Saturday 22 December 2012

If you can only walk twenty metres you'll get no help

When PIP starts to replace Disability Living Allowance next year anyone who can walk just twenty metres will not qualify for help with mobility. Twenty metres is less than the distance most of the disabled parking bays at my local Tesco are from the door. It's really not much. Hundreds of thousands of people will no longer get a mobility allowance and as a result will no longer be eligible to lease a Motability car. One day it might be you that needs this.

The government has also left out the phrase "safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner" from the PIP regulations. This means that if a person can do something just once, or can push through pain to do it, they might not get help and can't even challenge it at tribunal.

These are just two of the largest problems. Please write to your MP and ask them to fix this urgently. I can't stress enough how urgent this is. You can contact your MP at Write To Them

There is lots more information at We Are Spartacus.

Please also sign the (Stop the) War On Welfare petition which is calling for government to do a cumulative impact assessment on welfare reform. A great many changes are being made all at once and yet the government have not stopped to consider how they will affect people when taken all together.

This is the message that I sent to my MP, you can use mine as a starting point for your own if you are stuck. Remember that MPs pay more attention to unique messages.
Dear xxxxxxx,

I am writing to you about the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which will soon replace DLA. It has emerged following the publication of the PIP regulations last week that there are many problems with the regulations, two of which are extremely serious.

Under PIP a person who can walk just 20 metres will not be eligible for the mobility component of PIP. That is an astonishingly short distance. Even the closer disabled parking bays at my local Tesco are twenty metres from the entrance. This decision will deny mobility allowance to hundreds of thousands of people who rely on it, and an estimated 100,000 people will lose their Motability cars in the first year alone as a result.

I also note with alarm that the phrase "safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner" has not been included in the regulations. This phrasing is extremely important, since a person may be able to do something once but then not again for hours - effectively meaning that the activity cannot be done, but PIP will take no account of that.

Government ministers claim that the vulnerable will be protected. I hope that you can see why I am so concerned about PIP and how this will leave people trapped in their homes without transport and denied support for even the bare minimum of activities that they must perform. Please can you give me your assurance that these regulations will be amended so that disabled people can continue with their lives.


[Name and address]

Tuesday 18 December 2012

A Testing Journey

I have my Work Capability Assessment (WCA) on Sunday.

Yes, you read that right: A Sunday. And, yes, 2 days before Christmas. I presume Atos are working weekends in order to claim overtime expenses from the DWP.

I've read news reports about people getting all precious and going to the press saying "why would they want to assess me? Look at me... I'm clearly not fit for work." Erm... that's the point of the assessment: To look at you.

But there was something in the envelope that made my jaw drop in disbelief: A suggested journey plan.

"What's wrong with that? Surely that's Atos being helpful in giving you directions to their centre..."

They told me to take a route that's not wheelchair accessible.

First of all they tell me to walk 16 minutes to Kings Cross tube station. I'm not going to get pedantic about that; I talk of going for "a walk" despite being a wheelchair user. They tell me to take the Circle Line to Edgware Road and then walk another 9 minutes to the testing centre.

Edgware Road has no wheelchair access. In fact the closest wheelchair accessible tube station is Kings Cross.

You have to remember this isn't just a random travel leaflet shoved in with the letter; this is a tailor made journey plan for someone coming from my address to the testing centre at that specific date and time.

Atos haven't seen me in 4.5 years. It's possible that some of my health problems may have changed. But one thing that has not, and will never get any better is my lifelong mobility impairment.

Atos and the DWP know I'm a wheelchair user because of an incurable impairment. My impairment's incurableness is the reason I have an indefinite DLA award.

Further proof that Atos believe in miracles.

Friday 14 December 2012

Well over 100,000 to lose Motability vehicles under draconian new rules

This is a guest post by @theyoungjane and originally appeared here.

When I blogged on this topic back in January, I predicted thousands of disabled people would lose their Motability vehicles under the Government’s draft criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), set to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) under the Welfare Reform Act. Yesterday, the Government published the final version of the criteria and the reality is far, far worse than we could have imagined.

Many consultation responses on the draft criteria complained that the descriptors for Activity 12 (Activity 11 in the draft), addressing physical difficulties in moving around, were unclear and confusing. We hoped they would be clarified; in particular, we expected clarification that being unable to walk more than 50 metres would qualify claimants for the enhanced mobility component and the Motability scheme. But we’re stunned by the decision that to qualify for Motability, a claimant needs to be unable to walk more than 20 metres – a far shorter distance.

This has massive repercussions for the majority of Motability customers who, whilst they might be able to walk 20 metres, do nonetheless have very significant difficulties getting around. Under the second draft criteria, published in January, DWP predicted that 27% fewer working age people would be eligible for the scheme once PIP was fully rolled out. It is now clear from the Government’s own figures that 42% fewer disabled people of working age will be eligible for the Motability scheme once PIP is fully rolled out than would have been eligible had DLA continued unchanged (see Personal Independence Payment: Reassessment and Impacts, published 13 December 2012).

