When the government proposed to change the benefit system, from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment, a consultation period was begun.
The government itself has a code of practice for consultations, that it has quite clearly broken. It was two weeks shorter than recommended and took place over the Christmas holidays of 2010/2011. It was also not completed by the time the Welfare Bill was presented to Parliament, so it is clear that it was not taken fully into account.
This was not simply asking a bunch of people, this was a consultation based on the answers from 523 groups – local authorities, national charities, legal groups, user led organisations, health care professionals and businesses.
The government claims that the proposed changes to DLA to PIP has the support of a wide range of the public, and that they have consulted disability campaigners and charities.
It is a bit reminiscent of the old, “I did not inhale” excuse.
We consulted, but we did not listen.
Since the government was not willing to use the responses gathered during the consultation period, a group of campaigners decided to do so. They raised the funding through donations and requested the documents needed through the Freedom of Information Act.
What a surprise it was for them to read the statement from London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson:
The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the (current) three-month qualifying period, as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period.People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living, and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life.The Government proposes imposing penalties if disabled people do not inform the Government of changes in their circumstances.‘However, the overall fraud rate for DLA is less than 0.5 per cent. For those with fluctuating conditions, asking them to report every change to their condition would prove very stressful.
Further, the campaigners found that the other respondents were almost unanimous in their response to some points, and that
Several points were raised by many respondents, including that the government’s motivation in proposing these reforms were perceived to be a saving 20% of disability benefits. When the overall fraud rate of DLA being estimated at 0,5%, surely it is clear that this will cut benefits from those who need it.
So why was the bill allowed to go ahead, with the government asserting that the proposals were supported by disabled groups?
Please read the Spartacus Report and pass it on to your friends and family (although I expect they will read about it in the newspapers).
I would like to point out several issues that are often misunderstood by the general public.
1. DLA is an in work benefit. It aims to assist the disabled person in his or her daily life and often provides the means for them to be able to work
2. DLA is a highly efficient benefit, in that it saves the tax payer money. For every disabled person who is able to work because of the support, the country “earn” taxes.
3. DLA is not given out easily. It is a long and difficult process, and even someone as ill as Sue Marsh can fail to be awarded DLA
4. DLA does not automatically mean that the recipient gets a “free car”. Those on DLA who are awarded the higher mobility component of DLA. No matter what the Daily Mail tells you.
5. DLA recipients “pay” for their car using their benefit payments. So a person who has the highest possible award would pay half their DLA benefit toward a leased car. Only 30% of those eligible for a car take one.
If the government were more honest, both about the recipients of benefits not being lazy scroungers, and the response of those who replied to the consultation, I very much doubt that they would have been able to bring the Welfare Bill as far as they have.
And where the hell is our opposition party in all of this?
Why is it left to campaigners who struggle with their own disabilities and have to raise money on social networking websites to fund and produce this report?
Employment and Support Allowance is the controversial replacement for Incapacity benefit, brought in by the Labour government in 2008 for new claimants, and gradually extended to all Incapacity Benefit claimants. After the first 13 weeks of the claim, the claimant is reassessed, usually involving a medical administered by an employee of ATOS, a private company that has won the government contract but is dogged by accusations of corruption and lack of care. The claimant is then put in one of three categories – fit for work (at which point they must find a job or migrate to jobseekers allowance), work related activity group (or WRA) and support group. Only 7% of claims are awarded support group status – ie judged completely incapable of work. This is an issue for another post, but all of these claimants started off with a sicknote from their own GP, yet an unfamiliar doctor or nurse has deemed the GPs opinion invalid. 36% of claims are abandoned before the 13 week point, mostly due to recovery from a short term illness, and 39% are judged fit for work. There is a high level of successful appeals to these decisions, but for now, let’s take the word of ATOS.
17% of ESA claimants are placed in the WRA group. This amounts to over 400,000 people who are judged to be fit for work if appropriate adjustments are made or in the near future. These people are required to attend work focused interviews where they will discuss how they will get back into work, and can have their benefits docked if they fail to attend. These are the people who were described as “workshy scroungers” in certain papers when the latest set of ESA claimant data was released. Yet they are not included in the latest unemployment statistics.
“Unemployed” people are jobless, have been actively seeking work in the past four weeks and are available to start work in the next two weeks; or they are out of work, have found a job, and are waiting to start it in the next two weeks. As ESA claimants in the work related activity group are not required to actively seek work, only prepare to seek work, they are not counted. Yet they are legally required to prepare for work. So, which are they? Are they incapable of work, and so not included in unemployment statistics, just the“economically inactive” group (more on which later), or are they able to prepare for work, as they are legally required to do? This may sound like a dry statistical question, but those 400,000 people in the WRA group are facing uncertainty about their lives – the status is causing confusion and anger amongst some of the most vulnerable sectors of society.
Economically inactive group is, by the most up to date statistics, 23% of the population. These are people who are without paid work, but are not classed as unemployed. They may be sick or disabled, carers or not seeking work for some other reason. This does not mean that they don’t wish to work, only that they are not counted as seeking work. They may in fact be looking for a job, but unable to start in the next two weeks due to other responsibilities. They may wish to work, but are prevented by disability or high costs of childcare. Or they may be stay at home parents or carers. Of course, some will be rich kids living off trust finds, but somehow I doubt that counts for 23% of the population.
Another group to consider is those who are in part time work, but are looking for full time work. This figure increased by 70,000 in three months to reach 1.28 million, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992. Here are more people who are looking for work, but unable to find it, and are not included on the unemployment statistics. Workers on low wages are still entitled to many income related benefits, and can even sometimes receive more in welfare benefits than someone out of work. Many part time jobs are unreliable and low paid, yet the workers are not counted in the unemployment statistics. In many ways, these can be the most exposed to the twists and turns of the economy, as they face placing new or changed claims if they lose the jobs they do have, but are without the small security that having an established claim can provide. They find themselves without enough work, but not “unemployed enough” to become a target for the limited amount of work finding schemes that are available.
The unemployment statistics may be awful, but they hide an even more shocking truth. There are simply not enough jobs in this country, and the statistics show more than we are being led to believe.