Category: WORK CAPABILITY ASSESSMENT

Giving claimants a voice – the Commission on Social Security

Last month saw the launch of the Commission on Social Security (CSS).

There are various much-needed reviews and consultations going on at the moment – including that being done by the Labour Party – asking people what they think a radical alternative to the current social security system should look like.

The key distinguishing feature of the CSS however is that it is claimant-led: all the commissioners (numbering around 20) have current or recent experience as claimants within the social security system.

This is reflected in the underlying principles the Commission has developed, and the resulting questions they are asking people to respond to.

For example, one of the key principles is to “make sure everyone has enough money to live – and support extra costs, e.g. to do with disability and children.”

Another states that the system should be “involving people who have actual experience of the issues, including from all impairment groups, in creating and running the system as a whole.”

Stemming from the principles, the Commission asks questions around core issues such as “What should be done about benefit sanctions?” and “how should the system work out who should get sickness or disability benefits?”

There are disturbing echoes here of the first major attempt in Britain to give unemployed workers an organised voice.
The second conference of the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) in November 1921 in Manchester set out some key aims including

• Full maintenance of the unemployed at trade-union rates
• The abolition of “test” or “task” work for those in receipt of relief through unemployment
• The free unconditional provision of halls to enable the unemployed to meet
• Representation of the unemployed organisation on all employment exchange committees

Closest possible links between the NUWM, the trades unions and the Labour Party, were encouraged, for example to ensure the unemployed were not used as a “reserve army of labour” to drive down wages.

We say “disturbing echoes” since, nearly a century later, many of the NUWM issues raised seem similar and as radical as those included in the Commission’s review (or Call for Solutions as we have called it). This suggests that the status and plight of unemployed, sick and disabled workers has improved little or not at all during that time.

It almost goes without saying – but still needs to be said – that actual rates of benefits for claimants remain woefully inadequate to meet their needs. Regarding the issue of “tests” or conditionality for claimants to get what they need, this has clearly got worse in recent years.

Sanctions rates, at a huge peak a few years ago, were driven down partly thanks to campaigning groups such as Unite Community, Disabled People Against Cuts and our own project London Unemployed Strategies (LUS). But they have started to rise again in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out. Meantime the dreaded Work Capability Assessments have served to make life a living hell for many sick and disabled claimants who previously would have had more sympathetic responses from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to their situations.

As for unemployed representation at Jobcentre Plus level upwards (the modern equivalent of the “employment exchange committees” referred to by the NUWM), this sticks out all the more as a pipe dream. While the NHS constitution provides some legal obligation for it to consult patients over service development and delivery, the DWP has no such obligation to consult claimants directly – just a vague remit to consult their “representatives” which are defined by the DWP not as claimants themselves but as professional agencies such as Citizens Advice, Law Centres and so on. The idea that claimants can and should represent themselves, and have their views fully taken into account by the DWP has been a strong and ongoing campaign of LUS, which has been built into the Commission’s principles.

We do not have time here to go in depth into the role that trade unions can or should play in organising the unemployed. Clearly the NUWM of the 1920s was of the view that they should be organised independently but with strong links to organised labour.

This principle was then reflected in the surge of TUC unemployed workers centres in the 1980s, which did provide albeit briefly the physical space for the unemployed to meet and organise – one of the NUWM demands, which has again become a barrier today, given the price of renting rooms even within community centres.

More recently Unite has made great strides in recruiting unemployed workers directly into its Community section – a move which has not as yet been reflected in the policies of other large trade unions. Whatever one’s point of view, champions of the claimants’ cause welcome any initiative that can help them to organise and get representation, which should advance to self-representation and peer group support.

LUS has been instrumental in developing Stand Up For Your Rights Groups around London to this end, similar to the Claimants Unions which sprang up alongside the TUC centres in the ’80s. LUS supports the groups in getting their concerns and complaints expressed directly to the DWP at local and national level.

LUS therefore welcomes the initiative of the Commission on Social Security and is one of its co-chairs (alongside Ellen Clifford of Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion London). We invite all claimants and their supporters to visit the website http://www.commissiononsocialsecurity.com and click on the link near the top of the first page to fill out the online Call for Solutions form. The deadline for submissions is July 31.

If you want more information and/or you are interested in setting up your own Stand Up For Your Rights group then contact LUS on nickplus007@gmail.com/ (020) 7467-1283/07530 001653. Support offered is mainly London-based due to the nature of our funding (principally from Trust for London and the TUC London East and South-East region), though Unite Community should be able to provide support in other regions.

Nick Phillips is coordinator, London Unemployed Strategies and co-chair, Commission on Social Security.

 

ALMOST THREE QUARTERS OF PIP AND ESA CLAIMANTS WIN THEIR APPEALS

The success rate for PIP and ESA claimants appealing to a tribunal has risen again in the latest statistics published by the Tribunals Service.

An extraordinary 74% of claimants of both benefits won their appeals in the three months to March 2019.

For DLA, the success rate is now 66% and for UC 63%.

The figures represents a 3% rise for PIP wins from the same period last year and a four % rise for ESA.

The advantages of going on to appeal if your mandatory reconsideration (MR) is turned down are clear.

And with PIP MR success rates at just 18%, there is definitely a very strong chance you will be turned down.

So, it’s regrettable that both PIP and ESA appeal numbers are falling even as success rates rise.

ESA appeals are down by 39% from a year ago, whilst PIP appeals are down by 9%.

If you come across anyone who thinks that appealing is a waste of time, please do put them straight.

From BENEFITS and WORK:  https://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/about-us

 

Benefits officials’ apology after mum’s suicide

Jodey Whiting
Jodey Whiting suffered multiple physical and mental health issues

The mother of a disabled woman who took her own life after some benefits were stopped has been given a personal apology by government officials.

Jodey Whiting, 42, from Stockton, had some payments halted after she missed a capability assessment because she was in hospital with pneumonia.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) later admitted mistakes were made and paid the family compensation.

Senior officials travelled to Teesside to explain what changes have been made.

Ms Whiting, a mother of nine, suffered multiple physical and mental health issues including curvature of the spine and a brain cyst, and took 23 tablets each day.

Following her death in 2017, an independent inquiry found that the DWP did not follow procedures, such as telephoning and visiting Ms Whiting after she missed the appointment.

Her mother, Joy Dove, who has been campaigning for justice, said the officials told her they felt they had to apologise in person.

She said they “seemed sincere”, but “apologies mean nothing, they won’t bring Jodey back”.

Joy DoveJoy Dove said she will carry on fighting for “justice for Jodey”

Mrs Dove said: “They said ‘we really want to tell you how for each of those failings, changes have been made’.

“They said they are going to make it so you can phone up and get every consideration over the phone, instead of having to go in.

“They are going to employ people from [mental health charity] Mind, they are going to get consultants, going to train staff, they mentioned 26,000 staff.

“They kept saying sorry for that, sorry for that, but in the end I said, ‘OK are you going to put it into writing?’ and they said ‘yes’.

“I said to them, if you’re putting it in writing, please put it in Jodey’s name so our daughter didn’t die in vain.”

The Department of Work and Pensions said in a statement: “Senior officials have met with Mrs Dove to apologise again for the failings in handling her daughter’s case and discuss the lessons learnt.

“We fully accepted the Independent Case Examiner’s findings earlier this year and have since reviewed and strengthened our procedures to ensure all vulnerable claimants are safeguarded.”

(from BBC News)