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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Doubt that ‘missing’ benefits letter was ever sent

Postal delivery services make mistakes. They all do, from time to time. To err is human and those services are run by …. wait for it …. humans.

Those services can deliver mail after a delay and sometimes, but extremely rarely, they manage to lose it, so it never turns up at the intended destination.

Then, there are those “it’s in the post” people who say they have sent you a letter, but haven’t really. Worse still, though, are organisations that make a habit of saying “we sent you a letter”, when they didn’t.

The UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) causes numerous allegations of this sort of behavior. Just look at these examples, originally published by voxpolitical.com website.

Example 1 A new mother – and her baby – are facing eviction because the DWP cut off her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Why? The DWP claimed she had missed an appointment for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) even though she protests that she was not told about the appointment.

Letter delivery assumed by DWP

letterThe department says it “can be assumed” that the letter was delivered as there was no evidence to the contrary. But, how can anyone prove they did NOT receive a letter? Evidence of something not happening never exists. As some organisations say ‘proof of posting is not proof of delivery’.

This young mother says she had no idea any letter had been sent, until the DWP sent her one – which did arrive – asking her why she hadn’t turned up to the WCA.

Example 2 Nicol Hart, on the Vox Political Facebook page, wrote: “They (the DWP) DON’T care…!! No one believes that the letters are even sent out…!! It is a deliberate ploy by the DWP to manufacture a reason to stop paying people benefits…!! I know people who have never had the letters and have had their benefits stopped because they never received any letter informing them of an interview that had been arranged for them.

Sitting in the home of a claimant, I watched him open his mail and there WAS a letter there notifying him of an appointment made for him by the DWP…!! The only PROBLEM was – that the appointment was for 2 days BEFORE the letter arrived at his house…!!

Example 3 A lone parent family member arrived at usual signing on time. She was told: “You should have been here two hours ago. We sent a letter. You’re sanctioned.” “I didn’t get a letter,” she said. “We sent it,” they maintained.

She rang me in tears, I told her to go back in and ask to see a supervisor, and to ask the supervisor to print a copy of supposed letter or record thereof, off her file. Surprise, there wasn’t one, because it was never sent. Payments restored. Trust destroyed.

Letter of the law?

Vox Political  commented: “The evidence is clear: The Department for Work and Pensions lies about its activities. DWP officers either deliberately fail to send appointment letters to vulnerable people or they delay those letters until after the date of the appointments. Then they claim they are above suspicion and accuse innocent people of dishonesty.

“This has to end.”

I agree. It’s high time, that people who are sick, have a disability, or are vulnerable, were treated with respect and honesty. Whether or not the DWP is capable of that is another matter. It’s certainly open to doubt.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming individuals here. The real problem is the all-pervading culture of the DWP, a culture that starts at the top.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Good news about WCAs and Scotland BUT Universal Credit to roll out faster

As dust settles following UK prime minister Theresa May’s farcical conference speech, there’s mixed news for people claiming disability benefits. This includes people with MS and other diseases that cause disability.

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Theresa May’s distress call at party conference (Pic: Daily Star).

Good news is some Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) recipients will no longer face repeated work capability assessments (WCAs).   

I say ‘some’ as this is only a limited concession. It affects claimants in the ESA support group or any with limited capability for work-related activity for Universal Credit (UC).

There are two further conditions to qualify for exemption from repeat WCAs. Firstly, claimants need to have a severe, lifelong disability, illness, or health condition. Secondly, they must be unlikely to ever be able to move into work.

Department for Work and Pensions secretary David Gauke said this week: “After early tests of this approach, it has now been implemented and I can tell you that around twice as many people are expected to benefit from this reform than were originally thought.”

The government has devolved, to the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, control of some benefits paid to people living in Scotland. These benefits include Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disabled Living Allowance (DLA), and Carer’s Allowance.

Holyrood has decided that Scottish people should get a better deal than anyone elsewhere in the UK.

Disability benefit changes for the Scots

It has decided that, in Scotland:

  • Benefits will rise annually by at least the rate of inflation.
  • Private companies will no longer be allowed to carry out assessments for disability benefits such as PIP, DLA, and Attendance Allowance.
  • Any child in receipt of DLA will be given an automatic award of that DLA to age 18, to allow for continuity for families.
  • Mandatory reconsiderations of claim denials will have to take place within a set time limit or claimants will be able to take their case to a tribunal without needing to wait any longer.

