authority. He also needed support with cooking and cleaning and received help from a cousin. His cousin would like to claim Carer’s Allowance but neither of them knew how to make an application. He had no other support networks close by.”

It said claimants with invisible disabilities such as mental health conditions often struggle even more than those with physical conditions to meet their basic needs:

“Participants with mental health conditions tended to report a wide variety of basic needs, health and care needs and social needs that were unmet. In comparison, those with profound learning disabilities and severe physical disabilities were typically in the group that identified having fewer unmet needs. While the latter group experienced a high level of need across a range of areas, these were usually being met through a combination of local authority support and informal support networks, usually parents who provided a high level of care.”

And the wellbeing of disabled claimants often depends primarily on being in a household in which another member has a well-paid job:

“The participant has recently moved in with her mother and sister, she had previously lived alone in a council-rented flat but had begun to feel isolated and found paying the rent and bills difficult so decided to move in with her mother. She has a range of health conditions and disabilities including Asperger syndrome, anxiety, ADHD, joint stiffness and IBS. She works 28 hours a week and receives PIP. Before moving to live with her mother she was concerned about how her income would cover essential day-to-day living costs. She also struggled with maintaining her personal hygiene and found it difficult to leave the house as she did not like going out alone. Moving in with her mother has helped her to meet all of her health-related needs.”

The reason Coffey and the DWP kept the report secret seems clear when one notes that last October – more than a year after receiving it – the Work and Pensions Secretary was lying to the public about the system it damns.

As Benefits and Work (again) details:

Coffey was telling the Conservative party conference that:

“PIP has certainly grown in a way that was not anticipated when it was introduced.

“To give you an example, three out of four young people who claim PIP have their primary reason being mental ill health.

“That in itself is 189,000 young people who currently receive benefit focused on that. There may be other benefits they receive as well.

“. . . people can think the benefit system is fair.

“And I think by being able to target that even more so to people who really need that support, may improve that prospect of public perception.”

Having been forced to release a report that shows – even in its watered-down form – that the benefit system is forcing hardship and related physical and psychological torture on claimants, including those who already have significant mental health problems (leading to a threat to life itself?), it seems Coffey has commissioned this new survey in order to manufacture a false justification for herself.

I think I’ll write her a letter. Let’s see how she justifies this web of deceit.

Source: DWP secret survey set to blame claimants for going cold and hungry

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