Friday 18 February 2011

The Welfare Reform Bill and Disability

The Welfare Reform Bill (Bill 154) was unveiled by David Cameron yesterday, after being introduced in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 16th of February 2011. The Bill is quite controversial, and will provoke varying reactions depending on your political leanings. The Broken of Britain will not get involved in the general provisions of the Bill – as a non-party political group this is beyond our mandate, whatever individual members of the group may say in a personal capacity. However, provisions that affect disabled people are, most certainly, our business. Below is an analysis of the Bill and disability.

Part 1 of the Bill contains provisions and confers regulation-making powers for the new Universal Credit. Universal credit will be paid to people both in and out of work, replacing working tax credit, child tax credit, housing benefit, council tax benefit, IS, income- based JSA and income-related ESA. The stated aim of universal credit is to smooth the transition into work by reducing the support a person receives at a consistent rate as their earnings increase. The financial support provided by universal credit will be underpinned by responsibilities which claimants may be required to meet.

Clause 4 sets out the basic conditions for entitlement, including that the claimant must accept a claimant commitment which contains the requirements that a claimant will be expected to meet in return for receiving universal credit. These requirements are set out in clauses 13 to 28 – no work-related requirements if the claimant has limited capability for work-related activity, work preparation if the claimant is found to have limited capability for work, and claimants subject to work search and availability requirements otherwise, with Clause 26 setting out harsh sanction for failure to meet any of these requirements. Subsection (1)(b) of Clause 6 prevents a person from being entitled to universal credit if they only meet the conditions of entitlement for a short period, to be prescribed in regulations – this will increase the difficulty of getting out-of-work support where disability is acute.

Clause 11 provides for an amount to be included for housing costs. A person’s
maximum amount may include an amount for housing costs if the claimant is liable to
make payments on their home. This could be in the form of rent, mortgage costs or
other housing-related costs. Where the amount for housing relates to a liability to pay
rent, it is intended that the amount will be calculated with reference to a claimant’s
household size and circumstances as well as their actual rent, as is the case currently
in housing benefit. There are changes being made to housing benefit that will be harmful to disabled people, and we must block these to avoid them being carried over.

It is clear that the most effective way to make provision for disabled people in this Part of the Bill is to amend Clause 38 which provides powers relating to the determination of limited capability for work and limited capability for work-related activity owing to a physical or mental condition. A person’s capability for work may determine the work-related requirements which may be imposed. The intention is that the clause allows for the same provision as for ESA in sections 8 and 9 of Welfare Reform Act 2007.

Part 2 of the Bill makes provision for changes to the responsibilities of claimants of JSA, ESA and IS in the period leading up to the introduction of universal credit. In particular provision is made for the introduction of a claimant commitment, in the same way as in Part 1. The claimant commitment will be a record of the requirements claimants are expected to meet in order to receive benefit and the consequences should they fail to do so. Once the universal credit clauses have come into force, ESA and JSA will continue alongside universal credit as contributory benefits.

Clause 51 must be deleted, as it time-limits entitlement to contributory ESA to 365, even where the period of limited capability for work exceeds this period, though days during which a claimant is in the support group will not count towards the 365 days of entitlement.. In particular, this may plunge couples where one or both partners are disabled into poverty, as claimants will be subject to harsh means test after this period. Additionally, subsection (3)(a) provides that claimants who are already receiving contributory ESA when the time limit is introduced will have the period that they have already spent on the benefit counted towards their 365 days of entitlement. Clause 53 and Clause 56 must be amended as it provides for the same claimant commitment and responsibilities as in the Universal Credit, with the same flaws as discussed above.

As well as the changes to be made in the interim period this Part also introduces longer-term reforms to align ESA and JSA more closely with the provisions for universal credit. Clauses 49 and 56 insert new sections into the Jobseekers Act 1995 and the Welfare Reform Act 2007 which replicate those for universal credit which relate to work-related requirements and sanctions, apart from where small differences are necessary, so that what can be expected of a claimant of contributory JSA or ESA is the same as it would be for a similar claimant of universal credit.

Part 4 is the most interesting for disabled people, discussing the Personal Independence Payment, before the DLA reform consultation has closed! In June 2010 the Government announced, as part of the Emergency Budget, its intention to reform disability living allowance from 2013-14. Subsequently, in December 2010, a consultation paper Disability Living Allowance reform (Cm 7984) was published. The consultation paper sets out the Government’s proposals to replace disability living allowance with a personal independence payment. The provisions in Part 4 set out the framework for the new benefit, while the consultation responses will feed into the detailed design of the benefit which will be provided for in secondary legislation.

