David Cameron was challenged over the death of diabetic benefits claimant James Clapson and over the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show. Cameron’s unapologetic response was that there are hardship funds available for ‘difficult cases’.
On his programme yesterday Marr asked Cameron if he accepted that the £22 billion of welfare cuts so far ‘has hurt a lot of poor and vulnerable people?’
Cameron replied that it had involved ‘difficult decisions’ but:
“ . . . we have protected for instance the pension, we’ve protected benefits for the lowest paid, we’ve always made sure that we’ve increased spending on disability benefits rather than reduced it.”
On the subject of why one million people now depend on food banks, Cameron argued that:
“One of the things we did was that Labour, because they didn’t like the PR of this, they didn’t advertise or promote the existence of food banks through job centres. We changed that because we thought that was, that was basically sort of selfish and shortminded…”
And when it came to the subject of James Clapson, a former soldier who failed to turn up for a Jobcentre interview, had his benefits sanctioned and died after being unable to refrigerate his insulin, Cameron was entirely unapologetic. His response was:
“Well we have hardship funds and councils have hardship funds for exactly those sorts of tragic cases but if you’re asking me is it right that people who are asked to turn up for interviews or asked to fill in a CV or asked to apply for a job should have to do those things before getting benefits then yes it’s right that we do have that system in place . . .”
When asked about another case involving a claimant with learning difficulties who had his benefits sanctioned for not using a computer, Cameron again relied on hardship funds and entirely ignored Marr’s suggestion that there should be a review of the system:
“I look at all of those individual cases and all of those cases can be addressed by the hardship funds and by the flexibilities that are there in the system . . . People watching this programme who pay their taxes, who work very hard, they don’t pay their taxes so people can sign on and show no effort at getting a job, as I put it on the steps of Downing Street those who can should; those who can’t we always help”
Cameron was equally dismissive of the abolition of the ILF, due to take place in June:
“Well what we’ve done is we’ve given that responsibility to local councils as the last resort and local councils have that funding available to help.”
When Marr pointed out that the funding is only for one year, Cameron replied simply “they have it for difficult cases” before once again reminding listeners how many more people have moved into work under the Coalition.
Cameron’s lack of compassion, apology or understanding combined with a total refusal to actually look into what is going wrong with the benefits system are a powerful reminder of what another five years of Conservative led government will mean to sick and disabled claimants.
Source – Benefits & Work, 20 Apr 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
Hundreds of thousands of jobseekers could have ‘disappeared’ from official unemployment figures after having their benefit payments docked, figures suggest.
According to research from the University of Oxford, up to 500,000 unemployed people closed their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claim soon after being sanctioned by the DWP.
Rather than moving into employment, these people are simply disappearing from the benefits system entirely and no one has a clue where they’re ending up.
This means that unemployment could be 20,000 to 30,000 higher each month than figures suggest. If true, it would mean that as many as 1,000,000 people would have been claiming JSA in August 2014, rather than the 970,000 widely reported in the press.
It’s also important to note that some groups aren’t included in the claimant count – one measure used to calculate unemployment – including sickness benefit claimants, some working age students and early retirees – among others.
Professor Stuckler, who analysed data from 375 local authorities, said:
“The data clearly show that many people are not leaving JSA for work but appear to be being pushed off in unprecedented numbers in association with sanctions.”
The death of a diabetic former soldier after his benefits were slashed sparked a Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry. More than 210,000 people signed a petition calling for the inquiry.
David, 59, was found dead at his home in Hertfordshire in July 2013. Penniless, David could not afford money for electric to keep his insulin refrigerated and died of fatal diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication caused by lack of insulin.
At the inquiry held last week, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams MP told the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith MP:
“Hundreds of thousands of people have had their benefits stopped for a minimum of four weeks and then approximately a quarter of these people, from the research that I’ve seen, are disappearing.
“They are leaving and we don’t know where they are going. That’s an absolute indictment of this policy and it’s a little bit worrying if we’re trying to tout this internationally as a real success story.”
Iain Duncan Smith responded:
“Well I don’t agree with any of that. I actually believe the sanctions regime as applied is fair, we always get the odd case of …”
Not giving Mr Duncan Smith a chance to complete his sentence, a furious Debbie Abrahams retorted:
“People are dying because of these sanctions!”
Jobseekers who fail to comply with strict requirements imposed upon them risk having their benefits docked, or ‘sanctioned’. Some unemployed people claim their benefit payments have been stopped or reduced for trivial or harsh reasons. Such as failing to turn-up to a Job Centre appointment, even though they have informed staff they were in hospital.
After the Select Committee hearing Debbie Abrahams said:
“It’s incredible that the minister can simply brush aside the mounting evidence that inappropriate use of social security sanctions is having on vulnerable people.
> Well, glad you’ve noticed it’s happening. The rest of us have known this since Day 1.
“We’ve already heard from a whistleblower who left his job as a JCP advisor because he refused to apply sanctions when people had done nothing wrong.
“And recently, over 200,000 people have signed a petition to look into the death of an ex-soldier and diabetic, from Stevenage, who died after having been sanctioned.
“He was found dead surrounded by job applications, penniless and with an empty stomach according to his post-mortem. He couldn’t even afford to run his fridge so couldn’t keep his medicines cold.
“Sanctions are being applied unfairly to job-seekers as well as the sick and disabled. And we shouldn’t forget that most people on social security are actually in work but are struggling to make ends meet.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 Nov 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 23rd October 2014.
An inquiry into how the benefit sanctions regime is administered is to be mounted by the Department for Work and Pensions select committee.
The Commons all-party committee has already looked at the issue during other inquiries, and the DWP has held internal and external reviews specifically into how the sanctions regime is communicated on the Work Programme.
The new select committee inquiry, likely to be completed before the general election, follows the death of an ex-soldier after his jobseeker’s allowance was stopped.
More than 211,000 people signed a Change.org petition started by Gill Thompson after her diabetic brother, David Clapson, 59, was found dead in his home.
Thompson’s three-month campaign called for an independent inquiry into benefit sanctions – when money is withheld from claimants if they fail to meet terms agreed.
Clapson, of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, who worked for 29 years, had his £71.70 weekly allowance stopped and died three weeks later. When his body was found by a friend, his electricity card was out of credit, meaning that the fridge where he kept the insulin on which his life depended had not been working.
There is intense controversy over whether jobcentres are asked to work to targets for the number of claimants sanctioned each month. The DWP acknowledges that statistics on sanctions are collated centrally and that managers can be contacted if their performance is out of line with other jobcentres. But the DWP says this is a matter of good management, and no league tables are compiled or targets set.
“It’s wasn’t just for David. Nothing can replace him, but the one thing I thought I could do was to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. I’m not normally a campaigner and David wasn’t someone who liked being made a fuss of, but sometimes in life there are certain things you have to do – and starting this petition was one of them.“
The issue is one that all frontbenches are reluctant to take up, partly because public opinion is thought to be hostile to so-called “benefit scroungers”.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 24 Oct 2014