by Sunny Hundal
February 4, 2011 at 5:54 pm
The online campaigning website Broken of Britain have lodged another complaint to the Press Complaints Commission over its coverage of disability benefits.
Last week the Daily Mail ran an article titled, ‘The great disability benefit free-for-all: Half of claimants are not asked to prove eligibility‘.
But the article was revealed as grossly inaccurate by several bloggers.
The fact-checking site Full Fact pointed out:
The Mail appears to have conflated the proportion of cases that don’t require the collection of ‘additional medical evidence’ with cases that require no evidence and no checks of eligibility. This does not follow when we look at the initial application process. It can hardly be claimed that half of claimants are not asked to prove eligibility since all claimants fill out an application form, although it is not clear what proportion of applications include evidence from a doctor at the initial stage.
Broken of Britain said this week that they would continue complaining to the PCC about the newspaper’s campaign against disabled people, and wanted to “show the Daily Mail that their tirades against disabled people will not be put up with anymore”.
This claim is not only grossly inaccurate and misleading, but is also a distortion and misrepresentation of the truth. There are no Disability Living Allowance claimants who have never been asked to provide evidence – filling in the long application form is a prerequisite of a successful claim. There are Special Rules for claimants who need their claim processed quickly – in cases of terminal illness, for example – but these rules only apply to 1.2% of the DLA caseload or 37,800 people.
In late January, Broken of Britain lodged a complaint to the Cabinet Office to investigate a transgression of the Ministerial Code by Chris Grayling.
They pointed out:
The title of this press release – Majority of people found fit for work as Government presses ahead with reforms” – is highly misleading. The figures given in the text of the press release are “Fit for Work – 39%”. This is far from being a majority. The first sentence of this statement is also problematic as the emphasis is placed upon “vast majority” and “fit to work”.
The only way to arrive at the “majority” mentioned in the title is to add the figures for those found Fit for Work and those whose claims were closed before the assessment was complete – the suggestion implicit in the opening sentence. However, there is no evidence at all that cases closed before completion of assessment equate to fitness to work, and it is a manipulation of data to do so.
They have also written to the PCC over the Daily Mail and Daily Express coverage of those remarks.
Let’s see if the toothless PCC or the Cabinet Office take these complaints with the seriousness they deserve.
Defiant campaigners and pensioners today said the fight would go on to keep a Norwich day centre for the elderly open – after a decision by councillors left the door ajar for it to continue.
Norfolk County Council’s cabinet yesterday made a final decision on the fate of the Silver Rooms and Essex Rooms, which will now set wheels in motion for their gradual closure.
The dozens of pensioners who attend the centres for lunches and entertainment had fought to keep them open and at the start of the meeting, a 2,212-name petition was handed to county council leader Daniel Cox by campaigners from the Silver Rooms and one of more than a thousand names from their counterparts battling to save the Essex Rooms.
The county council runs the centres and says it wants to shut them because of a shake-up in the sort of care they provide – which will focus on dementia and re-ablement needs.
The council says those centres, in Silver Road and Essex Street, are not fit for those uses and wants to stop running them, instead moving the current users to other services which would be provided by the voluntary sector, such as Age Concern Norwich, in partnership with the county and city council.
Officers at County Hall say that will allow friendship groups to stay together and would offer a wider range of facilities and activities in other locations, such as The Elms, Dell Rose Court, The Cedars, St James Sheltered Housing and Don Pratt Court.
At yesterday’s meeting, members agreed to set up that partnership and, as it stands, that means see the Silver and Essex Rooms will be gradually closed, although the council was quick to stress that would not happen until the users are ready to move to a place they are happy with.
But the door was also left ajar for a community group to come in to take over the running of the centres, with the recommendation that the new partnership will retain the option of maintaining them as day care facilities alongside the new community based services if there is found to be sufficient resources and demand.
The Friends of the Silver Rooms are hoping they can do just that and believe they can make a strong case for that centre remaining open and in use by the elderly people who love it so much.
They have enlisted the aid of The Guild, a Norwich-based organisation which supports social enterprise schemes, to draw up the business plan.
They hope the whole community will rally around to enable the Silver Rooms, which have been used by elderly people for lunches and meetings for more than 25 years, to stay open.
However, their request for the county council to contribute towards the business plan was turned down at yesterday’s meeting.
Georgina Moles, from the Friends of the Silver Rooms, said: “The door is still open. We will talk to the council about the partnership process and need to find out what that means.
“We want to see the Silver Rooms continue as a community resource, primarily for older people and we still want to see that happen. We’re disappointed that they are not prepared to pay for the business plan, but we are still fighting.”
Green councillor Stephen Little, whose Town Close ward includes the Essex Rooms, said: “I would like to pay tribute to those involved in the campaign, in particular the attendees who have been an example to us all with their brave and determined efforts to speak up about places they have come to regard as a second home.
