Tag Archives: Department

A polite letter to Therese Coffey [TRIGGER WARNING]

Phillip Herron.

[Yes, this article comes with a trigger warning as it discusses matters which some people may find extremely upsetting.]

Dear Ms Coffey,

Please take a good, long look at the image accompanying this. It is the last photograph of Phillip Herron, taken minutes before he took his own life.

Mr Herron died because your employees at the Department for Work and Pensions could not be bothered to take their fingers out of their collective posteriors long enough to pay him the Universal Credit he was owed. He would undoubtedly be alive now if they had.

No doubt the DWP officers concerned would say they did not need to pay Mr Herron as Universal Credit is paid in arrears and his five-week wait had not yet ended. They were “only following orders”, they will say, echoing the so-called Nuremberg Defence that did not protect any German soldiers who were prosecuted for ensuring the deaths of so many people during World War II.

You, together with previous Work and Pensions secretaries, and many other Conservative MPs past and present, justify the wait with the mantra that delaying payment for more than a month prepares claimants for the world of work, but we all know that is not true.

It attacks their mental health. It causes depression and despair, and ultimately can lead to suicidal thoughts. Mr Herron’s death is a matter of Conservative government policy.

When he died, he had just £4.61 in his bank account and debts of more than £20,000 that were escalating due to that five-week wait for Universal Credit.

£20,000 is not a substantial sum of money in this day and age. I know you have said it is in interviews, but just take a look at your own bank balance. You probably consider that to be small change; the kind of pocket money you might spend on a night out.

It is one-sixth of the pay rise you will receive next year, just for being a member of Parliament.

It could have been handled. There are ways to ensure debt can be paid off within a reasonable period of time, no matter what the debtor’s means. But Mr Herron could not see that because your system forced him to concentrate on the negative aspects of his situation.

He saw no way out because you denied it to him. So he took his own life. His blood is on your hands. I understand DWP jargon describes that as a “positive benefit outcome”.

Now his three young children must go through life without a father – because that is what you demanded.

Their upbringing is likely to be a much greater burden on public funds than paying his Universal Credit claim – because that is what you demanded.

And there are countless others in the same predicament right now – because that is what you demand.

Your system does not help anybody. It pressurises them; it brutalises them; it forces them to consider the unthinkable – because that is what you demand.

It does not matter whether you spoke the words. You ordered the death of this man.

Please make a copy of his photograph and put it on your wall. Then, every day, when you come into work, you can spend time looking at it – and try to find a way to justify the fact that you caused him to die.

You can find more information – and more than 18,000 comments from members of the public – in this Facebook post.

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Coffey tells people earning less than minimum wage to take Universal Credit or blow their savings

Therese Coffey: if she’s an example of Tory ‘levelling up’ then we need to get rid of them for the sake of the nation.

If you can’t see what’s wrong with the pictured evoked by the headline, it’s simple: nobody should be earning less than the minimum wage.

There’s a reason it’s called the minimum. It is the legal limit below which no employer should be paying anybody.

But the Johnson government’s Work and Pensions Secretary – who should know this – didn’t.

Therese Coffee really is a waste of a Commons seat.

On Sky News yesterday (October 14), she refused to answer when Kay Burley repeatedly asked her if she could live on £5.84 an hour.

Instead, she said people could claim Universal Credit to have that amount topped up (after the obligatory five-week wait, but she didn’t mention that).

Or those with more than £16,000 in savings – which she described as “substantial” although This Writer is sure she and her fellow Tory ministers would consider it a pittance – could drill into that money until it is gone.

What a charmer. Here she is, avoiding the question:

And here’s the backlash:

(For those who can’t read images, Cleverly tweeted that, at elections, Labour think you’re an adult at 16, but when it comes to bus travel you’re not an adult until 25 – to which The Daily Politik responded that, when it comes to paying taxes, the Tories think you’re an adult at 16, but you don’t qualify for an adult minimum wage until 25.)