Perhaps, other parts of the UK will follow suit in due course. We can only live in hope – certainly not in expectation.

On the downside, the government has decided to continue to roll out the highly criticized Universal Credit. However, it is now doing so 10 times faster than originally planned. Now, 50 areas a month will transfer to the new benefit, instead of just 5.

Compassionate? DWP secretary David Gauke (Picture: South West Herts Conservatives Association).

The government decided to proceed despite warnings of ‘disaster’ and a ‘human and political catastrophe’ from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and politicians from all parties, including 12 Conservative MPs

What seems perverse to me is that this government takes pride iin the harshness with which it treats claimants, while always claiming to be compassionate.

In his speech, Gauke also spoke of the government’s vision. He said: “It is a vision of the welfare state that is compassionate, practical and aspirational. It is, in short, a Conservative vision for a modern welfare state.”

Compassionate? No, just some sick joke.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Department helpline worker lambasts mismanaged disability benefits system

Once again, we have a story of government mishandling of disability benefits and allegations of the existence of targets. Targets that don’t officially exist, as if we believe that.

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Photo: The Independent.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insider has described to the Disability News Service (DNS) that a “mismanaged” and under-funded social security system is leaving many disability benefit claimants penniless and helpless. And those claimants include people with MS and other disabilities.

George (name changed to protect his anonymity) works on DWP’s employment and support allowance (ESA) helpline. He told DNS that the experience has left him shocked and frustrated at the deeply flawed system.

Also, he says he believes – although he does not have direct evidence of this – that DWP decision-makers do have targets for the proportion of claimants that they need to find “fit for work”, and so ineligible for ESA.

DWP decision-maker ‘hates job’

Additionally, George claimed that a colleague in another part of DWP, who actually works with a decision-maker, told him that the decision-maker hates his job. This is because he must “disallow people” and was “struggling to hit his disallowance targets”.

DNS has been unable to verify this claim, but disabled activists have been warning for years that they believe DWP decision-makers, and the healthcare professionals who work for the government contractor Maximus, are set targets for the proportion of claimants they must find fit for work.

DWP has continued to deny imposing any such targets and no-one has been able to provide strong evidence that they exist. Even George says he believes such targets do exist, although he cannot prove it.

“I think decision-makers are trying to meet targets,” he told DNS.

No disparaging story about the DWP’s management, or mismanagement, will ever surprise me. I hope you feel the same way.

Read Disability News Service’s full report here.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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DWP fights to hide WCA ‘under-performance’ and PIP assessments

I suppose, by now, that the ineptitude of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should not surprise me. And while that is true, what does amaze me is its ability to keep proving it – over and over again.

Right now, besides all its usual carryings on, the department is fighting two similar but separate battles. It is trying its best, or maybe its worst, to hide information from the public. Information that we have a right to know.

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Photo: The Independent

First, the DWP is trying to hide from public scrutiny a report showing how well assessment company Maximus is doing. The company carries out the controversial, and widely despised, work capability assessment (WCA) for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). It also includes a look at Atos’s record as far back as 2011.

The Information Commissioner has already ordered the release of a copy of the report, which would give a breakdown of Maximus’s performance at each assessment centre. The DWP, however, is refusing to publish it and is now taking the case to an information tribunal.

Under-performance could damage reputations

The DWP claims that the information could “give a perception of under-performance’ which could ‘damage the reputation and standing of the companies involved”.

Duh, that’s the point. We all know the WCAs are a mess, this report would go towards proving just how bad it is. And the DWP as good as admits that the report could damage the standing of both Maximus and Atos.

The government ministry is therefore claiming that the report is exempt from disclosure because publishing it could damage the commercial interests of both Maximus and Atos, as well as the DWP itself.

Its second fight is to hide differences between Atos and Capita assessments, this time for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP),

This time the DWP is refusing to release training materials which would potentially highlight difference between the way that Atos and Capita carry out PIP assessments, according to Benefits and Work (B&W).

