Proposed Tory welfare reforms are yet another attack on disabled people: explains Linda Burnip of Disabled People Against cuts (DPAC).
The story so far
For many years, the UK social security system has had two disability-related benefits, both designed to meet different needs and with completely different assessments measuring completely different things. Disability Living Allowance which has largely now been replaced with Personal Independence Payments (PIP) is meant to provide support to disabled people for higher living costs, (research has shown that on average these are over £580 a month higher than for non-disabled people) such as special diets, additional heating and equipment. Entitlement is unrelated to income or ability to work. Secondly, there has been a payment to meet daily living costs to support those whose condition limits their ability to work.
Many disabled people only receive one of these social security payments – The Institute for Fiscal Studies says 1.6 million people receive both benefits, 1.0 million receive Employment and Support Allowance or a Disability Premium in Universal Credit and 0.8 million receive only PIP.
Scrapping the Work Capability Assessment
People will initially think this would be a good thing given how damaging it has been to disabled people to date, but sadly the alternative being proposed is much worse. Work Capability assessments have been toxic and not fit for purpose since their introduction in 2008 and the claims system has led to many unnecessary deaths. Having complex physical and mental health needs assessed by an ex-physio or Occupational Therapist has truly been horrific for many who have been wrongly denied the payments they need to survive. Now it appears that job centre staff with no medical training whatsoever will decide who is and who isn’t fit for work and what steps people need to take to search for work. DPAC believes this is totally outrageous and not acceptable in any way.
More punitive sanctions coming
Currently, those placed in the Support group of ESA or its Universal Credit equivalent are subject to few requirements to take steps to prepare for or search for work; however this meagre protection will also be removed and all disabled people will be forced to meet conditionality requirements. Failure to meet these conditions will result in them being sanctioned and left without any income possibly for up to 3 years.
Assessments for PIP have also been riddled with errors for years with around 70% of those refused the payments succeeding at winning at tribunal. An appeal can take 12 months to hear and a new claim up to 3 months to process. Yet now, the government plans are that only those disabled people also in receipt of PIP will get an additional health-related payment with their Universal Credit.
Most frightening for disabled people reliant on social security, this proposed change is planned to take place at the same time the government has promised to strengthen the DWP sanctions regime and ensure job centre coaches have the tools and training to implement sanctions against claimants.
The government’s stated reasoning for this change is ‘work incentives’ which brings us once more full circle to the scrounger rhetoric disabled people faced from 2010 onwards and yet again to the “Useless Eaters” propaganda so reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says while this reform would strengthen work incentives, such incentives may have only a limited effect on disabled people as the government’s own survey shows that only 4% of disabled claimants feel that they could return to work now if the right job were available due to the many barriers disabled people face being able to work.
However, we don’t know if these changes will ever happen as not only has the government said they haven’t yet worked out any details of how this change would work but it would need primary legislation to make such changes.
Meanwhile we will campaign against these abominable proposals about which PCS have said “ Particularly worrying in this statement is the implication that Work Coaches will be making sanctions decisions for claimants. Currently these decisions are made by remote decision-makers who are trained specifically to make complex decisions. Putting the onus for decision-making onto Work Coaches will destroy relationships between them and the claimants they support; sewing division, with the inevitable consequence that there will be more violent incidents in Jobcentres as claimants express their frustration with the excessively hostile environment that the government seem hell bent on creating.“
Linda Burnip – Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).
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