“These centres cater for a broad range of needs under one roof. It’s important to not separate people unless absolutely necessary. These centres have adapted and remained successful over 40 years, so they must be doing something right.”
But David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social services, said: “This has been a long process and one where we always intended to consult with all the users.
“This is about all our day care centres across Norfolk. I’m pleased to say that we have spoken to both Norwich MPs and updated them on the proposals. It’s well known that they both now favour the proposals.
“The city council did a report regarding these places, which agreed with our assessment of the buildings.
“I was upset for the users themselves at the amount of scaremongering that went on by people thinking they were doing people a favour, but all they managed to achieve was to upset some old and vulnerable people with incorrect information. It’s important that we take into account that this is for everyone in Norfolk.”
Council leader Daniel Cox said Mr Harwood had suffered “considerable personal vitriol” over the past few months and said: “The easy thing to do would be to leave it exactly as it is, but that would not be the right thing to do.”
But Ms Moles hit back at the scaremongering claim. She said: “I think that was a terrible slur on the Friends of the Silver Rooms. We have not scaremongered. The pensioners who have come to these meetings have come here because they care about the place they love.”
When the closure plans were announced last year it sparked outcry, with pensioners protesting at public meetings, thousands of signatures collected on petitions and an all-night vigil held outside the Silver Rooms.
The Evening News has highlighted the fight to keep them open through our Fight For Our Day Centre stories.
What do you think of the decision? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Carer Watch are concerned that all past / present governments have failed to recognise that family carers are at the heart of the care system. Unless family carers are acknowledged and supported, both financially and through care services, no new system will be sustainable. Family carers are not an optional extra to be added on as an after thought.
Any new government needs to face up to this and make some speed in deciding how to adequately fund family carers. Ten years of nothing was serious, TWENTY YEARS OF NOTHING IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
Carer Watch believe that ANY Government should recognise that carers are a unique group within the benefits system because they have to fulfil the government contracted 35 hours of care to qualify for Carers Allowance.
To this end we are asking all Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to support this campaign. Details can be found here .
We need your help too……….
Carer Watch asks you to pledge your support here in….
1. demanding an IMMEDIATE review of Carers Benefits
Carers should be paid a level of financial support that
1. eliminates carer poverty and
2.empowers carers to achieve dignity and quality of life.
The present allowance of £53.10 is an affront to human dignity and fails to support carers..see notes below
2. protecting Disability Benefits ( over 65s ).
One of the objectives of originally introducing AA was that it helped and empowered the claimant, it gave them the independence and flexibility of directing the spending of their allowance based on their own judgement of their immediate and individual needs.. AA is an entirely fit for purpose benefit just as it is, LEAVE IT ALONE.
You can see details here of our campaign fighting to protect Disability Benefits . This campaign covered several months and we will be contacting all groups/organisations again that represent carers/disabled/elderly asking them to pledge their support too.
1. Carers Allowance is the lowest paid benefit. (which has to be worked for, at the
rate of £53.10 per week, £2761.20p per year).
2. If a carer has no savings to speak of & is not supplementing their income with
other employment they may be entitled to some help with council tax & £30 a week
extra income from Income Support. If however, a carer has savings of over £16000,
the only income they will receive in return for working 24/7 will be £53.10 a week.
They are forced to subsidise their own caring role by spending their savings.
3.Many carers are self-funding their caring role when they draw down their pensions
early & use their savings to supplement their Carers Allowance.
4. Carers are discouraged from bettering their circumstances through education as
they are penalised the whole amount of their Carers Allowance if their chosen course
exceeds 21 hours.
5. Carers Allowance is paid to a carer for one persons care only.
6. The Overlapping Benefit Rule restricts carers claiming other benefits.
7.Those in receipt of CA who reach pensionable age find their CA stops but their
caring role continues.
8. When a Carer ceases to be a carer , & elects to return to the job market , he \
she does NOT qualify for JSA automatically as CA does NOT count towards the credits
needed for JSA.
Welfare for all? The Welfare ‘Abolition’ Bill
The government’s Welfare Reform bill has been passed by the House of Commons and is now being debated in the House of Lords. The bill contains a wide range of new regulations, and is being rushed through parliament despite widespread opposition. For such a wide ranging bill to be passing through parliament without extensive draft regulations and at such speed means that it has been impossible for most interested parties to undertake effective scrutiny of the major changes. The bill contains a number of get out clauses for the government, signs that the bill that has not yet been thought through. For example, Clause 7 (which provides of the abolition of income support) empowers the Secretary of State to repeal any act or regulation where he considers it necessary or expedient to do so. The government have also failed so far to clarify their position where the bill appears to contradict their other statements, for example around carers continued entitlement to income support whilst the issues around whole system of benefits for carers is resolved.
