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
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been ordered to disclose details into deaths related to coalition welfare reforms, it has been revealed.
DWP officials have been told that they must disclose the number of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claimants who have died between November 2011 and May 2014.
The ruling was made by the information commissioner following a formal complaint from blogger Mike Sivier, who runs and operates the website Vox Political.
So far, the DWP has refused to publish details into at least 49 benefit related deaths it has admitted to have investigated.
In his ruling, the Commissioner states:
“It appears … that the DWP has had reasonable time to prepare for publishing [the] information and that disclosure was not so novel or unusual given the previous requests and disclosures made.
“DWP have not supplied any detailed or convincing evidence about the time needed and what preparation would need to be undertaken during this time or what the specific impact of disclosure would be… The DWP has previously published similar information.”
The decision notice continued:
“It is not reasonable for the DWP, having had enough time to extract the information and prepare internally for publication, to seek further time to provide the information requested.
“The Commissioner also finds that delaying publication is not reasonable in light of the requests DWP have received from the public and the fact that the previous statistics published were around two years old at the time of the request.”
Mr Sivier said he had first asked for information on benefit-related deaths in the summer of 2013:
“It was almost a year after the DWP had published an ‘ad hoc’ report entitled Incapacity Benefits (Deaths of Claimants).
“That document stated that 10,600 people had died between January and November 2011, while claiming benefits that should have helped them survive with a reasonable quality of life.
“Some of those people may have died because of their conditions, but evidence that has become available since suggests that many died due to the stress of constant reassessment by an unsympathetic government department that was determined to clear as many people off its books as possible, no matter what the health risks might be.”
“I knew that other FOI requests had been made in November 2012 – a year after the last date covered in the ‘ad hoc’ report – but they had been refused.
“When I made my request in June 2013, I publicised it via my website, Vox Political, and asked for others to submit a similar request in the hope that weight of numbers might sway the DWP. This was a mistake as the department was able to use FOI rules to dismiss my request as being ‘vexatious’.
“I made a new request last May, and the DWP illegally delayed its response by several months. When ministers finally denied me the information, claiming they would be publishing it at an unspecified date in the future, I checked the rules and found that they were wrong. That is why I appealed to the Information Commissioner – and I am delighted that the Commissioner has upheld my appeal.”
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the DWP may appeal to the Information Rights Tribunal, but Mr Sivier said he doubted any such appeal would succeed:
“I took my first request to a tribunal and, although the decision was upheld, the judges stated that they were extremely sympathetic to my cause”, he said.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 02 May 2015
This article was written by Karen McVeigh, for The Guardian on Sunday 14th December 2014
The Department for Work and Pensions has been urged by mental health and disability charities to publish its secret investigations into suicides that may have some link to benefit changes, following revelations that it has carried out internal reviews into 60 such cases.
A Freedom of Information request by the Disability News Service has revealed that the DWP has carried out “60 peer reviews following the death of a customer” since February 2012. A peer review is triggered when suicide or alleged suicide is “associated with a DWP activity”, according to its internal guidance.
Despite growing concern over the way benefits are administered in relation to vulnerable individuals, and amid a number of reports of related deaths, the department told the Guardian it had no plans to publish the reviews.
Disabled People Against the Cuts said that, because of the way the reviews were carried out, the DWP figure was likely to be the “tip of the iceberg”.
Tom Pollard, the policy and campaigns manager at Mind, told the Guardian the figures were a concern. He stressed that suicide was a complex problem but added:
“It would be helpful for organisations to see what things could be going wrong in the benefit system that could lead to these tragic situations.”
Sue Bott, director of policy and services at Disability Rights UK, said DWP reviews should be transparent.
“There have been allegations and anecdotal evidence for a while that the benefits regime has tipped people over the edge. It should be looked into in a transparent way,”
“This is not just about the nature of the decision taken as to whether it was right or wrong. It’s also about the process and there is a lot of concern about the way benefits are administered.”
The DWP’s latest figures show that sanctions to punish disabled ESA claimants had risen by 470% in 18 months, from 1,096 in December 2012 to 5,132 in June 2014.
According to DWP figures released as the result of an FoI request, 62% of adverse ESA sanction decisions in the first three months of 2014 were made against people with mental or behavioural problems (9,851 out of 15,955).
The calls for transparency from the DWP come after a number of reports of the deaths and suicides of vulnerable individuals after adverse benefit decisions.
