The prime minister has announced that the new minister for disabled people is Justin Tomlinson, Conservative MP for North Swindon. Tomlinson has a strong anti-benefits and anti-human rights background.
Tomlinson has replaced Mark Harper, who is now the Conservative chief whip.
Tomlinson is a former national chairman of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the Conservative party and has been an MP since 2010.
He is a party loyalist, with a strong record of voting against the interests of sick and disabled claimants.
According to They work For You, Tomlinson:
- Voted strongly for of the bedroom tax
- Voted very strongly against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
- Voted very strongly against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
- Voted very strongly for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support
- Voted very strongly for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
- Voted very strongly against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed.
Tomlinson also voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act.
His responsibilities a minister for disabled people include:
- cross-government disability issues and strategy
- Employment and Support Allowance, Work Capability Assessment and Incapacity Benefit Reassessment Programme
- disability benefits (Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Attendance Allowance)
- appeals reform
- fraud and error (including debt management)
Tomlinson has some interest in health issues, but does not seem to have shown any great interest in disability issues during his time as an MP.
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 May 2015
Worried parents of premature children fighting for their lives are facing crippling financial costs running into thousands of pounds.
A special North East foodbank has now been set up to help some mums and dads who would otherwise go hungry just so they can afford to visit their poorly children in hospital.
Research has found that parents with a baby in neonatal care in the region spend on average £280 a week.
With the average stay being eight weeks, this results in a total of £2,240. But a significant number of babies will spend considerably longer, up to six months.
Now, a regional charity is funding a paediatric social worker to provide emotional support to parents, advise them on financial issues and helps access funding.
Tiny Lives, the charity which supports the work of the Special Care Baby Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary is supporting Fiona Ewing in her role working with those struggling to cope.
On top of the daily parking, travel and food expenses, some dads have reported losing their jobs as they battle to juggle work with visits and having to rush to hospital at a moment’s notice when their baby’s condition takes a turn for the worse.
Many mums of premature babies also find themselves facing delays to benefit payments as their maternity leave was not due to start for many weeks, or even months. Some families are still paying off the debts months after their babies have returned home.
Carol Meredith, head of Tiny Lives, said:
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Your baby is fighting for their life in hospital. You can’t hold them, you can’t even touch them. As a mum or dad all you’d want to do is be there by their incubator as it’s all that you can do.
“But on top of this many families are having to stop and consider how are they going to afford to pay for it. Babies come to the unit for specialist care from across the North East and Cumbria so many parents have long daily journeys or may have to stay in Newcastle. As well as the travel and parking, the daily cost of buying food can soon add up.”
“Just because your baby is in special care, time doesn’t stand still and there are still bills to pay.
“Families often need benefits advice as income levels can reduce significantly with early labour. Maternity Allowance may need to be applied for. This application requires six months of relevant wage slips – not too easy to get hold of if you live in Whitehaven, Cumbria and your baby is in critical care in Newcastle.
“Fathers may need help in negotiating time off from employment, or emotional support when this is not granted and when employment is threatened. I have experience of several fathers who have lost their jobs as a result of their babies SCBU admission.
“If a baby has longer term complex health needs there may be entitlement to Disability Living Allowance. This is a 42 page applicable pack, a bit daunting, so I help establish eligibility and complete these forms.
“Other practical assistance may be in helping with housing issues, especially if the child has very complex health needs or disability.
“We can help with parking and travel costs and the social workers at the hospital have set up our own food bank. When you are in the middle of a city centre there is no access to cheap supermarkets and the cost of food quickly adds up. We used to refer families to one of the city’s food banks but it is so busy now that we set up our own.
“I am also there to allow parents to let off steam. Special Care can be a scary, place,
“Having a premature baby brings with a range of emotions, from shock and disbelief to guilt and anger as well as having to face the possibility that your baby might not survive or will have long term health problems.”
This year Fiona’s role will be funded in partnership with Newcastle law firm Sintons, who launched their year of fundraising with an abseil from their offices.
• To find out more about Tiny Lives or to support their work visit http://www.tinylives.org.uk/
Kayleigh Emmerson’s son Connor was born at just 25 weeks on November 18 2014.
He weighed just 1lb 10oz and spent 101 days on SCBU, but is now a thriving little boy.
Kayleigh, 24, from Newcastle, said:
“We wanted to be there every day. It was the only way we could feel like parents, as there was nothing else we could do for him. It was awful when you had to leave him crying.
“But the car parks and bus fares added up. Then there was the food. When you’re in the city centre every day buying a sandwich or going to the hospital canteen gets very expensive.
