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Campaigners just forced the Tories to scrap a target for kicking disabled people off benefits

After significant pressure from disability campaigners, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to drop its controversial 80% target for refusing Personal Independance Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claims, it was announced yesterday.

The 80% target meant that the DWP were being forced to uphold 4 out of 5 decisions that denied support to disabled claimants, regardless of the details of the case.

The decision to scrap the target comes after the Work and Pensions Select Committee queried how a ‘target for upholding original decisions could be compatible with ensuring that questionable reports are thoroughly investigated, and erroneous decisions identified and corrected.’

Furthermore, it had required a Freedom of information request to expose the fact that the Tories were implementing arbitrary and deeply corrosive targets for denying significant numbers of disabled people benefits they may well have been entitled to.

Speaking about the decision to scrap the deeply unfair target, Chair of the Committee, Labour MP Frank Field, said:

It is great news that the target has been dropped and we congratulate the Department on this response. This is a great victory for the thousands of PIP and ESA claimants who have responded to our inquiry, and for anyone going through this process, who can now go to the first stage of appealing a benefits decision with more confidence that the reconsideration will be fair and impartial.

IDS versus the Tribunals Service. 

Iain Duncan Smith’s (IDS) initial motives for implementing such controversial targets have been widely debated and equally disliked. With tribunals overturning huge numbers of DWP decisions at the time, and being entirely independent of the DWP, friction between IDS and the Tribunals Service rapidly developed. Smith abhorred tribunals hindering his policies.

Tribunals in return came to resent endless hearings in which DWP decisions were routinely overturned as flawed and not in line with the law. Friction between the DWP as a whole and the Tribunals Service still exists to a considerable degree.

Smith was accused of effectively stacking the deck against claimants by making reconsiderations mandatory, especially as the DWP was often seen as tardy in handling them. Claimants waited months, unable to go to a tribunal without an MR and often giving up as a result. The DWP setting deadlines for claimants while refusing to set one for themselves also inspired accusations of hypocrisy. It has been suggested by many that this was exactly what the DWP wanted.

It was also suggested that, furious at tribunals overturning so many decisions and powerless to stop them, IDS and his successors perhaps sought to undermine tribunals’ ability to do so with delaying tactics inside a department they could control, the DWP.

Mandatory Reconsiderations remained mandatory under IDS’s successors Stephen Crabb, and then Damian Green. They remain mandatory under current DWP Secretary David Gauke. Without one, a claimant can’t simply request an appeal hearing as they could before. The policy of ‘No MR, no appeal’ adds immense stress and hardship to the process, not to mention a considerable wait. That in turn often has an immense knock-on effect on a claimant’s other difficulties.

The 80% refusal target is exposed.

It took some time and a Freedom of Information request to expose the DWP’s setting an 80% target for not altering decisions. In short, the DWP ideally wanted 8 out of every 10 MR requests denied and didn’t want the press and public to know about it. Each claimant’s case is an individual one, each has their own particular problems and difficulties, so how any arbitrary target could be in their interests remains a mystery. To follow the 80% target to the letter decision-makers would simply have to grant two MR’s in every 10 and simply deny the rest.

When the 80% target finally was exposed by press reports and online groups, there was outrage. How could an arbitrary figure be in the interests of claimants? How could an arbitrary target be fair when the needs and requirements of individual claimants are so many and varied? If every case is different, how does a blanket target benefit anyone but the DWP and the Treasury? The DWP, both then and now, had little to offer in the way of answers.

Does the future remain uncertain?

Campaigners have hailed this as a victory for claimants. The 80% target is to be formally dropped and this is good news in and of itself. It’s far from the end of the fight against austerity-driven welfare-snatching, merely the end of the beginning.

Whether the 80% target will be dropped in name only, with the DWP still informally refusing as many claimants as possible, remains open to question. Will they still continue to deny as many claims as they can while denying the existence of a formal quota? At the time of writing that, like so many other questions about DWP and Government welfare policy, remains unanswered.

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