David Clapson, 59, a former soldier and type-1 diabetic, died in July after his benefit was cut. Clapson had no food in his stomach, £3.44 in the bank and no money on his electricity card, leaving him unable to operate his fridge where he kept insulin.
MPs are to look into his death after a petition written by Gill Thompson, his sister, gathered more than 200,000 signatures.
Thompson, told the Guardian:
“All I’ve ever asked for is lessons to be learned. I can’t bring him back but we should know what is going on. There are certain people who shouldn’t be sanctioned. People with terminal cancer, waiting for heart operations, people with diabetes. Before they sanctioned my brother, they knew his disability. He was waiting to hear from a job, he had been on work placement. He was claiming the bare minimum.”
Christine Norman, a nurse whose disabled sister, Jacqueline Harris, took her own life in November 2013 after her benefits were cut, said:
“It’s too late for my sister. Everything is stacked against you. If you’ve got a great education, if you have great health, you’re OK. But if you haven’t, you have to fight against the odds. The government want you to work. The ones they pick are the ones that are vulnerable and ill.”
An inquest found last month that Harris, 53, of Bristol, who was partially sighted, took her own life after months of constant pain and following a “fit for work” ruling that replaced her incapacity benefit with jobseeker’s allowance. Staff at a jobcentre Harris was told to attend had to call an ambulance after she blacked out in pain.
Disabled People Against Cuts said that, because the DWP’s reviews only relate to suicides or alleged suicides and were triggered by regional managers within the benefit system, the number of deaths was likely to be far higher than the 60 cases that reached review.
Anita Bellows, of Disabled People Against Cuts, said:
“The triage for advising whether a peer review is to be carried out is done by regional managers at seven regional centres, who may not have an interest in putting them forward. Also, the guidance for peer review is focused on suicide, which does not cover people like David Clapson.”
She called on the DWP to open a proper investigation into the deaths, and include evidence from medical experts.
“These should be public documents” she said. “They are also only focused on the process. There are no medical experts on it.”
The DWP said it was unable to disclose the names of individuals under review because of provisions of the Social Security Administration Act.
However, the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, a Scottish government-funded watchdog, published its comprehensive review of the suicide of a claimant known only as Ms DE this year. The MWCS concluded that the WCA process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”. It concluded that the work capability assessment process was flawed and needed to be more sensitive to mental health issues.
Colin McKay, chief executive of the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, said he was disappointed with the DWP response to the report on Ms DE, who died on 31 December 2011.
“Certainly, nothing in what they said gave us confidence that if another Ms DE was claiming benefit, the outcome would be any different,” he said. “If the number of deaths are 60, that’s a lot. You would expect any organisation experiencing deaths as the potential consequences of their actions would be seriously considering whether they needed to do anything differently.”
This year a whistleblower tasked with getting claimants out of the ESA sickness benefit told the Guardian that some of her clients were homeless, many had extreme mental health problems – including paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism – and some were “starving” and extremely depressed after having benefits stopped. “Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feelings of suicide to me” she said.
Mind released research on Thursday that found that people with mental illness were having their benefit cut more than those with other illnesses. It also found 83% of those with mental health problems surveyed said their self-esteem had worsened, and 76% said they felt less able to work as a result of DWP back-to-work schemes.
The DWP said: “We take these matters extremely seriously, which is why we carry out peer reviews in certain cases to establish whether anything should have been done differently. However, a peer review in itself does not automatically mean the department was at fault.
“Since its introduction in 2008 there have been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment and we have made significant improvements to make it better, fairer and more accurate.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 14 Dec 201
Local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales are issuing a call for a radical re-think of welfare-to-work policies.
The Industrial Communities Alliance, the all-party association representing more than 60 local authorities in Britain’s older industrial areas, says that welfare-to-work policies have nearly always been based on the false premise that there are plenty of jobs available.
The Alliance also says that the unemployed are now being blamed for their own failure when the true cause lies with the weakness of so many local economies.
> the unemployed are now being blamed for their own failure – now ? You mean like that hasn’t been government policy right from the beginning ?
Well its nice that they’ve finally caught up with reality, but I do wish they’d spoken out before… like several years ago.