“Our heads were all over the place and the first thing on your mind is just that you want to see your baby and you want them to get better, but then after a while you have to think do I actually have the money to go on the bus or buy food to eat?
“I was working as a sales assistant but wasn’t supposed to start my maternity leave until the end of January. We had a massive gap before my maternity pay could be sorted out because he was born so early. Fiona was always checking on us and making sure we’d had something to eat and that was the time the food bank really helped us.
“She really cares about people and she helped us with everything, from just being there to talk to helping us with forms and giving us advice.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Apr 2015
The SNP manifesto, published yesterday, proposes a number of pro-claimant policies that set it apart from any of the main parties at Westminster.
The SNP’s benefits pledges include:
- increases of at least the cost of living in welfare benefits
- halting the roll out of both Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Universal Credit
- reversing the replacement of Disability Living Allowance with PIP
- people already supported by the Independent Living Fund will continue to be supported.
- an urgent review of the system of assessments for disability benefits.
- increasing the universal credit work allowance, to boost to the incomes of people moving into work
- overhauling the Work Capability Assessment.
- urgently reviewing the conditionality and sanctions regime, taking particular account of the needs of people with mental health issues. and recognising that the removal of cash benefits should be a last, rather than a first, resort.
- Increasing Carers’ Allowance so that it matches Jobseekers’ Allowance.
- not supporting attempts to restrict housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds
- stop war disablement pension being treated as income in the assessment of entitlement to other benefits.
It seems likely that there will be many sick and disabled claimants south of the border who will read these policies and regret that they don’t have the opportunity to vote SNP.
Source – Benefits & Work, 21 Apr 2015
Plans leaked to the BBC reveal that the Conservatives are considering cuts of up to £80 a week for sick and disabled claimants if they win the election.
The leaked documents show that the Conservative party commissioned research into how much could be saved by measures including:
Taxing disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and attendance allowance (AA), saving a predicted £1.5 billion a year.
Abolishing contribution based ESA and JSA entirely, so that only claimants who pass a means test can claim these benefits. According to the BBC, DWP analysis suggests 30% of claimants, over 300,000 families, would lose about £80 per week, saving a predicted £1.3 billion a year. In fact, some families would lose more than £80 per week if these benefits were abolished.
Cutting the number of people getting carer’s allowance by 40% by only awarding it to those eligible for universal credit (UC), saving a predicted £1 billion.
Limiting child benefit to the first two children, eventually saving £1 billion but very little in the short-term.
Other plans include replacing industrial injuries benefits with an insurance policy for employers, regional benefit caps and changes to council tax.
The Conservatives deny that these proposals are party policy.
A spokesperson for Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC that:
“This is ill informed and inaccurate speculation.
“Officials spend a lot of time generating proposals – many not commissioned by politicians.
“It’s wrong and misleading to suggest that any of this is part of our plan.”
However, the Conservatives still refuse to say what benefits they will cut.
Earlier this week Benefits and Work suggested that working age claimants would lose an average of £19 a week under Conservative plans. We pointed out that some would lose less and some might lose much more – but we hadn’t realised quite how much more.
Would you be affected by these cuts and could you cope financially if they were imposed?
Source – Benefits & Work, 27 Mar 2015
Working age claimants are likely to face an average cut in income of over £19 a week if the Conservatives form the next government .
The drastic drop, likely to be taken from housing benefit (HB), employment and support allowance (ESA), disability living allowance (DLA) and personal independence payment (PIP), will be needed to allow the Tories to cut £12 billion from benefits spending.
The cuts will come in the years 2016-17 and 2017-18, after the current agreed spending round ends.
The chancellor’s plan is to have huge cuts in these two years, followed by much more modest cuts in 2018-19 and then a big surplus to pay for giveaways in the year leading up to the 2020 election.
The Tories are still refusing to say which benefits will be cut until after the election.
But the reality is that pensioner benefits, which make up well over half the benefits bill, are entirely protected.
And the proposed limiting of child benefit to the first three children would save just £300 million.
While cuts to housing benefit for some under 25s could save as little as £50 million.
So, the only place cuts can realistically come from is working age benefits. And Jobseeker’s allowance makes up only a tiny proportion of these, so rising employment will make little difference.
Jobseeker’s allowance is expected to cost just £2.39 billion in 2016-17, compared to:
- Employment and support allowance: £14.47 billion
- Disability living allowance: £10.11 billion
- Housing benefit: £24.8 billion
- Personal independence payment: 4.78 billion
The benefit that was supposed to transform the system and save billions, universal credit, doesn’t even make up one hundredth of a percent of the benefits bill and the DWP refuse to make predictions about future totals.