Meanwhile, the Tories have used the Covid crisis give huge amounts of cash to firms run by their chums, avoiding the normal tendering process. One such firm is paying people the equivalent of £1.5 million per year – each – to do nothing.

That is what the Conservatives call “levelling up”: they take your cash and use it to further enrich their friends.

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If PIP assessments are now being audio recorded, can claimants have copies?

Days after This Site noted that the Department for Work and Pensions is running trials of video assessments for Personal Independence Payment – and other benefit – claims, we find that the Tories are already recording telephone assessment interviews.

This is very interesting because the recording of assessments has been a roasting-hot potato ever since it was first suggested.

The most recent statement of the situation was that, in order to have an assessment recorded, a claimant needed to bring a piece of tape-recording equipment worth around £1,400 to the interview, capable of recording on two tapes at the same time, with one to be held by the interviewer and one by the interviewee.

The DWP – and by extension, assessors at Atos and Capita – has a small number of these devices, but their scarcity meant it was hard to be sure of securing one for an interview.

This led to some charitable people buying the equipment in order to lend it to benefit claimants who needed it. I’m sure it also led to less charitable people renting the same equipment out for money.

With the announcement that Atos is recording telephone assessments, though, hasn’t that situation changed?

If the assessment company is making recordings unilaterally, does it still have to use the same equipment as in previous stipulations?

Will it have to provide claimants with copies?

If it doesn’t have to use the prescribed equipment, why not? And does this mean claimants don’t have to use it either and can make their own recordings? If not, why not? There must be a level playing-field for these matters.

Here’s Benefits and Work on this:

IAS (Atos) have begun recording telephone assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) Therese Coffey, secretary of state for work and pensions, told the Work and Pensions Committee on Wednesday 30 September.

Coffey told the committee that IAS had begun recording the assessments on 21 September.*

“But that has not yet started with Capita. That is under, I can assure you, active management to get Capita going quickly on this

claimants must ask to have their assessment recorded, it will not be done automatically.

You are likely to need to arrange this in advance. The earlier you request a recording the better, as a new appointment may need to be arranged.

I note that the website’s authors say the DWP will not give permission for claimants to make their own recordings – and say they should do it themselves, clandestinely, if they feel they need to:

You may still consider it sensible to record the assessment yourself just in case the DWPs recording goes astray. Though you will need to do this covertly as the DWP will not give permission.

We would still strongly recommend that claimants consider making a covert recording of their assessment, just in case the DWP’s copy goes astray when you challenge a decision.

The suggestion that copies of assessors’ audio recordings can go “astray” indicates that the DWP and its privately-contracted assessors are as untrustworthy as ever (75 per cent of benefit refusals are now being overturned at appeal).

This is worth chasing up. I’ll ask the DWP what’s going on and let you know the answer.

Source: PIP assessments now being audio recorded

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The Tories have started PIP and ESA video assessment trials. Claimants are terrified

What the claimant sees: benefit assessors carrying out video interviews may think they’re being perfectly reasonable but the Depatment for Work and Pensions has created such a stink around its denial-of-benefits system that people with illnesses and disabilities are likely to be terrified by them. And that’s if they can even afford the equipment to take part in video interviews!

People are being put in fear for their lives because the Johnson government has started work trialling video assessments of disability and sickness benefit claims.

The trial arises from a false premise – that people with long-term illnesses and disabilities are as capable as able-bodied people of taking part in video calls with confidence and coherence.

That is not true and, in many cases, the mere fact of taking part in one of the Tory government’s notoriously-rigged benefits “assessments” will be enough to put them off.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey announced the trials at a meeting of the Commons Work and Pensions committee on September 30, saying, “We did try to get some extra capital on video assessments. We weren’t successful in getting additional money, so we have reprioritised some of our capital budget to get that underway.”

A senior civil servant, John Paul Marks, put flesh on these bones: “For video, CHDA has started trialling how to do fit for work decisions by video, so we’re starting that now.

“For PIP we’re trying to also test doing video assessments for about 500 customers.

