Research has shown that new benefit assessment techniques imposed by the Conservative government have led to more than 500,000 wrong benefit assessments in the last five years.
The evidence also shows that other measures introduced by the Tories have served to hide the facts from the general public.
The research covered benefits including Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and its replacement benefit Personal Independence Payment.
The good news is that appeals against bogus decisions are at their highest success rate yet – the article on Teesside Live (link below) shows an increase in successes in North East England from 41 per cent in 2013 to 63 per cent in 2018. Across the UK, the success rate stands at around 76 per cent.
But the number of appeals reaching tribunals has fallen massively since the Conservatives axed legal aid for such cases – pricing such action out of benefit claimants’ capabilities.
The Labour Party has vowed to restore legal aid if it wins the election on December 12, to restore fairness to the system.
The research made it clear that the main reason for appeals against benefit decisions was “poor decision-making” and “obvious inaccuracies” by the private asessors hired to carry out interviews with claimants.
One way to challenge such issues is to record assessments, but it was recently revealed that the Tories have insisted on PIP claimants buying hugely expensive recording systems in order to do so – in what seems an obvious attempt to make it impossible. What benefit claimant has that kind of money?
Daphne Hall, the vice chair of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, said: “… The DWP tend to base their decision purely on these assessments and disregard other evidence sent in by the claimant.”
Yet this evidence is always demanded – and further evidence is always demanded when a claimant appeals.
The DWP’s claim that “appeals represent a small percentage of all benefits claim it handles” is unconvincing because of the obstacles the government has put in the way.
Since 2013, people seeking to overturn a benefits ruling must complete a written challenge within a month, known as a mandatory reconsideration. If unsuccessful, people can then appeal against the decision at tribunal.
The problem is that most people run out of money long before the initial process is concluded and are forced by financial necessity to seek an alternative benefit (usually the nightmare that is Universal Credit), even though it is entirely inappropriate.
The denial of legal aid means most people are left unable to navigate the UK’s labyrinthine legal system. For most sick or disabled claimants, it may be impossible to gather together all the information required by a tribunal without help from a legal professional.
The DWP has claimed that any suggestion of a decline in appeals due to legal aid cuts is “pure speculation”. It would, wouldn’t it?
But its further claim that only four per cent of ESA decisions and five per cent of PIP decisions are overturned at appeal rings hollow in the knowledge that this constituted more than 70 per cent of all appeals.
Doubly hollow, in fact, in the knowledge that the number of appeals fell massively after the axing of legal aid.
This is darkly humorous, too: “It says it expects the ‘highest of standards’ from assessment providers and continually monitors performance, while PIP and ESA assessments are carried out by health professionals ‘who receive a variety of training in physical and mental health conditions and have the right clinical experience’.”
Oh really? And did the PIP assessor who happened to be a physiotherapist but ended up examining a person with multiple sclerosis have “the right clinical experience”? Of course not.
Oh, and: “It says PIP was introduced to ensure mental health conditions were given the same parity as physical conditions.” Oh really? This seems strange, considering the fact the mental health conditions are not mentioned even once in the points-based system on which PIP awards are based.
As This Site has demonstrated many times before, the Tory benefit system is a mockery.
Labour has promised to reform the system, dissolving the DWP altogether and replacing it with a new Department of Social Security.
Labour also intends to pilot a Universal Basic Income scheme, in which everybody receives an amount of money deemed enough to support them – making assessment interviews unnecessary.
People with illnesses and disabilities would receive appropriate top-ups.
Considering the huge number of deaths that have been connected with bogus benefit refusals, this is to be welcomed.
So the choice for people claiming – or dependent on – benefits is between an ever-more-draconian Tory system that penalises those in genuine need – often to death, and a return to justice under Labour.
That isn’t even a choice, is it? It has to be Labour all the way.
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