In a new report (pdf), the Alliance highlights disturbing evidence on the failure of current welfare-to-work policies:
- Participants on the government’s flagship Work Programme are almost twice as likely to be sanctioned as to find sustained employment
- The official target is still that only 36 per cent of Work Programme participants will secure sustained employment.
- The Work Programme is failing claimants with health problems or disabilities – only 11 per cent of new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance are finding sustained work after two years, and only 6 per cent of claimants transferred across from Incapacity Benefit
In older industrial Britain the numbers out-of-work on sickness and disability benefits generally outnumber the conventional unemployed (on Jobseeker’s Allowance) by two-to-one.
The Coalition Government in Westminster and the Labour Opposition are both considering devolving more responsibility for welfare-to-work away from Whitehall. The local authorities in the Alliance are calling for more fundamental changes:
- A greater emphasis on growing the economy in weaker local labour markets
- A targeted job creation programme to provide routes into work
- A new focus in welfare-to-work on the obstacles of low skills and poor health
- Less emphasis on compulsion, more on working by consent
Cllr Terry O’Neill, Chair of the Industrial Communities Alliance, said:
“Most men and women have a fair grasp of their chances of finding work, and the value of the help on offer. Welfare-to-work should be about supporting them in ways they find relevant and appropriate.
“Too often it has become the mechanism for imposing punitive and unnecessary sanctions, fuelling business for food banks, pay-day lenders and loan sharks.”
Bernard Pidcock, Manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau in Blyth, Northumberland, adds:
“Every day we see decent men and women not only being pushed onto failing welfare-to-work programmes but also being squeezed financially by welfare cuts. This adds up to little short of a vendetta against many of the most disadvantaged in society.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 18 Oct 2014
A blind woman said she will fight to have her benefits reinstated after being told to get a job.
Natasha Pogson was called up to a controversial ‘fit-to-work’ assessment – part of the government’s overhaul of the welfare system.
The 28-year-old was born blind as a result of being premature – arriving at 26 weeks and weighing just 1lb 11oz.
But an assessor ruled she was not eligible for help and told her she must actively look for work through Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).
Natasha’s previous benefits amounted to £162 a week under the disability allowance scheme but this will fall to £72.40 under JSA.
Natasha is in the process of appealing against the decision and slammed the system for making her feel like a benefits cheat.
“They make you feel so small, almost suggesting I am making my disability up,” she said.
“The reason for me not qualifying is apparently because I can cross a road with a blind dog in a place I am familiar with, but that isn’t always the case.
“There has been times I have fallen over in the street and not been able to get my bearings until someone comes, even with my dog there.”
Natasha, of Malvern Road, Billingham, is among thousands of people who have had to take part in the assessments.
Those who claimed incapacity benefit, income support for illness or disability or severe disablement allowance, are transferred to a new payment called employment and support allowance (ESA).
The tests, carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), decide whether claimants are still eligible to receive support.
Participants must score 15 to be deemed unable to work. Natasha scored nine and was told she was “no longer assessed as having limited capability for work”.
“The assessors ask questions such as how many fingers are they holding up, or they would lift their arms and ask if I could do the same without telling me what they were doing. I felt stupid.”
Dad Karl, 47, is Natasha’s main carer. He said he was disgusted by the answers his daughter received.
“Natasha has enough problems without people questioning her ability and intention.
“I understand the Government is trying to get people off benefits, but you have to live in the life of a blind person to know what they go through.
“For Natasha to qualify for JSA she has to be able to travel for up to 90 minutes on her own, which is completely unrealistic.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said:
“The assessment is designed to look at what work someone can do with the right support – rather than just writing people off on sickness benefits as happened in the past.
“The decision on entitlement is made after considering all the evidence, including evidence from a claimant’s GP, and people have the right to submit extra evidence or appeal as part of the process.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 19 Sept 2014
> Yet another victim. Somewhere there must be an official who will recall the name Trevor Drakard and think: “It was me that stopped his benefits…”
I wonder how they feel about that ?
Devastated that his benefits had been stopped, a man with epilepsy hanged himself.
Trevor Drakard had been deemed fit for employment, after a back-to-work assessment.
The 50-year-old, who never married and had few friends, took his own life at his home in Sunderland.
An inquest into his death heard Mr Drakard had been diagnosed with epilepsy from the age of six and was receiving Incapacity Benefit.
Coroner’s officer Neville Dixon told a hearing in Sunderland:
“In the past few months he had been deemed fit to work and his benefits were stopped.