So what will this mean for disabled people? Only those with the greatest difficulty getting around, mainly those who use a wheelchair most of the time, will qualify for the Motability scheme on grounds of physical impairment. Huge numbers of disabled people with serious musculo-skeletal conditions, serious heart conditions or respiratory difficulties, cerebral palsy, neurological conditions such as MS and ME and many, many more will no longer benefit from the scheme. Their car will simply be taken away before they have a chance to appeal.

Those who no longer qualify for Motability are likely to be unable to get to work, attend medical appointments, visit friends, go shopping or, indeed, have much of a life at all. More than a hundred thousand people, who were previously able to get out and about independently, will find themselves staring at four walls; they will need more support for essential journeys, such as medical appointments, and their quality of life will be decimated. When visiting a small supermarket, 20 metres doesn’t even get you from the parking space to the entrance, never mind around the supermarket. In fact, lots of people have to walk more than 20 metres from their car to their front door when they get home again!

Disabled people who live in rural areas will be hurt the most. What little public transport is available is less likely to be accessible. There may be no local shops, no GP or pharmacy nearby; asking for a lift to the GP means asking someone to commit a considerable part of their day to drive a considerable distance.

Then there’s the knock-on effect on the UK car industry and the wider economy. In our report, Reversing from Recovery, published in June this year, the Spartacus network used the DWP’s own projections under the draft criteria to demonstrate the knock-on effect on the car industry and wider economy once all DLA claimants of working age had been migrated to PIP. However, under the DWP’s revised projections of the number of claimants eligible for Motability, under the final PIP criteria, the effect on the car industry and economy will be much more serious:
  • the car industry could lose nearly 50,000 new car sales a year (we predicted a loss of 31,450 sales under earlier projections),
  • more than 5,500 jobs could be lost from the economy (we predicted a loss of just over 3,500 jobs under earlier projections)
  • the Treasury could lose £126 million in tax receipts from motor-related industries (we predicted a loss of £79 million under earlier projections),
as a result of fewer claimants using the Motability scheme by the time PIP has been fully rolled out. And of course, if disabled people lose their jobs because they can no longer get to work, they will claim more in benefits and pay less tax. All in all, the original estimate of the effect on the economy was bad enough, but these figures are far worse.

For some, there is one slight cause for encouragement: the Government has listened to concerns about the speed of implementation and the necessity for evaluation and revised its timetable. DLA claimants with indefinite awards will only start to be reassessed from October 2015 – but newer claimants are more likely to have been given time-limited awards and therefore won’t benefit. And without extra assurances from either side of the political divide, we have to assume that the criteria published today will eventually affect all DLA claimants, albeit with implementation taking place over a longer timetable.

Hundreds of thousands of disabled people whose cars are vital to their life and health stand to lose virtually everything. No car = no independence, no job, no salary (with a consequent risk of homelessness), no social life plus increased dependence on family members, health and social care services and other benefits to survive. This begs the question: how does this cut help disabled people to fulfill the social contract of being part of society and contributing by work, volunteering or being part of their community? Even those held up by the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey, as inspirational role models will have their lives cruelly and unnecessarily restricted.

The Government has clearly paid little heed to the impact of this ‘reform’ on disabled people’s human rights. There is no doubt that the PIP criteria for people with a physical difficulty in getting around is retrogressive under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by the UK in 2009. The proposals seriously compromise disabled people’s human rights under several Articles of the Convention, including, among others, the right to live independently and to be included in the community (Article 19), and the right to personal mobility, specifically to….’ personal mobility with the greatest possible independence’ (Article 20).

This attack on the lives of disabled people who have difficulty getting around is NOT a price worth paying. MPs on both sides of the House of Commons should vote these regulations down. The Government can, and must, do much better than this, if it really wants to build on the legacy of the Paralympics.


* To get the enhanced mobility component of PIP, you need to accrue 12 points from either the first or second mobility activity in Part 3 of Schedule 1 of the PIP regulations. The first activity (Activity 11 in other DWP documents) covers non-physical difficulties with planning or following a journey and the second activity (Activity 12 in other DWP documents) covers physical difficulties in getting around. To get 12 points from the second activity alone, you have to be unable to stand then move more than 20 metres. If you have no difficulties with planning or following a journey and you can walk more than 20 metres, you will not be awarded the enhanced mobility component and you will not be eligible for the Motability scheme.

Monday 3 December 2012

International Day of Persons With Disabilities

Today is the UN's International Day of Persons With Disabilities. The theme is "Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all." Our government are celebrating the day by preparing to send sick and disabled people on unlimited unpaid "work experience". In a way this is removing barriers - now sick and disabled people can be subject to the same punitive measures that unemployed able-bodied people are - but I don't think this is what was meant.

