Update on Disability Support

This is part of a copy of an email news letter I get every month, makes interesting reading doesn’t it?

 Dear Janet,

In this edition of the Benefits and Work newsletter we warn of £71 a week sanctions to be imposed on employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants who don’t do as they are ordered by profit driven work programme staff. Plus, we reveal how the DWP and the Tribunals Service are se…cretly working together to improve the DWP’s ESA appeal submissions.

There’s also a great deal of news about Atos, including your last chance to join over 1,000 Benefits and Work readers who are trying to influence the way they carry out medicals for both ESA and the soon to be introduced personal independence payment (PIP).

In addition, there’s the shameful spectacle of a mainstream newspaper quoting a slogan from the concentration camps with something approaching approval.

We also have an update on forthcoming demonstrations and petitions plus a bumper crop of good news from the forum.

The Guardian newspaper claims to have evidence that the DWP is planning to increase the amount that employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants can be sanctioned, from £28.15 a week to £71 a week from 3 December.

At present, claimants in the work-related activity group of ESA can lose their work-related activity component of £28.15 a week if they fail to follow orders issued by private sector work programme providers or fail to attend work-focused interviews.

But according to a draft letter to claimants obtained by the Guardian, the sanction is set to leap to £71.00 a week for as long as a claimant fails to follow the orders. The Guardian is also reporting that the DWP has not ruled out introducing unpaid work experience of an indefinite length for WRAG claimants by 3 December.
Benefits and Work has been sent a copy of a ‘restricted’ DWP document which reveals that the DWP have been working in secret with Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS )to try to improve its appeals submissions and to set up a fast track service for some appeals. The document raises once again the question of just how impartial the top management of the Tribunals Service really is.

The document also tells DWP staff that mandatory revisions before appeals, which had been due to be introduced for all benefits in April 2013, will now only go ahead for personal independence payment on that date due to IT problems. For all other benefits it will not be introduced until October 2013.

The document reveals that the plan to introduce £50 fines for claimants who make mistakes in their claims is disparagingly referred to as the ‘hokey cokey’ by the DWP. That plan will now come into force in October, just a month after Lib Dem David Laws is made a minister again Laws fraudulently claimed housing costs as an MP in a way that would undoubtedly have seen him jailed if he had been a housing benefit claimant instead.

Following last month’s news that Atos have won the biggest share of the contracts for carrying out personal independence payment (PIP) medicals it is more important than ever that you join the 1,000+ Benefits and Work members who have used our online Harrington review form (open access) to make their views known.
PIP is due to start replacing disability living allowance (DLA) for working age claimants from next year. Many fear that Atos getting most contracts means that PIP medicals will be carried out using a computerised system similar to that used for the work capability assessment (WCA) for employment and support allowance. If you have any concerns about this – or indeed if you are a fan of the current methods – this is your last chance to pass on your views about the WCA to Professor Harrington.
The deadline for responses is Friday 7th September. You can read more about the review and fill in our online version of the questionnaire on the Benefits and Work website (open access).

If the theory that all publicity is good publicity then Atos should be very happy right now, as it’s been a bumper few weeks for them, especially since the start of the Paralympics.

As well as protests outside the Atos headquarters (external link) there has been the revelation that the National Audit Office claims that the DWP has failed to penalise Atos (external link) for “underperformance”, and has not set “sufficiently challenging” targets.

This has led to the setting up of a petition to Make Atos Pay on the 38 Degrees website.
There has also been astonishment at the amount of public money now being handed over to Atos. Tom Greatrex MP, has discovered that the company now has over £3bn of government contracts (external link), one third more than under Labour.

Perhaps most dispiriting of all is that the DWP have said that Atos and Capita’s successful PIP bids “demonstrated strong evidence of working with a range of partner organisations such as health groups and the voluntary sector, and of close working with disabled people’s representative groups.” When Disability News Service asked Atos to reveal which disability organisations had helped Atos win the contracts for PIP (members only), Atos refused on the grounds that the charities did not want to be named.

The Daily Mail has set new standards in despicable journalism by publishing a piece in which the author argued that:

“The German slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” is somewhat tainted by its connection with concentration camps, but its essential message, “work sets you free” still has something serious to commend it.”

Many Benefits and Work commenters have said that the current government work programme and the deaths associated with the work capability assessment put them in mind of that phrase. But this is the first time we have seen the slogan quoted with anything like approval in a mainstream publication.

The offending paragraph has been taken down a month after publication, but a screenshot can still be seen on the New Statesman site.

Boycott Workfare are organising a national day of action on Saturday 8 September against charities involved in Workfare – something that may affect claimants in the ESA work-related activity group if compulsory work placements are introduced. More details from Boycott Workfare.
The TUC are organising a mass demonstration and march from the Embankment in central London to Hyde Park on Saturday 20 October to protest against government cuts. There’s also the opportunity to take part in online action for those who can’t be at the march. More details from A Future That Works.

Pat Onion’s petition on the epetition site against the cuts being forced disproportionately on disabled people has now reached its last two months.

Over 45,000 people have signed, so there’s still a lot more support needed if it’s to reach 100,000 and the chance of a parliamentary debate. As Pat points out:

“Virgin Trains achieved their target within one week. The changes impacting on disabled people will affect far more people. Now is the time to act.”

Janet Rogers

Update from Ron Roberts:The Citizen Advice Bureau will also assist, with claimants appeals, if you think, you have been unfairly treated by the DWP. Also, if the decision of cuts by the DWP, gives unjust hardships, then the ECHR, will look into any case, and assist. I am at present, having my appeal dealt with by the ECHR, against ATOS and the Doctor, who blantly lied, during my assessment.