This Part of the Bill must be deleted in its entirety, for the reasons that The Broken of Britain is opposed to the Personal Independence Payment. Notwithstanding the facts that the DLA reform consultation was not closed when the Bill was published, that the consultation is deeply flawed, that there is no evidence that DLA reform is required, and that DLA reform will cause hardship for disabled people, the provisions for PIP are regressive. The reduction in the number of rates of PIP has been decided before the consultation ends, as has the decision to assess prescribed activities to determine awards, and the decision to require that a person be disabled for six months prior to claiming. It has also been decided that that if a claimant is an in-patient of a hospital or similar institution, or resident in a care home, and receives “qualifying services” (as defined in subsection (4)), which are paid for to any extent out of public or local funds, regulations may provide that no amount of the daily living or mobility components of personal independence payment is payable.

The Broken of Britain is exploring various avenues to ensure that the desired changes are made to the Bill, including the complete deletion of Part 4.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Maria Miller's Interview in The Guardian

I am frustrated and angry so, naturally, I have written a letter. My frustration concerns this interview with Maria Miller in The Guardian. I mean no disrespect to the brilliant Amelia Gentleman who interviewed the Minister for Disabled People, who conducted a fair interview and presented some good analysis.

My frustration comes from the fact that Maria Miller keeps peddling the same lies, no matter how often she is challenged. As Winston Churchill said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Ms. Miller seems to have been paying more attention to Churchill's disability policies than to his wisdom on lies. Until she answers fully, the Broken of Britain will keep challenging her on her evasions and untruths.

As always, all are welcome to copy-and-paste this letter:

Dear Ms. Miller,

RE: Your interview in The Guardian on 16/02/2011

Writing to you after you make some strange pronouncement seem to be becoming a habit for me. Indeed, it seems that most of my work in the past 6 months can be considered one long letter to you. Yet you have never replied to my correspondence, and my detailed analysis of your reform proposals, for reasons that are open to interpretation. And yet again, I find myself writing after your interview in The Guardian, published today.

It is difficult to gauge where to direct criticism as most of the interview, on your part, is clearly a disingenuous exercise in misdirection. However, I begin by discussing the way that you patronised Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimants by telling Amelia Gentleman, your interviewer, that: "I often hear concerns that are based on a lack of detailed information of what we are talking about in terms of our reforms. People need to get the facts rather than speculation".

My letter to you dated 09/12/2010 included detailed analysis of your proposals, to which you failed to reply. Other disability right groups, charities, thinkanks and political blogs have offered further detailed analysis, which you continue to meet by repeating your initial falsehoods. As you will have seen in your Live Q&A session last week on the Money Guardian website, most DLA claimants understand the system better than you do, and are fully aware of the consequences of your proposed reforms. How dare you tell us that our concerns are based on speculation? The truth is that it is you who is ignoring the facts, and even distorting them to suit your own agenda.

For example, you say that: "50% of people receiving DLA have never been required to submit any independent evidence of their need.” There is no explanation here of what ‘independent’ means. You must be aware that making a claim for DLA is not easy – 52% of DLA claims are disallowed (DWP Research Report. 490) – and that substantial evidence must be presented, including medical evidence. Is it not this Government’s policy to promote GP commissioning of NHS services in England. And yet your words seem to suggest that ‘mere’ GPs cannot be trusted to give independent evidence. Are you calling the Health Secretary’s wisdom into question?

You also say that: “Significant numbers of people have had no contact with the department since their awards were made almost 20 years ago and we have no way of knowing if their need of support has increased or not". Yet you ignore the fact that if a claimant is awarded DLA indefinitely, without reassessment, it is because they have a condition which will not get better and reassessment was deemed a waste of resources.

Your most staggering claim is that: “The DLA reform absolutely is about making sure that the benefit is working properly. At the moment it's not working properly. My priority is to get the benefit right, to get the assessment right, to make sure it is supporting the disabled people who have the most difficulty living independent lives." You offer no evidence at all that DLA is not working properly. There are no DWP research reports published that support your assertion in the slightest. Further, most DWP research reports on DLA present on of the most effective, efficient, and popular, benefits managed by the DWP.

You seem to switch between claiming that DLA is a ‘broken’ system and saying that: "This is about making sure that the more than £40bn a year the government spends in support of disabled people is used most effectively in the way that disabled people would want us to. Nobody is benefited by having a system that can be brought into disrepute.", as it suits your agenda. But it is the efforts of this Government, and the Conservative party before and after the 2010 election, that have brought DLA into disrepute. DLA has an estimated fraud rate of 0.5%, joint lowest in the benefits system, and is well-known to be a tough benefit for which to claim because of the burden of proof required. The disrepute surrounding DLA in 2011 is entirely the fault of your Government and political party, who have repeatedly exaggerated, distorted and lied in order to cast doubt on the veracity of DLA claims and the integrity of claimants.