DWP refuses Freedom of Information request to hide facts

hideBack in June, Benefits and Work made a Freedom of Information Act request for training and guidance materials issued by Atos to staff carrying out PIP assessments. Detailed guidance covers issues such as the way in which requests for the recording of PIP assessments are dealt with.

However, the DWP refused to release the guidance on the grounds that it was commercially confidential.

The campaigning website asked the DWP to reconsider its decision. B&W says these are not commercially confidential matters and there is a strong public interest in how PIP is administered on a day-to-day basis.

It says: “If there is a difference in how PIP is managed by different companies, then this is also a strong matter of public interest. Claimants ought to be able to be sure that their assessment is a standardised one and not one based on which company carries it out.”

The DWP, however, is having none of it. Once again, it continues to hide the documents because it considers them to be commercially confidential.

DWP says “commercially confidential” tag exempts it from FoI

The DWP said: “Release of this information would reveal to their competitors commercially sensitive information which would disadvantage IAS’s (Independent Assessment Service, the name that Atos now uses) competitive position in the marketplace.

“This in turn would prejudice the ability of the department to secure best value for the taxpayer when the contract is re-tendered. Release of this type of key financial information would also undermine the effectiveness of the department’s future dealings with IAS or other service providers.”

A B&W spokesman said: “The DWP now routinely refuses a large proportion of freedom of information requests on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. It does this without attempting to justify in any way how anyone’s interests would be threatened.

“Benefits and Work is now applying to the Information Commissioner to have the documents disclosed.”

I receive both ESA and DLA, because of disability caused by MS. As such, I cannot allow horrendous cover-ups like these to go unchallenged – and I urge you to do the same. Public interest and freedom of information must triumph over so-called ‘commercial confidentiality’.

That is just a smokescreen behind which the DWP is using to hide the facts…the facts we need and deserve to see.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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ESA New Compulsory ‘Conversation’ brings more Sanctions, and a Dispute over Co-design Claim

We can tell when politicians are lying because it happens whenever their lips move and words come out.

We don’t like it but we know it’s true; it’s the same as a politician’s promise – worthless. But it is now spreading beyond those who are elected, and I find that extremely concerning. This time we have caught out two senior civil servants.

esaOnce again, the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is at the heart of the matter. It claims, wrongly, that disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) had “co-designed” a new scheme with Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions attached.

I have to congratulate the Disability News Service (DNS) for its tenacity and determination to expose the truth in the face of continued denials from the DWP.

The DNS revealed in March that nearly all new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) would have to attend a new Health and Work Conservation (HWC) with a DWP job coach. Attendance would be compulsory and claimants’ benefits sanctioned if they failed to take part “without good cause”.

The HWC can take place weeks or even months before claimants have their ability to work tested through the work capability assessment.

HWC co-designed or not?

DNS reported details of the HWC from a presentation delivered by the two senior DWP civil servants.

They are Ian Anderson, DWP’s project and programme management head of profession, and Matt Russell, its policy advisor for disability employment strategy. They claimed the HWC was “co-designed with the Behavioural Insight Team (BIT), health charities, front-line staff, disabled peoples’ organisations and occupational health professionals”.

DNS says it has now obtained the names of those DPOs and charities. It used a freedom of information request to DWP to obtain the list.

All of those contacted by DNS have denied any endorsement of the HWC. In its report issued yesterday, it quotes four leading DPOs. Each refutes the DWP’s claim.

DWP stands firm on ESA

A DWP spokesman refused to apologise for the claims by Anderson and Russell. That is despite the DPOs stating clearly they are firmly opposed to sanctions, conditionality and a mandatory HWC.

He said: “We used various feedback to help design the HWC – however not all contributions will have been used.”

He said that any actions agreed by an ESA claimant in the mandatory HWC would be voluntary. There will be DWP “safeguards” to ensure “appropriate exemptions from attending the HWC,” he added.

Of course, we all believe that – don’t we?!

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Diagnosed with MS in 2002, he continued to work until mobility problems made him retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective. Besides that, he is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

 

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Disabilities: Government warned forced activities ‘could make health worse’

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Plans for people with disabilities to be forced to undertake ‘mandatory activities’, even though they have already been assessed as being unfit for work, is being opposed by disability groups such as the MS Society.

