Distractions, distractions: the Tories love them and try to cause as many as possible.
Even while the fuss over the Downing Street Christmas party last year is embarrassing for them, it means you may not have noticed other harms they are inflicting on sections of the population.
For example: the Department for Work and Pensions.
1. It seems the government is quietly pushing through proposals to change the assessment of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the main benefit for people with disabilities – even though it only put them out for consultation a short while ago.
The plans to expand the Special Rules for Terminal Illness and to remove the proposed 18-month minimum award period for people receiving PIP were part of a Health and Disability Green Paper and the government ran a consultation on them that ended on October 11, just two weeks before they appeared in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget statement as schemes that will definitely go ahead.
The Tory government expects to save £70 million over three years by doing this.
Labour has demanded clarification, smelling another Tory stealth cut. And it is true that the plans will have an impact on people with protected characteristics, so Sunak needs to explain why they are not mentioned in the ‘Impacts on Equalities’ section of the Budget.
Of course, it is entirely possible that the impact in this instance will be a good one.
The proposal is to replace the systems that are being cut with “better triaging of cases and testing a new Severe Disability Group”.
While the DWP has a poor history of doing anything “better”, the plan for a “Severe Disability Group” is now quite well-known and would put people with progressive, lifelong conditions into a group where they would never have to face reassessment for the benefit.
It is entirely possible that the whole of the £70 million projected saving would come from this change. This Site – and others – has spent years pointing out that the DWP spends more on constant reassessments that try to find ways to exclude people with disabilities from the payments that make their life worthwhile than it would if it left them alone.
It may be that the government has actually listened for a change and is doing the right thing for once.
I know – it’s a slim chance. But watch this space.
2. Sadly the reliability of any evidence provided by the DWP on proposed savings comes into serious doubt when one learns that the department withheld evidence that the work capability assessment, used to determine whether people are eligible for sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), was linked to 590 suicides:
“…the programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the WCA was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.”
How anyone can believe our benefits system is fit for purpose or not designed to harm, is beyond me. https://t.co/ptMoNmQj0f
— Katie As (@ka_ashy) December 6, 2021
Dr Paul Litchfield said: “If I had had that evidence available to me, or indeed been told that it was there – you can only ask for stuff if you know that it exists… I would certainly have looked at it and taken it into consideration.”
The information includes secret DWP reviews into benefit-linked deaths and two reports sent to the DWP by coroners aimed at preventing future deaths of claimants.
The revelation suggests that the DWP deliberately tried to prevent its reviewer from suggesting changes that would have saved lives.
3. Dr Litchfield also criticised the DWP as “odd” because, while it accepted his recommendations on policy, the operation side of the department continually and consistently dragged its feet when he proposed changes:
— Chris John Ball (@cjball_london) December 6, 2021
He said he believed the government department was stalling – waiting for the next review, with a different set of proposals, to come along so it wouldn’t have to change anything.
But how far can we trust him on this?
He said the government should develop a new assessment, based on the discredited biopsychosocial (BPS) model of disability. It already is.
This is the idea that the illnesses that prevent people from being able to work are all in the sufferers’ minds, and that they were perfectly capable of having jobs. This in turn led to the “scrounger” and “skiver” lies put about by the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition government of 2010-2015.
It is important to remember that these beliefs informed New Labour policy on benefits when that party was in charge of the DWP. Current shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, as Work and Pensions Secretary under Gordon Brown, enforced rules that docked assessment points from amputees if they could lift objects with their stumps, while she said claimants with speech problems who could write a sign would receive no points and deaf claimants who could read such signs would have no points for hearing loss. Anybody with mobility issues would be assessed using “imaginary wheelchairs”. She also removed half the mental health descriptors from the assessment, hugely increasing the possibility of suicides if the benefit was withheld.
Dr Litchfield said a new, independent reassessment of the benefit was long overdue. This Writer agrees – but this gentleman and his ideas should be kept very far away from it.
4. Underlying all of this is the question of whether the DWP has a duty of care to benefit claimants.
The department has denied this for many years, so it was welcome to learn that PIP review Paul Gray believes this duty is implicit in all of its work:
#PIP reviewer, Paul Gray, believes the #DWP has a #dutyofcare to claimants and there should be another #independentreview into #HealthAssessments In full: https://t.co/2PAlvCiWQp + my Qs on #PIP claimant deaths #PhilippaDay @WOWpetition @Dis_PPL_Protest @GMCDP @scope @Rethink_ pic.twitter.com/uayFtdk3r3
— Debbie Abrahams MP (@Debbie_abrahams) December 6, 2021
But This Writer strongly disagrees that it is a “learning process”. The UK government has been providing benefits to people for many decades now and should be entirely capable of showing proper care for their well-being.
The fact that thousands – possible tens of thousands or indeed hundreds of thousands – of people have died after being denied DWP benefits suggests that there was a failure of care, and that this was a political decision.
5. What are we to conclude from all of the above?
It can only be that the Department for Work and Pensions is a chaotic dis-organisation that fails to uphold its duties properly, with the result that many thousands of people have died who should have been receiving the benefits, and the respect, that is due to them.
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