£2,000 per claimant
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the cuts the chancellor has outlined so far, primarily a freeze on the uprating of most working age benefits, including the ESA personal allowance but not the two additional components, would save just £2 billion.
So that still leaves around £10 billion in cuts to be absorbed by the 5 million working age claimants in the UK. That’s a terrifying £2,000 per claimant over two years, averaging out at over £19 a week.
We have no way of knowing how the chancellor plans to make these cuts.
But it could be a combination of measures such as abolishing the work-related activity component of ESA; removing the lower rate of DLA care and/or mobility for working age claimants; making the points system for PIP much harsher; reducing the percentage of rent that housing benefit covers . . . and much more.
One possible way out of devastating cuts for sick and disabled claimants would be for the chancellor to pile a large part of the cuts on to tax credits. But there are major problems with this.
Firstly, ‘welfare’ has a precise meaning for a chancellor – particularly one delivering a budget – and tax credits are not part of the welfare budget at all, so Osborne would have clearly been misleading voters and the commons.
More importantly, the Tories have resolutely divided people into ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ over the past five years. ‘Skivers’ get ‘welfare’, ‘strivers’ go out to work and get tax credits if they are on a low income. The reality, of course, is very different, but this is the tale politicians and the press tell.
If it turns out that Osborne was pretending he was going to hit the ‘skivers’ with another round of cuts , but in reality planned to slash the incomes of millions of ‘strivers’ instead, his reputation will suffer enormous harm. So too will the idea that work always pays more than benefits.
The Tory party will quite possibly recover from the damage by the time of the next election, but George’s chances of becoming the next leader of the Conservatives in 2018 or 2019 will probably have been irreparably damaged.
It’s very unlikely to be a risk he wants to take.
“Radical changes” will be needed, says IFS
It’s not just Benefits and Work that is arguing that the chancellor will have to make radical cuts to disability benefits and housing benefit.
Paul Johnston of the IFS told the BBC, following the budget:
“He has told us he wants to freeze working age benefits. That will save up to about £2 billion. That’s something he has told us. It’s the other £10 billion we know nothing about.
“It’s of course possible to cut benefits by £10 billion or £12 billion, if that’s what you really want to do.
“But you need to recognise especially if you’re protecting pensioners which the conservatives have said they want to do, this will involve radical changes to, for example, the housing benefit system, big cuts to child benefit, big cuts to disability benefits.
“These are the big benefits. If you want to save £10 billion you have to find radical things to do to those big parts of the benefits system.”
Labour and Tories no different?
Our ‘Benefits sanctions and deaths survey’ found that 59.5% of respondents thought that the Conservatives would be harshest with claimants, but 40% believed Labour and the Conservatives are as bad as each other.
In truth, all the indications so far are that the Conservatives will be vastly worse for claimants.
Labour are only aiming to make a total of £7 billion in cuts over the course of the next parliament, compared with the Conservatives £30billion.
We are no fans of Labour here at Benefits and Work. We despise the way they have privatised chunks of the benefits system and helped to demonise claimants.
But, for the coming five years, we have absolutely no doubt which party will plunge millions of claimants into unbearable poverty and, like Tory minister Hugo Swire, find it all mildly amusing.
Source – Benefits & Work, 25 Mar 2015
> Another example of local politicians finally catching up with what’s going on. It’s good they’re finally getting the picture, but would have been much better had they noticed over the last 5 years how things were going. Still, I suppose there wasn’t a general election coming up before now…
Councillors have expressed concern over the hidden impacts of welfare reform in Northumberland.
They have pledged to do whatever they can, within their powers, to help and support residents who are affected.
The Government’s ongoing reforms to the welfare system are the most fundamental change to the benefit system since World War Two and are intended to deliver multi-billion pound savings.
However evidence shows that in Northumberland, workers on low incomes and people with a disability are likely to be most affected.
While much of the national focus has been on high profile changes such as the introduction of bedroom tax, two of the most significant issues for Northumberland are the introduction of a 1% cap on working age benefit and changes to the Disability Living Allowance.
Recent research from the Local Government Association (LGA) reveals that the introduction of a 1% cap on tax credits will mean a drop in income for anyone claiming benefits with over half of those affected being in low paid employment.
In Northumberland 32,500 residents will lose on average £823 per household, per year, equating to a total of £26.7million in cuts to the county.
Reflecting the county’s ageing population and industrial past Northumberland also has a higher than average number of households that are likely to be affected by the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance.