“So we can understand, does that improve the health care professionals capacity to ensure a positive experience for the customer and be able to get more evidence to support a recommendation on a functional assessment.”

The website Benefits and Work pointed out that many claimants will be “deeply unhappy” with the principle of video assessment:

Some will find the experience of talking on camera provokes considerable anxiety. Some will have concerns about data protection, given that a copy of the video is likely to be saved on a server by the DWP.

At the moment it is not clear whether claimants will have the option to refuse to have a video assessment and insist on either a telephone or, when they become available and safe, face to face assessment instead.

A commenter to the site said the issue would be particularly acute for those with mental health issues:

“This could breach the Equalty Act 2010… Anxiety would make the assessment inaccessible or [the claimant] would suffer an unreasonable experience if required to be video [or] audio-recorded.”

Not only that, but what happens if the claimant doesn’t have the technology to take part in a video assessment, due – for example – to extreme poverty? After all, why would they be claiming the benefit if they didn’t need the money?

Consider this response to This Site’s story yesterday:

Some have already come to the conclusion that this is a quota-filling exercise; that the DWP isn’t interested in whether people deserve Personal Independence Payment or Employment and Support Allowance – the only concern is ensuring that a certain number of people are pushed off the books:

As with any change in a benefit system, it seems clear that video trials will be open to abuse.

This will have to be monitored closely and I will be keen to hear of any experiences.

Source: PIP and ESA video assessment trials have started

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Tories are attacking disabled people again while we’re looking the other way

The Conservative government has changed its assessment process for disability benefits to make it harder for people to get a correct decision on their claim – it seems.

The Tory miniser for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, revealed details of the secret change in a letter to the Commons Work and Pensions committee, after its chair, Stephen Timms, raised the issue on behalf of claimants.

It has been usual practice for claimants to request and receive a copy of their assessment report within days of the report being submitted to the DWP.

They have been able to request a copy of their report, check it thoroughly, raise any issues with the assessment providers and receive responses before they have received the decision.

In a fair, sane system, this is appropriate. So of course the Tories have changed it.

In a letter dated September 16, Tomlinson MP wrote:

“The department does not share assessment provider reports with claimants before they have been considered by a DWP Case Manager.”

This is because:

“Providing the report to claimants immediately after the assessment and before the Case Manager has made their decision could therefore give a false impression on the outcome of their claim.”

This will make it much harder for claimants to demand the mandatory review that the Tories insist they have to endure before appealing against a wrong decision.

It can take up to 15 weeks for claimants to receive the decision. Once they do, and if they disagree with it, they will have about three weeks – or less – to make a request for a mandatory review. 

The 30+ page assessment report is a key part of the process and it will take about 10 days from requesting a copy to receiving it.

This leaves very little time for them to see the recommendations made, to analyse the report, to check it for accuracy, to see if there are any errors, and to prepare and send a request for MR if necessary.

Many people with disabilities are very weak, due to their condition, and do not have the strength of will needed to push through a dispute with the government that has a short time limit.

You can be sure the Tories had this in mind when they secretly made this cruel change.

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Tories have wasted £120m in two years trying to tell people they’re not disabled

Habitual cruelty: if you thought the Tories stopped persecuting people with long-term illnesses and disabilities during the Covid-19 crisis, think again.

What a waste of time and money.

Over the last two years, Conservative governments have spent more than £120 million in taxpayers’ money fighting disability benefit claims – despite losing three-quarters of tribunal appeals.

That means automatic wastage of £90 million – but it is likely that the quarter of claimants who lost their appeals also had valid grounds to claim Personal Independence Payment and/or Employment and Support Allowance but were outflanked by a prejudiced system.

The increase in expenditure is far greater than the 13 per cent increase in applications would suggest. And it is happening at a time when the country can ill-afford to waste any cash at all. There can only be one reason for it: sick cruelty – the Tories are enjoying torturing sick and disabled people to death.

And why are there so many applications for disability and sickness benefits in the UK? Do conditions here – especially working conditions – cause illness and disability?