It is good to see the society urging the UK government to scrap plans, included in the Green Paper Improving Lives, that would require people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to participate in those activities or risk facing cuts to their benefits.

disabilityThe ‘Green Paper’ is a supposed consultation document that sets out what the government calls its 10-year vision for helping people with chronic conditions – who can and want to – find and stay in work. It also includes other areas, such as health and changes to disability benefits.

In a statement issued on Friday, the MS Society said: “We’re really concerned about changes to disability benefits proposed in the Government’s Green Paper on work, health and disability. And we let them know in our detailed response today.”

Society policy manager Laura Wetherly said: “The government must recognise that many people with MS simply can’t work because of their condition and may not be able to return to work in the future. For these people, work has become impossible and in some cases could actually make their health worse.

“Putting pressure on people already deemed unfit for work won’t help their condition improve, will only make the system more stressful for them, and won’t help to close the disability employment gap. We’re urging the Government to make the welfare system make sense – the most vulnerable people need to be properly supported.”

According to the government’s own figures, of the people with MS claiming ESA, 92% are in the support group and are currently people not expected to carry out any work-related activity.

The MS Society says its January survey of more than 1,300 people with the disease revealed:

  • Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) say they are not employed.
  • Over half (53%) of this group say they would ideally like to work, but the vast majority (77%) say their MS means it’s not possible for them to work.
  • 62% of those not working feel they couldn’t return to work even with appropriate support.

According to Government figures, of the people with MS claiming ESA, 92% are in the support group. Currently people in this group are not expected to carry out any work-related activity as they tend to have the very highest support needs.

On its website, the society highlights the story of Carole Bennett, who is 58 and from Leeds, was diagnosed with MS in 2003. It says:

Around five years ago, she had to give up her job as a local government officer because her symptoms became too severe to carry on. Shortly after, she started receiving ESA.

Carole says: “I wouldn’t be able to do anything without this money – it’s my main form of income. I do very little as it is because the amount I get is only just enough to get by on. I enjoyed my job and if my health was better, I’d love to get back into work. But MS is so unpredictable – some days are better than others and I never know when I’m going to be ok. If I were forced to look for a new job now, the stress would make my symptoms worse and my life would be even harder than it is at the moment.”

I firmly believe that the plans should have no place in what, in the 21st century, should be a caring, tolerant and decent society.

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ian-skype_edited50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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More flock to accuse disability assessors of lying

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Isn’t it amazing how the number of people who choose to speak out about injustices multiply once the first reports are published

Many more disabled people have come forward to describe how the healthcare professionals who assessed them for the UK government’s disability benefits lied in the reports they compiled. The benefits are paid to people with many different disabilities including multiple sclerosis.

Their evidence further confirms the results of a two-month Disability News Service (DNS) investigation, which revealed last week how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence, and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

disability-news-serviceHaving seen the first revelations of the DNS, more personal independence payment (PIP) claimants have come forward with their own evidence of dishonest assessors.

The second DNS report said:

One PIP claimant, who has impairments including ME, fibromyalgia and a heart condition, has described how his disability living allowance (DLA) award of the higher rates for both care and mobility was lost after his PIP assessment left him with zero points (a claimant needs eight for the PIP standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate).

He remembers his assessor telling him when she arrived at his home and he asked if she knew anything about ME and fibromyalgia: “I’ve dealt with a couple of people with yuppy flu before.”

He said: “When I received the assessor’s report I thought it was for another person as it contained so many omissions, inaccuracies and conjecture. There were also several instances of fabrication.”

Information from his previous applications for incapacity benefit, DLA and employment and support allowance (ESA), and his successful appeal decisions for DLA and ESA at tribunal, had been omitted from her report.

David told DNS: “The report states I carried out tiptoe and ‘balancing on each foot’ tests and had no problems walking. I did not walk a step and did not carry out the tests described.

“The report states that I turned around in my chair and picked up a bottle of medicine from the surface behind me – the surface behind me was an oven hob and all my medication was on the table in front of the assessor.”