The prediction from the LGA study is that 10,000 people in the county will be affected, with an estimated average loss of £724 per year. This will put the county into the top 20% of local authorities to be hit hardest by this particular reform.
Council leader Grant Davey said:
“One of central government’s aims in introducing these reforms was to incentivise work, yet 60% of the losses fall on working households, in particular those on low wages.
“In Northumberland we have a high number of people working in low paid, seasonal jobs who are trying to make an honest living, yet it is these people who are going to feel the brunt of the changes.
“While we cannot change these reforms, we have been working hard behind the scenes to put measures in place to support residents who are affected by them.”
The county council is working to ensure everyone has the entitlements they are eligible for and that monetary advice is available through the support it gives to Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.
The council has also set itself a long-term target to help generate 10,000 new jobs in the county by 2031 by working with local employers, improving education standards, skills training, and job market links. The council’s employability and skills service also delivers a range of support to help get people back into work.
Councillor Scott Dickinson, chair of the county’s Health & Wellbeing board said:
“There is growing evidence locally and nationally that increased financial hardship can lead to ill health, family break-down and social problems which can in turn place greater demands on families, communities and a whole range of public services.
> There is growing evidence ? ! You mean it wasn’t fairly obvious that those were the likely result right from the start ? Something top-level Tories, I’m beginning to believe, well understood and that’s why they’ve pushed them. Social engineering through poverty.
“Given that the reforms are being introduced incrementally means their full impact will not be felt for some time. There is however real concern about the effects these changes will have on residents and the additional pressures placed on local services. It is a situation we are very aware of and one we are working closely with other councils in the region to monitor.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 28 Jan 2015
Fewer than half of claims for payment under a controversial government benefit for disabled and sick people are being approved in parts of Teesside.
Figures released today show that, nationally, 51% of Britons applying for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) ended up receiving the money.
But the proportion is as low as 26% – or just over one in four claims – in some parts of the country.
On Teesside, Redcar parliamentary constituency had the lowest approval rate at 47%.
In the two Middlesbrough constituencies, 1,090 claims have now been determined.
The approval rate was 49% in Middlesbrough and 48% in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
In Stockton North the figure was 55% while Stockton South’s was 51%.
PIPs were introduced in April 2013 to replace Disability Living Allowance for 16-64 years olds.
Payments are worth between £21 and £134 a week and go to sick and disabled people with a long-term health condition.
Eligibility is determined by medics employed by private companies, usually at a face-to-face assessment lasting up to two hours.
Department for Work and Pension figures showed the approval rate for new claims was 26% in the parliamentary constituency – the lowest in the country.
That compares with an approval rate of 68% in Scotland’s Western Isles and Stoke-on-Trent South.
Nationally, around 100,000 people have either withdrawn their claim or had it refused.
Reassessments of the existing 1.7m claimants of DLA began in October but was effectively paused after a backlog of 780,000 cases built up.
In June this year the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee said the new system had been ‘rushed’ through, creating a ‘fiasco’ in which ‘many’ people faced six-month delays, and terminally ill people were waiting one month on average for their payment.
Payments had been due to begin in the north of England from April 2013 but only 360 assessments had been done by the time the programme was launched nationally two months later.
The Department for Work and Pensions expects 600,000 fewer people will receive PIP by May 2018, compared with its projections for DLA. It expects this will lead to annual savings to benefit spending of £3bn from 2018/19.
The latest figures, up to the end of July 2014, show 80,100 PIPs were awarded nationally under ‘normal’ rules, out of 177,000 new claims considered closed by the department. Some 22,100 PIPs have been awarded under special fast-track rules for people with a terminal illness, out of 23,100 closed claims.
In all, 490,400 new claims have been lodged under the new system.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 17 Sept 2014
Sick and disabled claimants are experiencing severe distress and some are even close to suicide due to botched disability benefit reform, an insider has revealed.
Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for Britain’s sick and disabled, but the assessment process which should take no longer than 26 weeks is sometimes taking twice as long.
The two companies are set to make £540 million from the new benefit in the next five years. Atos will receive the larger share of around £400 million, despite heavy criticism and a poor record in delivering ‘fit for work’ tests for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), while Capita will make roughly £140 million.
PIP can be claimed by sick and disabled people regardless of their employment status.
Under the new disability benefit PIP, claimants are required to attend face-to-face assessments to determine their eligibility and the level of benefit they will receive. The whistleblower claims that mismanagement, IT problems and staff shortages are to blame for a backlog of 145,000 cases.
