At the end of June this year, anti-poverty charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) published a new report showing how the Government’s harsh policies are preventing disabled and unwell people from getting the disability payments they are entitled to.
When claimants are wrongly denied benefits after their assessment, they can have decision reviewed by requesting a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR). They must do this before being allowed to appeal. Z2K’s report outlines the devastating impacts of this “deeply flawed” system. Only one in five Personal Independence Payment (PIP) decisions and one in ten (11%) Employment and Support Allowance decisions are changed at the MR stage, which is manifestly unjust, given that 69% of the claims are overturned at the later appeal state. The report recommends that, if the MR process cannot be radically improved, then it should be scrapped, and claimants be allowed to go straight to appeal.
“The assessments’ poor design and implementation mean hundreds of thousands of disabled and unwell people are being wrongly turned down” – Z2K
Last year, we submitted a contribution to the Work and Pensions Committee, after they put out a call for evidence on the medical assessments for disability benefits. We also focussed on the MR process, which was clearly seen to be “merely one more unsatisfactory hurdle for people to overcome”, because it is felt that the DWP in the majority of cases simply “rubber stamp” the earlier refusal.
“Mandatory Reconsideration? It’s supposed to make the system fair, but it’s simply not true.
“They don’t review the medical evidence. There is no investigation on whether it is accurate or not. They don’t go against what the physio or nurse or whoever said in the first place. That would make both of them look unprofessional. How bad would it look if they were to point out at this stage that the ESA or PIP decision is wrong? So it’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t be like this. My whole life being decided in 40 minutes by a physio who knows nothing about my mental health.
“Because after that no-one wants to admit they are wrong.” – Claimant response in our submission to the Work and Pensions Committee 2017
We also found that access to independent, face-to-face, accessible legal advice and advocacy was essential throughout the process. Claimants going through the process often feel it is rigged against them, and with an advocate present they feel like they have an ally and that their voice is less likely to be ignored.
“Without an advocate they [the DWP] just walk all over you.” – Claimant response in our submission to the Work and Pensions Committee 2017
Z2K’s report shows that hundreds of thousands of claimants for ESA and PIP are being wrongly turned down, defying the principle that disability benefits are crucial for offsetting the additional costs and disadvantages that people with disabilities and long-term health conditions face.
Without this vital income, many are pushed into debt, face rent arrears and have to rely on foodbanks to survive. To fight for their benefits, they have to go through a long, draining ordeal, putting them under severe financial and emotional pressure for sometimes over a year.
“Instead of creating such a hostile environment for those who are disabled, and assuming everyone is trying to cheat the system, ministers urgently need to recognise the reality of people’s disabilities and illnesses and give them the support they deserve.
“That means fixing the assessments, fundamentally improving MR and reinstating Legal Aid for disability appeals.” – Raji Hunjan, CEO of Z2K
Earlier this year, we responded to the recent scandal affecting the Windrush generation, which we see to be the tip of the iceberg of poor Home Office decisions. Immigration policies such as which have included “foreign national prisoners” facing double punishment of prison and deportation and the bad treatment of children who have been born here are not anomalies, but rather part of a purposefully-created hostile environment.
Burnage councillor Ben Clay drew a parallel between the way migrants were being targeted and the way vulnerable claimants are treated in the welfare system:
“This is not the only area where we’re seeing one section of society being punished, breeding division and hatred.
“There has long been a concerted campaign to attack the sick, disabled and unemployed claimants of social security benefits… by increasing the stigma against claiming entitlements through campaigns of media vilification, ensuring that first the DWP and later, private contractors, were targeted on sanctioning and removing benefits, the government has set up a system which was intrinsically designed to achieve targeted savings, and sow social divisions by increasing the suffering of some of the poorest people in society.
“What we are seeing is the victimisation of various sections of society, from the sick, disabled and unemployed or low paid, through to migrants from the commonwealth countries of the British empire, particularly those who are of African Caribbean or Asian heretage, purely for political gain.” – Ben Clay, Burnage Councillor
Fighting for justice
We thank Z2K for their comprehensive and insightful report. Like them, we assist many claimants in fighting for the benefits they deserve, but the demand far outstrips what we can provide. We therefore join them in calling for fundamental changes in welfare policy and procedure to ensure people receive the social security benefits they are entitled to, as well as the reinstatement of Legal Aid for those navigating a hostile system.