You keep repeating that: "This is an opportunity to drag that benefit into the 21st century, giving us an opportunity to recognise disabled people's issues as they are today, rather than as they were 20 years ago, when views on disability were very very different," which was a repetition of a statement you made during the Money Guardian’s Live Q&A. I repeat a question that I asked you then: what does it mean to drag the benefit into the 21st century? No evidence has been published by the DWP to support your statement, and although you claimed to have evidence last week, you have not referred to it as I requested. Once again, I challenge you to publish if you are using evidence that is not in the public domain.

Lastly, you say of the proposed DLA reforms that: “the very clear objective of the government is that we are supporting disabled people to live more independent lives”. You fail to explain that DLA exists in order to help disabled people with the extra costs of ‘living more independent lives’, and to explain why cutting the DLA caseload by 20% will help achieve this. The 20% who lose eligibility for DLA will, in fact, be less able to live independently.

The sanguinity with which you are approaching the proposed reforms suggests that you are failing to appreciate the justified anger of disabled people. 4825 people thus far have signed a petition calling on you to recall the public consultation on DLA reform, 61 MPs have noted their concerns by signing the EDM on the DLA consultation, a statement of opinion opposing DLA reform has been tabled in the Welsh Assembly, and a motion condemning the DLA reform process has been tabled in Scottish Parliament. Do not underestimate the opposition that you face.

I close by asking you:

1) to reply personally and in detail to my letter date 09/12/2010, answering each argument
2) to ensure that the data supporting the claims you make on DLA is published, and make clear that no data published thus far supports your case
3) invite The Broken of Britain disability rights group and myself to meet with you, Hywel Williams MP, Lord Wigley and Dame Anne Begg MP so that we may discuss this with you.

Your sincerely,

Rhydian Fôn James,
The Broken of Britain

cc: Hywel Williams MP, Dame Anne Begg MP, Baroness Campbell, Baroness Grey-Thompson, Lord Wigley, Amelia Gentleman

Monday 14 February 2011

#ProjV : Rumours

It's sad to think that I was near prophetic when I stated that the hatemongering against disabled people would intensify as we neared the (original) deadline of the Consultation on DLA Reform. The relentless onslaught against "scroungers" and "fakers" continues unabated, each new revelation more tawdry than the one that preceded it. I  can take no pleasure in being proven right.

As I write this, a disturbing rumour has reached me, and not for the first time today. Late this evening, as the #ProjV Twitter campaign started the slow ebb towards it's official end, I received the following communique:

"A fellow spoonie Twitter user got in touch with me by email today to tell me that he won't be using social media anymore and it has got me thinking about it.

Apparently ATOS will be delving into the internet to find evidence to use against people for their medicals e.g. using the computer for longer than 10 minutes at a time, communicating with people via Twitter or Facebook.  I stated in my medical that I did use a mobile phone and PC but I'm still concerned about it.

Have you heard anything in the media about this?"

Here are my thoughts, such as they are:
  1. There are far too many of us for ATOS to keep track of.
  2. ATOS don't have the manpower for that level of surveillance. Time in-and-of-itself wouldn't be adequate "proof" of deception.
  3. They would have to be aware that thanks to technology, a #spoonie can be in bed or sprawled across the sofa on their mobile, iPad, netbook or laptop.
  4. For social media especially - Tweets and FB posts can posted via advanced scheduling without having to actually be online.
  5. It occurs to me that this is a matter of Chinese whispers given  last week's PCC ruling giving newspapers the authority to use Tweets (whether in the public interest or not). Also for consideration is the decidedly inappropriate behaviour of a certain infamous Tory MP via blogging and Twitter towards a constituent and her  equally inappropriate and incredible offensive cheerleading sidekick who threatened that her detractors were being "watched" (whatever that means).

Now, have I thought about such a scenario before? Yes. It comes with the territory of being online and especially given my increased activism. However, I personally have yet to hear of any such plan in an official capacity - only loose online connections who heard from a friend who heard... etc. Thus far there is no identifiable source for this latest scare tactic. 

I will say this: I refuse to let anyone make me more afraid than I already am - so afraid that I become even more withdrawn and cut off from the world due to being housebound. For myself and many others,  disability means being abandoned by so-called "friends" and even family. In this Digital Age, the internet and social media are not luxuries.  The truest and dearest friends I have are people I haven't even physically met.

My only suggestion would be to not worry and/or take a rash action until you actually have a reason to. 


Suggested reading:  "Frequent tweeting doesn't make one a benefit cheat, Nadine Dorries"

Project V - (In)Voluntary Work