When he described how his medication had sent him to sleep in his back yard, the assessor claimed that he said instead: “I wonder [sic]round the fields outside my house,” while being able to open a ring-pull can was interpreted as “able to prepare a meal”.

He is appealing the decision, and is complaining about his assessor to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

David said: “Since receiving the report, the consequences of dealing with the complaints procedure and making another tribunal appeal have been a noticeable deterioration in my health and have put a strain on both my wife’s and my own mental health (loss of peace of mind, anxiety, knocks to self-confidence and a feeling of being discriminated against because of the nature of my disability).”

Many other claimants came forward and told similar stories.

A DWP spokeswoman told the DNS:

“We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments.

“We do not accept it to be the case that there is dishonesty amongst them.

“As we said, we are committed to making sure the PIP assessment process works fairly and effectively, which is why we welcome independent reviews such as the ones led by Paul Gray, the second of which is expected in April 2017.

“Anyone not happy with their benefit decision can ask for it to be looked at again, and then appeal to an independent tribunal.

“There is also a comprehensive complaints procedure in place for claimants who are not happy with the service they have received from providers.”

So many tales of wrongdoing, yet the government department does not accept there is dishonesty among its contractors’ assessors. What is wrong? It is high time that government ministers and civil servants opened their eyes, ears and put whatever brains they have to good use. In fact, the evidence exists, they just need to approach it with open minds. It is time for action not complacency or denial.

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Disability: Uncaring and Disinterested

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Not that it is unexpected, but those of us with disabilities (whether MS, like me, or one of a host of others) are definitely getting a raw deal from the government, with no sign of any relief any time soon.

Two days ago, I brought you news that official UK government figures (reluctantly produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act enquiry) show alarming numbers of people with disabilities losing out in the move from Disabled Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment. The figures show horrendous cuts to those being awarded the higher rate of the mobility component.

Now the Disability New Service has highlighted three more examples of an uncaring government under prime minister Theresa May who is more likely to be focused on the intricacies of Brexit than worrying about disability issues.

Crisis ignored

Chancellor Philip Hammond MP.

Chancellor Philip Hammond MP.

Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond has shocked disabled activists by ignoring the social care funding crisis in his autumn statement, and refusing to scrap a planned cut to employment and support allowance (ESA).

Despite weeks of lobbying from disabled people, politicians – including some Tory MPs – and charities, he announced no new money for adult social care.

Philip Hammond’s 6,000-word speech contained not a single mention of disabled people, disability or social care, and there was no suggestion of any u-turn on the £30-a-week cut for new claimants placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG).

The WRAG cut had also been the subject of fierce lobbying, which had again included some Conservative MPs, and is now set to go ahead in April.

Disability employment gap election promise abandoned

A Labour MP has proved that the government has abandoned a target it set to halve the disability employment gap by 2020.

Justin Tomlinson MP.

Justin Tomlinson MP.

The promise, included in last year’s general election manifesto, said a Conservative government would “aim to halve the disability employment gap” in the next parliament.

A month after the party’s election victory, Justin Tomlinson, then minister for disabled people, confirmed in a press release that the government “aims to halve the gap between the disabled employment rate and the overall employment rate by 2020”.

But in recent months, ministers have suggested that there was no target date for halving the gap, with Penny Mordaunt, the current minister for disabled people, stating on November 4 that it was “a long term project”.

Mordant has now finally admitted that the government has abandoned the target, in a written answer to Labour MP Stephen Timms, himself a former work and pensions minister.

In his latest attempt to persuade the government to admit that it had abandoned a target date, Timms had asked whether it expects “to achieve the commitment to halve the disability employment gap by (a) 2020, (b) 2025 and (c) 2030”.

Mordaunt told him the government was “not setting a deadline for completing this work”.

Employers from discredited scheme transferred to replacement

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Minister for the Disabled Penny Mordaunt MP.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted flooding its under-fire Disability Confident scheme with hundreds of employers from the hugely-discredited disability employment programme it is replacing.

The revelation is yet another blow to the credibility of the newly-relaunched scheme.

Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, boasted earlier this month that more than 2,400 businesses had already signed up to Disability Confident.

But DWP has now admitted that all but about 100 of those 2,400 organisations have simply been transferred across from Two Ticks – the scheme that Disability Confident is replacing – with many of them not even having to fill in an application form.