The new figures are further proof that the Tories’ convoluted appeal process has nothing to do with saving money from fraudsters and everything to do with starving people with disabilities – to death, if possible.

It is now well-documented that claimants initially have to go through an internal appeal process within the Department for Work and Pensions called mandatory reconsideration.

The courts only recently ruled that a Tory regulation forcing claimants to go without any benefit payments, and therefore without any income, for the period of a mandatory reconsideration – no matter how long that may be – was illegal.

Only after the DWP rules that a claim should be rejected can the sick or disabled person take their case to a tribunal.

And it is at tribunals that 76 per cent of PIP claims, and 75 per cent of ESA claims, are upheld.

This means the Tories have needlessly and cruelly deprived these people of their means of survival for the number of months – years in some cases – that these claims have been disputed.

We all know that there is hardly any fraud in disability benefit claims – the last recorded number This Writer saw was somewhere in the region of one or two per cent of claims.

So the huge proportion that the Tories refuse – and the amount of time and money wasted in the appeal process – can only mean one thing:

The Tories hate disabled people and want them to die.

Why isn’t this a national – if not international – scandal?

Source: Government spends £120m in taxpayer money fighting disability benefit claims in two years, figures show | The Independent | Independent

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Did Boris Johnson axe international development department so he could misuse its cash?

Boris Johnson can’t be trusted with cash: he seems to give it to his friends whenever he can – and the fear is that he’ll do it with the budget of the soon-to-be-scrapped Department for International Development.

Boris Johnson is being urged to forget his plan to scrap the Department for International Development on the grounds that money would go to the wrong nations.

The DfID is being merged with the Foreign Office but whereas the DfID has spent a majority of its budget in the poorest countries and has a reputation for transparency, the same cannot be said for the FO – especially under Boris Johnson.

When he was Foreign Secretary (between 2016-2018), it was in the middle of spending £84 million on China – which can hardly be said to require aid.

Indeed, 39 per cent of FO cash has gone to higher- and middle-income nations, with just 22 per cent going to the poorest countries.

The facts of the matter have only just been revealed, so it seems the FO can get away with hiding its spending – handy if you want to hand public cash to your mates.

So the question is:

Is Johnson scrapping the DfID so he can appropriate its money and give it to his dodgy contacts in foreign countries, in the same way he has handed billions of pounds of Covid-related cash to firms run by his cronies, who have provided nothing in response?

And, if that is even the suspicion:

Shouldn’t the plan to scrap the DfID be itself scrapped – to avoid trust in the government collapsing even more than it already has?

Source: Boris Johnson ‘can’t be trusted’ on foreign aid as millions sent to China revealed – Mirror Online

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Prejudiced Tories are unfairly denying benefits to people whose relatives die of Covid-19

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Sanction centre: it isn’t a sanction as such, but anyone receiving compensation for the death of a relative due to Covid-19 will be automatically denied state benefits.

Doesn’t this show how sly, sneaky and underhanded Boris Johnson and his Tory friends are?

If any low-paid frontline NHS and social care workers die of Covid-19, their relatives are entitled to claim a £60,000 lump sum under a Tory compensation scheme.

But if they are already claiming benefits and they do this, they will lose their entitlement to those benefits, meaning they could not claim Universal Credit, Housing Benefit or Pension Credit.

Some of you might think that’s fair; £60,000 is a lot of money, after all.

But this is at a time when Boris Johnson has been dishing out huge sums – £563,400 to consulting firm McKinsey for ‘advice’ that is likely to see the new National Institute for Health Protection sink without a trace, £150 million on face masks that can’t be used, an unspecified amount to Public First for the ‘A’ level results fiasco. Why should benefit claimants lose out when these fat Tories are making such a killing?

Perhaps more to the point, other compensation schemes such as those for the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell Tower fire do not affect entitlement to state benefits. Why should this be different?

The Tories have no answer to this question. Their spokesman is quoted as saying, “It has always been one the central principles of Universal Credit that decisions on awarding the benefit should take into account individuals’ existing ability to meet their basic needs, so that we maintain our focus on supporting families in most need.”