“He had been in the process of appealing with the Citizens Advice Bureau.
“He had been feeling very down in recent weeks, due to the stress of losing his benefits.”
A “lonely person”, Mr Drakard had also lost two close friends in the last three years.
He would meet his parents for dinner three times a week, the hearing was told.
They last saw him on July 18, after dropping him off at his home in General Graham Street.
When they were unable to get in touch with him about signing papers relating to his benefits, they called round to the house and found Mr Drakard’s body in his bedroom.
Senior coroner Derek Winter said Mr Drakard would have been unconscious “in a small number of seconds” and died shortly after.
Tests showed he had still been taking his epilepsy medication.
Mr Winter said he was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that Mr Drakard had been responsible for his own death.
Speaking after the hearing, Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliot said:
“This case is tragic and need not have happened. My thoughts are with Mr Drakards’ family and friends.
“Sadly, the removal of benefits to genuinely sick people is becoming all too common, having a devastating impact on people’s lives and in this case a tragic outcome.
“The system is not fit for purpose – the Government needs to act now to stop anymore tragedies occurring and causing unnecessary hardship to people.”
> Aye, aye…must be a General election coming soon ? Ms Elliott, like her fellow Sunderland MPs, have been somewhat less than vocal about benefit cuts over the course of this parliament.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 06 Sept 2014
Iain Duncan Smith’s abject failure to keep an iron grip on the benefits system was highlighted again today as the DWP’s latest quarterly statistics were released.
The number of people in receipt of employment and support allowance (ESA) or incapacity benefit (IB) has risen for the second consecutive quarter – with an even bigger rise projected for the next quarter – whilst the increase in the number of universal credit claimants has been tiny.
The latest figures cover the quarter to February 2014 and show that IB/ESA claimant numbers increased from 2,456,000 in November 2013 to 2,459,000 in February 2014.
More damaging still for IDS, the DWP’s early estimate for June 2014 is that the ESA/IB claimant count will have leapt to 2,490,000. This will be the first time in over a decade that the IB/ESA claimant count has risen for three consecutive quarters.
The main cause for the rise is not that Atos or the DWP are being more claimant friendly in the way they assess claimants. It is, in fact, likely to be entirely due to the massive backlog in assessments, meaning that many claimants already on ESA are simply not being reassessed.
Given that IDS is the minister who has repeatedly accused Labour of leaving claimants to languish untested on sickness benefits, the fact that the claimant count is rising for this reason would be a severe embarrassment – if the mainstream press actually covered it.
Meanwhile, the number of claimants on universal credit has risen from 5,180 in February 2014 to just 6,570 in May 2014, an increase of only 1,390 in three months of the flagship project that was supposed to revolutionise welfare benefits in the UK.
The reality is that it is the savage sanctions regime and the myriad cuts in benefits that is changing life for sick and disabled claimants. Universal credit is still just a smokescreen behind which the war against them is being waged.
Source – Benefits & Work, 13 Aug 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…
View original post 397 more words
> Something to bear in mind in the light of today’s claims that unemployment is falling. The number of people claiming JSA might be falling… but not necesserily because they’ve found work.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th May 2014
In total, 870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit in 2013 due to a failure to meet Jobcentre Plus requirements to make themselves available for work.
In October alone a total of 88,489 were subject to adverse decisions, a record number of sanctions for a single month since the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) started compiling the figures.
The figures released on Wednesday alongside the labour market statistics also show an additional 530,957 JSA claimants were referred for a sanction throughout 2013, but the adjudicator rejected the proposed sanction. A further 95,400 decisions were reserved and nearly 500,000 referrals were cancelled.
Across Britain between October 2012 and December 2013 just over 1 million people have been subject to an adverse sanction, 633,000 were allowed to keep their benefit after a referral and 580,273 has a referral cancelled. The DWP introduced a more demanding claimant commitment regime in October 2012.
The government made no comment on the figures and produced no accompanying analysis of the figures, although the new sanctions regime represent some of the most important welfare reforms the government has introduced.
> Well, there’s a suprise…
Ministers argue it is vital they do not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s recession when hundreds of thousands were allowed to stay on incapacity benefit without any serious effort keep them close to the labour market.
> Mistakes ? Wasn’t putting people on incapacity benefit just another Thatcherite fiddle to reduce the unemployment figures ?