While waiting to be assessed for PIP, many sick and disabled people are often left penniless and unable to pay their rent, because their DLA has been stopped, the whistleblower said.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, the whistleblower said:
“I’ve had people on the phone crying their eyes out and saying they are going to commit suicide.
“On one occasion I had to call an ambulance because they said they had stopped taking their medication. Some people have been going for months and months without money.”
“We’ve started getting calls from people saying their DLA will run out in a month’s time and they’ve not even got an appointment for an assessment.
“Others have been left with nothing because their DLA has been stopped. People have lost their home because they can’t pay their rent.”
She continued: “It’s a shambles. Day in, day out there are people ringing up to say, ‘Why is my appointment cancelled?’ I’ve seen appointments cancelled time and time again.”
According to the whistleblower, Capita call centre staff have been given instructions on what excuses to use when claimants ask why their PIP assessment has been delayed or cancelled. “I am having to lie on a daily basis about why things are taking so long”, she said.
Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper told the Daily Mirror: “By the autumn, we anticipate that no one will be waiting for an assessment for longer than 26 weeks.”
Capita said they would be hiring more staff to help reduce the backlog.
Source – Welfare News Service, 03 Aug 2014
A new vehicle check service on the DVLA website allows visitors to find out whether their neighbours are receiving the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) or either rate of the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP). The system is likely to be in breach of data protection laws and will be of enormous concern to many disabled claimants.
The issue was brought to our attention yesterday by a very unhappy member who emailed us to say:
“My neighbour was able to tell me that I was on the higher rate of disability living allowance.
“She found out that people on the higher rate of disability living allowance and other similar high rate benefits get free road tax.
“The DVLA vehicle check system has been revamped and is now displaying taxation class as DISABLED on every vehicle where the registered taxation class is disabled.
“ It never used to be like this it was just blank .
“Anyone can put your car registration number into the system and do a vehicle check just like my neighbour did and find out you are on benefits and what type as a result of the taxation class DISABLED being on display
“What is the purpose of this system being open to the public to do a vehicle check on any vehicle they want?
“It’s a system of no use to anyone other than malicious people intent on causing problems for people on benefits”
Our member asked us to notify disabled people of the issue and lobby to have the data removed from the DVLA website.
We did our own check on cars in the street outside using the DVLA website and were indeed able to discover that the owner of one vehicle has a disabled tax disc and is therefore in receipt of benefits, as the screenshot below taken from the DVLA website shows.
Exemption from vehicle tax on the grounds of disability is only available for people on Higher Rate DLA Mobility Component, War Pensioners Mobility Supplement, Enhanced Mobility PIP (100% exemption) or Standard Mobility PIP (50% exemption).
The vehicle doesn’t have to belong to the disabled person, but it must be only used for their benefit. The vehicle’s registered keeper can be the disabled person or someone else who uses the vehicle only for the disabled person’s needs.
At present the tax disc displayed on a car in these circumstances will show a cost of £0.00. But there are other grounds, apart from disability, for getting exemption from vehicle tax.
In addition, where a disabled person keeps their car on a private drive or in a garage, neighbours will not be able to see the details on the tax disc.
Tax discs to disappear
More importantly, from 1 October of this year you will no longer need to display a tax disc on your vehicle at all.
In addition, when you sell a car from October 2014 the tax cannot be passed onto the new owner. Instead, the previous owner will get a refund and the new owner will have to tax the car themselves.
There seems, therefore, no obvious reason for information about the tax status of a vehicle to be displayed online.
The issue here appears to be one of data protection.
The information that DVLA are making available is not about the vehicle itself. Instead they are publishing personal information about the benefits received by the individual who currently owns the car or for whom the car is solely used.
We spoke to a staff member at the DVLA press office yesterday evening and asked them if they were aware that they were making this information available and if they would suspend the look-up service as a matter of urgency, as it appears to be in breach of data protection laws.
We have yet to receive any response.
Source – Benefits & Work, 03 July 2014
A UK artist has created an art installation as a memorial to the suicide victims of welfare reform.
Melanie Cutler contacted Vox Political regarding her piece – ‘Stewardship’ – a few weeks ago, asking, “Do you think I’ll be arrested?”
The response was that it should be unlikely if she informed the media. The artworks have been displayed at the Northampton Degree Show and are currently at the Free Range Exhibition at the Old Truman Brewery building in Brick Lane, London, which ends tomorrow (June 30).
Entry is free and the installation will be located in F Block, B5.
“I have become an artist later on in life,” Melanie told Vox Political. “I was a carer for my son and, a few decades later, my father. I have worked most of my life too, raising three children.
“Only recently, while studying fine art at University I found my health…
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