But the Windrush and Grenfell schemes are exempt from being taken into account.

It seems the Tories have created a hierarchy of merit – and relatives of Covid-19 victims have been ruled undeserving, even while ministers’ cronies are mopping up the last coppers from the Treasury that Johnson has emptied.

Source: UK families bereaved by Covid-19 lose eligibility for welfare benefits | Universal credit | The Guardian

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Covid lockdown and Tory PIP assessment cruelty made woman attempt suicide

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Lockdown cruelty: if you thought this image had been retired for the duration of the Covid crisis, it seems you’re to be disappointed because the Tory government had other plans.

The incompetent – or just plain cruel? – Tory government’s failure to make adequate provision for us all during the Covid-19 lockdown has been worst in the cases of disability benefit claimants, this story shows.

Cambridgeshire Live has published the story of Katy (not her real name), who said the stress caused to her by the Department for Work and Pensions’s assessment for Personal Independence Payment drove her to attempt suicide.

It seems she was put through an assessment interview with an employee of private contractor Capita – and it followed a traumatic pattern that readers of This Site should by now understand well.

Initially offered as a face-to-face interview, the assessment was rescheduled to be on the phone because of the pandemic – and rescheduled three times at the last minute, ensuring that Katy’s mental health support worker could not participate, despite that having been agreed.

The call was pleasant enough but – long-term readers of This Site will know what’s coming – the report that came back was riddled with “gross inaccuracies”.

Denied the benefit, she was forced to file a complaint about the assessor and request a mandatory consideration to receive the funds she deserved.

As a result she was pushed into debt.

In addition – in lockdown and isolated – she had to handle the “incorrect documentation” of a psychiatric assessment.

These symptoms of incompetence by the authorities could not help but exacerbate her condition, which forced her to cope with he side effects of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including nightmares and flashbacks, and limiting her from carrying out daily tasks like washing or shopping.

It all became too much and she tried to take her own life. Fortunately – and all-too-unusually – the attempt failed.

Now – after Katy’s case was taken up by her MP, Disability Cambridgeshire and Cambridgeshire Live, and may therefore be considered to have become a public relations problem – the government has granted her the highest rate of PIP.

Funny how that happens when there’s a whiff of bad publicity, isn’t it?

Both the DWP and Capita have offered the usual arse-covering soundbites about using all the information available and changing the decision when new facts come forward.

But the fact is that a woman was driven to take her life because of the cruelty of a so-called benefit system that the Tories have perverted into a death-by-deprivation scheme.

This Writer has been campaigning against this deadly policy for years, and the fact that there is now uncontradictable proof that the DWP has been driving people to suicide is welcome.

But I fear I know what will come of it: Absolutely nothing.

Source: PIP payments: ‘The disability benefits assessment made me want to end my life’ – Cambridgeshire Live

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Tory ‘rape clause’ starts to fall apart: how can a woman be denied benefit for being raped in the wrong order?

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“Punish the rapist, not the victim”: Campaigners against the so-called ‘rape clause’ have been trying to overturn the rule for years.

We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.

The experience of the lady involved in this story shows that the Tories are discriminating unfairly between rape victims.

They’re saying that a person can have two children and still receive the child element of Universal Credit for a third born of rape, only if it was the third, and born after April 2017.

This clearly discriminates against mothers who have had first or second children as a result of rape, because they are then forbidden from claiming the child element of UC for a third child that they wanted.

Both situations involve two children not born of rape and one that is, but only one qualifies for the benefit.

That is unfair.

I hope someone takes a case through the courts. Perhaps this is a job for public interest solicitors like Leigh Day, who seem to have done very well with other benefit-related cases recently?

Then, with luck, we’ll be able to force the Tories to u-turn on this despicable rule that humiliates women who have already suffered too much.

Source: DWP denies mum Universal Credit for her child because she was raped in the wrong order – Mirror Online

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