Critics claim the regime is punitive and some jobcentres effectively are given targets to sanction a proportion of claimants. Jobcentre managers acknowledge they have management information on the proportion of claimants who are being sanctioned, and questions can be raised if a jobcentre is out of line with other jobcentres. They insist they are no targets.
Between October 2012 and December 2013 the number of lower-level adverse decisions for JSA claimants were 550,033, a further 388,324 were intermediate and just under 90,000 were the most serious sanctions. A first offence for a lower-level sanction can lead to loss of benefit for a month. A second failure at this level of offence leads to loss of benefit for 13 weeks.
The bulk of those subject to intermediate sanctions were found not to be actively seeking work, and those subject to a low-level sanction were found to be failing to participate in the government work programme.
Since the new regime was introduced more than 120,000 of those JSA claimants subject to an adverse decision were classified as disabled.
The number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants subject to adverse decisions is also steadily rising albeit at much lower levels. The number of ESA claimants subject to a sanction in December 2013 was 4,879, mainly due to a failure to attend an interview.
The DWP work services director, Neil Couling, told the Scottish parliament welfare select committee in April that: “My experience is that many benefit recipients welcome the jolt that a sanction can give them. Indeed, I have evidence – which I can share with the committee if members want it – of some very positive outcomes from just those kinds of tough conversations. They are tough conversations to have on the jobcentre side, as well as for the claimants.
“Some people no doubt react very badly to being sanctioned – we see some very strong reactions – but others recognise that it is the wake-up call that they needed, and it helps them get back into work.”
> Or into a life of crime, a life on the streets or out of life altogether…
He said the essence of the DWP approach is managing to encourage, support and move people through the different attitudinal groups into the determined seekers’ group.
> And that means what exactly ?
He conceded the numbers being sanctioned had risen but said it was too early to say if this was a trend. He argued that any rise in sanctions may be due to a rise in the numbers of times the unemployed can be called to a jobcentre. He said: “The chances of having a sanction in the course of interaction with the state organisation are going up, so there might well be an increase in the numbers. However, that is not an outcome that we are driving towards.”
Couling also said the rise in use of food banks was due to an increase in supply rather than an increase in demand due to the rise in sanctions. He said: “If somebody is sanctioned, they will have no benefit income for the period of the sanction unless they claim for hardship, so those individuals will present to food banks. In fact, there have been sanctions in the benefits system since it started.”
> The man’s a moron – unfortunately he’s a moron in a position of power.
Source – Welfare News Service – 14 May 2014
An influential Commons committee is asking Newcastle residents for first-hand accounts of a controversial testing regime for people claiming disability benefits.
MPs are asking residents to meet them at Newcastle United Football Club on Tuesday, May 13, to discuss the Work Capability Assessments carried out by Atos.
The event has been organised by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, a cross-party group of backbench MPs from across the country which scrutinises the work of the Government.
They are holding an inquiry in to Employment and Support Allowance, the new allowance which has replaced incapacity benefit, and the Work Capability Assessment, a test which claimants are forced to undergo to see if they are able to work.
The Committee would usually meet at Westminster and hear evidence from senior figures ranging from Government Ministers to charity managers.
But they have taken the unusual step of asking any member of the public with experience of applying for the benefits or going through the assessment to meet them in Newcastle.
The Work Capability Assessment has been the subject of bitter criticism. Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this year, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “The attack on the disabled and the vulnerable is relentless.”
Anger has focused on the role of Atos Healthcare, the firm contracted to carry out the tests. Critics claim Atos gets decisions wrong and declares people fit for work when they have a disability or serious illness which makes finding a job impossible.
Committee chair Dame Anne Begg, said: “Committee Members, not least in our role as constituency MPs, have heard many concerns about Employment and Support Allowance and about the Work Capability Assessment in particular.
“We are therefore keen to get out of Westminster and find out how the system is working on the ground.
“We want to hear from people who have experience of making a new claim for Employment and Support Allowance or who have been through the incapacity benefit reassessment process.
“Their observations on how the system is working and, crucially, suggestions for how it can be improved, will help inform our ongoing inquiry.”
The meeting will take place in the Moncur Suite, St. James’ Park, between 10.30am and 12.30pm on May 13.
Anybody with experience of applying for Employment and Support Allowance or going through a Work Capability Assessment is invited to speak to the MPs.
Source – Newcastle Journal 09 May 2014