The key areas of the bill will:
Privatise more of the work of the Jobcentre Plus to companies who will be paid on a payment by results scheme.
Impose more conditionality on claimants, including docking payment for missed interviews and compelling people to undertake activities to prepare them for work.
Introduce compulsory work for benefits in a US style workfare scheme called work for your benefit.
The ending of income support signals the end of the principle that those in need deserve help. ‘Work for your benefit’ forces people to labour in roles for a quarter of minimum wage, and reduces the opportunities for people to find properly paid employment. Much of the Bill is about increasing conditionality on claimants, lone parents, and sick and disabled people, yet there is nothing about benefit adequacy. Jobseekers Allowance is paid at less than £10 a day, if it had increased in line with earnings over the past 30 years the rate for a single person over the age of 25 would be more than £100 a week.
The bill also proposes the privatisation of large parts of the Jobcentre Plus Service, to companies who will be paid for each person who gets into paid employment. While the Government has sought to justify increased conditionality for many claimants on the grounds of increased provision of high-quality, personally tailored employment and skills related support, there is no provision in the welfare reform bill that people have an entitlement or guarantee to this. Instead the payment by results culture is likely to lead to the provision of generalist support from companies who are focused on meeting their targets rather than on the individual, with the use of sanctions to ensure that people must comply with whatever support they are offered. This culture from the Jobcentre Plus and private companies will disadvantage disabled people and others who have more complex support needs who will take longer to make a transition into work and who may be more expensive to support.
The bill does not consider supporting people to access training and jobs with fair pay and decent conditions, or set out to secure adequate incomes for people loosing their jobs or unable to find work. There are no measures to challenge discriminatory attitudes held by employers in order to support more disabled people and people with mental health issues into work; or proposals to help parents by encouraging flexible working practices and expanding the provision of affordable childcare. The focus on conditionality and sanctions in the Bill at a time of rising unemployment will cause anxiety and fear amongst those affected – lone parents, carers, disabled people and those facing the prospect of unemployment. These people face tougher tests to qualify for benefits, and if they fail they could be cut off with no support.
What is contained in the bill?
Abolition of Income Support
The Bill allows for the abolition of income support, and provides that any groups that remain on Income Support can be required to attend work focused interviews, and undertake work related activity or be subject to a sanction.
People claiming benefits will be compelled to follow the directions from an employment advisor or face sanctions on their benefits.
Work for your Benefit
‘Work for your benefit’ is workfare. It is enforced labour at a rate of as little as £1.73 per hour (combining current JSA rates with a 35 hour week). The Bill proposes piloting of workfare and would allow for a national rollout without further primary legislation. But DWP research already suggests that:
there is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work;
it is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high;
it is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to work;
it can reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.
Work related activity
The bill will allow the Jobcentre Plus, and private contractors, to issue mandatory directions to lone parents and sick and disabled claimants that they must undertake a specific activity, or face a sanction on their benefits.
Increased conditionality for couples
The Bill makes two changes for couples claiming benefit. Firstly, it removes the right of a sick or disabled person to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the couple where their partner could instead claim JSA. Secondly, the Bill requires partners of claimants of IS, ESA and JSA to undertake work related activity or be subject to a sanction, meaning that partners cannot choose not to work.
Changes in contribution conditions for JSA and ESA
The Bill proposes a significant restriction on eligibility for contributory JSA and ESA. Those in work will find that they have to work for longer to pay the contributions required to qualify for benefit. This will reduce the number of claimants who qualify for contributory ESA and JSA, and will force many more claimants on to means tested benefits, which are complex and suffer from low take-up. Others will have no entitlement at all to means tested benefits.
Carers Allowance and Maternity Allowance
The Bill abolishes the dependent additions paid with carers allowance and maternity allowance. Both benefits are non-means tested and are paid to some of the poorest people in the country. Its removal will lead to an increase in reliance on means tested benefits, or for those who fail the means test, having to live on a lower level of income.
Benefit penalties for ‘offenders’
The Bill proposes that claimants who have been convicted, cautioned or fined of any offence of fraud will have their benefit suspended for four weeks. The proposal will catch people who are overpaid benefit due to a DWP mistake or error or misunderstanding on their part, but who but lack the skills and confidence to seek advice and challenge poor decisions made by the DWP. Benefit fraud is now a smaller problem than error, and is also smaller than that of non-take up, yet the Bill has nothing to say about how those missing out on their entitlements can be helped to claim. In addition, continuing to issue high profile ‘tough’ messages stigmatises the claimant population by instilling a wrongful stereotype that claimant fraud is common.
