A few months ago, EvolvePolitics ran a story suggesting that DWP boss Damien Green might find himself as unpopular as Iain Duncan Smith. After the last week it isn’t hard to see why.
Documented cases of bungled assessments overturned on appeal are legion. Claimants have been refused benefits even when terminally-ill, hospitalised or otherwise incapacitated. Numerous assessment centres for disabled claimants have been found to be inaccessible to disabled claimants. An increasing number of suicides and deaths have been blamed on Tory welfare policy in general and the hated health assessment system in particular.
The department’s latest embarrassment concerns double-amputee Julius Holgate. Mr. Holgate uses a wheelchair after losing both legs and, you might think, this might cause anyone performing his Work Capability Assessment and deciding his entitlement to take this into account.
Instead, Mr. Holgate had to appeal against a decision to refuse him Employment and Support Allowance because, according to his original assessment, he scored zero points and was fit for work. According to the DWP, Mr. Holgate is able to climb stairs using only his arms so has sufficient mobility to work.
He then had to apply to the DWP for a Mandatory Reconsideration (no change) and then lodge an appeal. In the meantime he was reduced to selling personal belongings to survive. This didn’t cut any ice with the DWP, either.
It very seldom does.
This is not to say all amputees or disabled people generally should be regarded as unfit for work by default. Many disabled people work, many more would like to if more employers were prepared to employ them and accommodate their particular needs. It’s patronising and insulting to assume otherwise. But Mr. Holgate is only one of many thousands to lose or be refused benefits resulting from widely-detested Tory welfare cuts.
Currently, some two-thirds of appeals are successful. Rather than accept the idea that the assessment system itself is at fault, successive DWP bosses have at various times blamed this on intransigent appeal tribunal panels, meddling judges, ungrateful welfare rights campaigners and the press. According to the DWP Mr. Holgate’s original decision was down to a clerical error rather than a system seen by many as unfit for purpose.
Their latest blunder comes on the heels of other bad press. Only a week ago it was reported that the Government has introduced emergency legislation to deny claimants some £3.7 billion. Two tribunal rulings advised them to broaden the availability of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) currently replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The DWP responded to the rulings by quietly tightening the already-highly restrictive PIP rules even further.
According to a DWP statement:
“Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different to what was originally intended. The government is now making amendments to clarify the criteria, to restore the original aim of the policy and ensure support goes to those most in need.”
These amendments, according to the Independent, had originally been decided without consulting the Government’s own advisors on the Committee. The Social Security Advisory Committee were apparently told of the changes on the day they were introduced before, amid much embarrassment, they were finally asked for their advice.
According to Tory party Chairman Patrick Mcloughlin, however, the proposed changes to PIP are about balancing the books. To quote him exactly:
“We will obviously listen to what people say and look at the proposals that come forward, but overall we are still spending as a country over £60bn more each year than we are getting in as a country and we have got to look at trying to balance that budget and reduce that deficit.”
If McLaughlin’s remark seems cold and callous, comments from George Freeman (Chair of the Prime Minister’s policy board) were even worse. Regarding the intended denial of £3.7 billion to claimants, Freeman attacked;
Freeman was later forced to apologise for his remarks, which caused outrage. Even more unpopular was his attempt to divide (in his opinion) the deserving from the undeserving:
“We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.”
Judging by the DWP’s standard practice, this seems to be as few people as humanly possible.