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

 

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Assessment changes welcome but not yet enough

News that the government is to scrap continuous benefit reassessments for people with progressive health conditions, who can’t work, and receive the UK’s Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is welcome.  Sadly, however, it does not go far enough.

The change in government policy, announced on Saturday, only concerns just one of the country’s health and disability benefits.  It does not involve those people who receive Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or those who have not yet been moved to that from the old Disabled Living Allowance.

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Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green MP,

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green MP said that new criteria, being developed will help decide who can have their ESA reassessments stopped, meaning they will not be asked again to prove they are too unwell to work.

The decision follows months of talks between a group of charities, including the MS Society, and the Department for Work and Pensions in which those charities have pushed for the government to end unnecessary reassessments of people with MS and other progressive conditions. But those campaigners cannot give up. There are still several unanswered questions, including exactly who this will apply to and how it will be awarded.  The government might have accepted the argument for ESA; now it must do the same for PIP. Anything less is simply unacceptable

It is said that those eligible are likely to be people with a progressive form of MS. I hope that does not mean that it excludes people with relapsing MS, after all, ALL MS is progressive to a greater or lesser degree.

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MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell.

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell welcomed the news but also recognized that the fight needs to continue. She said: “This is a victory for common sense. Frequent reassessments for people with progressive conditions like MS are too often a waste of time and money; they can leave people with uncertainty and fear of having their support taken away.

“We are therefore delighted that the government have listened to our concerns and have agreed to stop reassessments – albeit for only some ESA claimants.

“This is good news, but there’s still a lot more to do for people with MS – including improving the assessment for ESA and calling for inappropriate reassessments to stop for other vital benefits, like PIP.”

 

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Disability benefit: It seems even honesty doesn’t pay

Photo: The Independent

Photo: The Independent

A paraplegic woman who got a job for eight hours a week, which is allowed under UK welfare benefit rules, has had her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) stopped, despite having got permission of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) – according to The Independent newspaper.

It seems to be another example of bureaucratic inefficiency from the ministry. It makes me wonder if they set out to recruit staff with no requirement for common sense. And it proves that, while dishonesty is obviously wrong, honesty doesn’t pay either when dealing with government departments.

The report, by Sadi Levy Gale, explained that the woman had been penalised by the DWP after resigning from a part-time job that she had sought herself but was unable to continue due to ill health. She had her benefits stopped after she gave up working eight hours a week for a consultancy agency.

It continued:

The DWP allows disabled people to receive sickness benefits if they are employed fewer than 16 hours a week and earn less than £115.50 for it.

Speaking to the Guardian under the pseudonym Sarah Jones, she said she received written permission from the DWP to start work.

But by March, Ms Jones told the DWP she had to resign because the job was taking a toll on her health.

A month later, the DWP fraud department accused her of working without permission.

Ms Jones was asked to fill in a “permitted work” form – a PW1 – and send the DWP her bank statements and pay slips if she wanted to keep her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

But when Ms Jones sent the paperwork she received a letter from the department stating her benefits would be stopped because she had not “complied” by sending in all requested information. Ms Jones had lost her January payslip so had not been able to provide it.

After finding the payslip and making it available, the DWP then told Ms Jones her benefits had been discontinued because she had earned too much to qualify for ESA in January.

Ms Jones told the Guardian her boss had paid her Christmas pay in January rather than December, explaining the inflated payment.

“A quick call to my employer or myself would have clarified this,” she said. “But no: they just stopped my benefit.”

Ms Jones said she has been without ESA for four weeks while the DWP decide whether she can claim benefits.

“I’m powerless. I did everything by the book. I was totally honest and upfront… but because I’m disabled and poor, no one wants to listen,” she said in the interview.

When contacted, a DWP spokesperson said: “People claiming ESA are able to undertake some paid work without it impacting on their benefit entitlement. If further details of this case can be provided we will investigate.”

Now, I feel confident in predicting that the woman’s benefits will be reinstated by the ministry in the light of ‘further details’ or ‘new evidence’ that it receives. Will it ever admit it made a mistake? I would not suggest that you hold your breath waiting for that – or for an apology.

 

 

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