Training and skills of employment advisors
The Bill gives employment advisors greater responsibility in supporting people to look for work and in imposing sanctions on people who do not follow their directions. Advisors are currently insufficiently trained on working with people who need more support to look for work, including people with mental health issues and people with disabilities, yet the Bill does not propose to increase the training for employment advisors. The payments by results culture in this bill means that it is more likely that the employment support offered to people will be generalist, meaning people who have support needs, who it will be more expensive to support into work, will not receive appropriate help and will risk having their benefits cut under the new sanctions. There is nothing contained in the bill about how claimants will be protected from the unfair application of sanctions.
Mandatory drug testing
The Welfare Reform Bill introduces the power for mandatory drug testing for benefits claimants. The penalty for not complying with the test, or with a resulting rehabilitation plan is loss of benefit for 26 weeks.
Compulsion to access medical treatment
The Bill will allow employment advisors to decide the appropriate activity a claimant should undertake to be ready for work, including activities to manage their health. This power could be used to require a claimant to access healthcare provision, take medication or access psychological therapies. This will blur the boundaries between health provision and social control, and may mean that people are compelled to access physical or mental health treatment in order to obtain their benefits.
The bill proposes that information about benefit claimants will be more widely shared between government agencies, including sharing information from the police, prison service and health services with employment agencies.
Right to control for disabled people
The proposal is for a pilot to see whether people should be given control over their social care support, it does not give a commitment that this will happen for everyone. The government does not yet have a clear idea about what types of funding and support people would be given control over, how they would implement individual budgets or how they would give increased control to people who do not want individual budgets.
Social fund and Community Care Grants
Plans for the future of the social fund are not clear. The proposal is for the Social Fund to be partially administered by private loan providers who would charge interest on the loans, yet there is no rationale about how this will improve the operation of the fund. The bill will also enable successful Community Care Grant applicants to be provided with the item they have applied for rather than money.
The Welfare Reform Bill introduces compulsory joint birth registration for unmarried parents, and sanctions can be applied if a mother fails to disclose the father of her child.
The bill also proposes new collection and compliance arrangements for child maintenance, including the withdrawal of driving licences and passports of non-resident parents who do not pay child maintenance.
Ministers are to change the way disabled people are assessed for benefits amid uproar over a “draconian” testing regime that aims to cut the welfare bill and get more people into work.
The Department for Work and Pensions is to review the work capability assessment test – a key part of its welfare-to-work programme – after being warned that it was deeply flawed and would lead to many disabled people, and those with genuine health problems, being unfairly penalised.
The government wants to slash the number of people on incapacity benefit – to be replaced by a new benefit, the employment and support allowance (ESA) – by one million from its current total of 2.7 million.
Over the next three years, it intends to test all those on incapacity benefit to find out if they are genuinely unable to work, and then place them on ESA, where payments differ according to levels of disability or illness.
Those who fail the test altogether and are judged fit to seek work will be placed on jobseekers’ allowance, which will mean considerably lower income. Once all 2.7 million have been tested, incapacity benefit will cease to exist.
Over recent months, however, ministers have been bombarded with complaints from disability groups and others about the new tests, which are already being used to assess new claimants for employment and support allowance.
Work capability assessment places claimants into different categories depending on needs and abilities. A higher payment of up to £108.55 a week will be made to severely disabled people who are not expected to work and a lower one of £89.90 goes to those who need tailored support to find work. Other, non-disabled people are expected to find work without support and receive JSA of £65 a week.
Disability groups, which had supported the reforms in the belief that they would tackle “disability poverty”, say the assessment does not reflect how an impairment impacts on someone’s everyday life or ability to work.
Neil Coyle, director of policy at Disability Alliance, said the tests were too rigid. “They do not measure ability to perform work functions (eg, typing, packing or sweeping) but are based on someone describing their average day and simple tasks like picking up a coin from the floor (to test movement, for instance),” said Coyle.
Evidence from the first tests for ESA showed that many people who needed help were being wrongly judged as fit to seek work. As a result, they were being placed on jobseekers’ allowance and denied access to programmes to help them find suitable employment, such as Pathways to Work, specifically set up to help those on incapacity benefit.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “The government’s draconian approach of forcing people off incapacity benefit when they clearly can’t work is having tragic consequences and robbing people of help when they are in most need. The government needs to urgently review the employment and support allowance capability test.”
Figures for new claimants for ESA showed that, of the 193,800 people who made a claim between October 2008 and February 2009, 36% were found to be fit for work and therefore not eligible for the higher benefit.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The work capability assessment looks at what people can do, rather than what they can’t, to give them the support they need to get back to work and avoid ending up on long-term sickness benefits. For those who cannot work, they will receive additional support and help.
“This is a relatively new process, but we were very grateful to have organisations such as Disability Alliance involved in the consultation process and the development of the programme from the very start.
“We will be reviewing it to see where improvements and changes need to be made to ensure that it is working as it should be.”
In October, Jonathan Shaw, minister for the disabled, said about 15% of those tested would be “disallowed employment and support allowance”.