The DWP press release has made an effort to deny that this is mandatory or punitive, but just a few words later explains that anyone who refuses to go on such unpaid work experience (or is unable to but ignored) will be subject to Mandatory Work Activity instead and failing that, will lose the majority of their ESA benefit. It would be nice to think that MWA is only used in extreme cases but in practice anyone and everyone can be sent for this mandatory labour without cause. My own brother is one such example.

This measure applies only to people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) and those in the Support Group are safe for now but people in the WRAG are NOT fit for work, even ignoring the fact that so many people are wrongly assigned to the WRAG when they should be in the Support Group. They are expected to be able to return to work, with help, at some unspecified point in the future. This new policy of forcing them on to The Work Programme, work experience and Mandatory Work Activity (Unpaid labour) completely ignores this and will cause harm, suffering and even death.

Image by @dochackenbush

Saturday 1 December 2012

Disability Workfare – Even Worse Than We Feared

With Disability Workfare due to kick in on Monday, DWP chose the end of the week to throw out their press-release, clearly trying to restrict the ability of anyone to challenge it in any significant manner or even engage in a meaningful debate. The press-release claims that no disabled person will be mandated onto work experience, but in the very next sentence starts talking about mandating us onto subtly different Mandatory Work placements under threat of sanction. So if you turn down work experience it isn't difficult to guess what will follow.

We now know that from Monday contractors from the likes of A4E will be able to mandate a disabled person onto indefinite Mandatory Work Placements, and while the Work Programme Providers are reluctant to elaborate, and DWP claim otherwise, it is clear much of this will be with private sector companies. Of course with contractor bonus payments dependent on showing progress, and contractors being given targets for sanctioning people on the Work Programme (a fact revealed by DWP’s own research), the absolute certainty is that the immediate interests of individual contractors will be given precedence over the interests of the disabled people forced into their absolute control.

Chillingly the press-release states that Mandatory Work Placement will be used in “circumstances where someone refuses to take reasonable steps to address a barrier which is stopping them working.” So the likelihood is that we will see Mandatory Work Placements being used as a club to force disabled people into treatments some medically unqualified A4E or Serco contractor desperate to get his monthly bonus thinks is appropriate, no matter whether that is the actual case. As an example, I have major back problems, for most people standard physiotherapy is an appropriate part of treatment for back issues, and we have seen suggestions of linking the Work Programme and physio in the past, but in my case my back problems are linked to my Hypermobility Syndrome, and the stretching aspects of normal physio would be actively damaging, but is that a nuance that a pressured A4E hack is going to understand, or care about? There are plenty of other examples of damaging treatments out there, for instance ME and exercise, which even has a powerful lobby of UK doctors backing it, no matter that the rest of the medical world disagrees with them.

The press-release even resorts to outright lying when it states “People who are too sick or disabled to work are placed in the support group for ESA”. All people in receipt of ESA have been classified as too sick to work by ATOS following a Work Capability Assessment and are placed in both the Support Group, and in the Work Related Activity Group, which is precisely the group that mandatory workfare will now apply to. The difference between the two groups is that someone in WRAG may, and only may, become able to work at some indefinite point in the future, and that point will often be years away, if at all (a point DWP are incredibly reluctant to acknowledge). Additionally, as Labour’s Shadow Employment Secretary, Stephen Timms, has pointed out, many people are being wrongly placed by ATOS into the WRAG when they should in fact be in Support Group. It is likely that this new policy will drive the already disastrous rate of WCA appeals even higher.

Indeed the prospects of disability workfare are so bad that even the major disability charities, who have clung to workfare through the worst of the protests against it, are now dropping it like a stinking corpse. The British Heart Foundation have already severed all ties, Cancer Research UK will pull out on the 1st January and Scope are urgently reviewing their position.

One aspect of disability workfare that seems not to have been explored is that there is going to be a huge issue around the legal concept of duty of care (i.e. the requirement to protect people from harm) for anyone taking on someone from ESA under a Mandatory Work Placement. People on ESA have by definition been found not currently fit for work, while duty of care applies to anyone an employer is in a supervisory position over (or to customers or even passers-by), it is not necessary for them to be the disabled person's employer in terms of law for duty of care to apply. It may well be the case that taking on a disabled person under mandatory workfare will violate the terms of their employer liability insurance, leaving them directly liable.

The press-release also contains the bizarre assertion that not having had many jobs is a valid reason for subjecting a disabled person to mandatory workfare. Speaking as a disabled person, I have only ever had one job, so would presumably be subject to this. Of course that one job was for 22 years and revolved around developing flight control systems to stop aircraft falling out of the sky; so maybe not having had many jobs isn’t the career weakness DWP claim it is. For that matter the Civil Service Fast Track typically recruits direct from university, so it is likely that the authors of the press-release have themselves only had one job….

(Amended to refer to the indefinite Mandatory Work Placements rather than Mandatory Work Activity, which is apparently limited to 4 weeks)